Why do we have to ignore our past success while doing our current work?

Elizabeth Gilbert is a writer. She is the writer of many books. Her latest book, “Eat, Pray, Love” is #1 New York Times Bestselling memoir. She is now working on a new book. The problem is she is overwhelmed with fear that the new instalment could not exceed her last success.

From these feelings, Gilbert generalizes about the problem of creative people. In her talk in TED (I don’t why I can’t embed talks from ted to this blog, but press on the link to watch it), called: “Nurturing Creativity” she describes the problem creative people face. The problem is the fear that their next work would not be as good as their first one. The fear that their best work is behind them. Her claim is that taking this fear inherited into creative people’s lives, it is not surprising that many young creative people die young, many times by their own hand.

I could relate to that concept (not taking my own life, the fear). I am truly proud of my e-book, “Playing it to excellence and happiness in real life”. Even though it is not New York Times #1 bestseller, the responses I get from people who read it are great. I am currently working on a new e-book. But, will this one be as good as the next one? It is actually frightening to the point of paralyzing.

Gilbert advice (which is described in a very entraining way, I recommend watching this talk) is that you just do your job. You should just be proud of going out there and trying. She talks about the ancient Greeks believing that a spark of genius is a touch of an outside divine source, thus, not feeling guilty for not succeeding. She says we should try to implement that thinking into our creative process. I think I generally agree. Some complementing thoughts though:

  1. You should really not care. If you are passionate about what you do, and enjoy doing it – just do it. If passion is there, results will follow, because people connect with passion. What you did in the past, people expectations, what other people think is right – all of these are not important. Go with your passion.
  2. It is true that there are some people who created something and after that only lived on the reputation of that creation. But a lot of other people did not. There are numerous examples of writers whose second book was better than their first one. Who says you next creation would not be better than your last? Actually, usually creative people don’t reach the top immediately. They work and improve along the way. In some point of their career, there was a work worse than their last one. Look at Gilberts Bio. Not all her books became bestsellers. Who says that this time must be the peak? What you need to remember is that this time you have the experience you did not have when you created your last master piece. That experience is surely on your side.
  3. There is no true way to know what will succeed. Not in art. Not in writing. Not in business. Don’t believe the experts – many times they are wrong. Don’t believe the surveys – people don’t know what they want. So there is actually no way to predict if your next work will be a success. If there in no way of knowing, the only option is to do your best. If you keep doing that and create something great, success will come. It does not work the other way around.
  4. You cannot say that because something worked in the past, than a similar thing will work in the future. The only standard that matters is your own personal standard. Something that was unique and remarkable one day ceases to be so after a certain time. Your job is to find your true unique voice that you feel is right. If you keep doing that and create something great, success will come. If you keep pushing (or changing) the standards, you will improve.


3 Responses to “Why do we have to ignore our past success while doing our current work?”

  1. Jonathan Blackwell Says:


    What are the odds? I was JUST watching the TED Talk with Elizabeth Gilbert last night. I felt so strongly about her plea to free creative minds from the expectations upon them that I teared up at the end.

    I love the bit about Ole, Ole, Ole! Truly, when someone performs at the highest level of excellence humanly possible, it takes us that much closer to a level of Godly perfection we can never fully achieve.

    That’s the direction I want to go until I die trying!


  2. sherfelad Says:

    Yes, I agree. The problem is that some creativity does not create an Ole, Ole. For example, I am sure that an artist who paints pictures does not have a lot of opportunities to get that. Maybe when his paintings are on a gallery, but there is no specific time where the crowd is really “supposed” cheer. Or take for example something I encountered. A teacher’s work can only be really appreciated after the fact. When I was teaching uni students, a lot of times things we did in class did not seem to mix, until they were studying for the exam. So there is no Ole for me, even though I might have done a very creative job in slicing and presenting the material. That is why in life, I believe we should search for our own Ole, which is the way me measure ourselves to our own standards.
    Thanks for your reply!


  3. Best posts on The Comparative Advantage for 2009 (and a little more) « The Comparative Advantage Says:

    […] Why do we have to ignore our past success while doing our current work? […]

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