Addicted to WOWs,- the flipside of being talented as a child

I used to love writing. I can still remember a story I wrote when I was about ten years old. My grandfather had a community night watch at the local marina, and I was on summer break and was allowed to come with him. I spent the entire night writing a mystery about two kids stranded on an uncharted island in the fjord of Oslo. I left the story in the office drawer at the marina for coming night watches to read, and I got comments about how great it was for years after.

I used to love drawing too. My grandfather was an art talent when he was young and found joy in painting again when he retired. He had a studio at his house and would teach me different techniques and bring me along to paint classes. I would borrow ornithology books and sit to myself and draw what I saw. I didn’t think about what I did or if it was good. I was absorbed in the process until the art teacher came over, looked at my drawing and exclaimed “wow”.

I gradually became addicted to the wow-effect. It was no longer about enjoying the process of creating, but getting the high at the end. It has been haunting me my entire life, holding me back creatively and shaping so many of my decisions.

I’ve worked hard, pushing myself further towards the goal of impressing people around me. Like a drug addict always chasing the next fix and needing a continuously higher dose to get it. The better I get, the more people expect from me to the point where getting that reaction is almost impossible.

I’ve been beating myself up, suffering horrific depressions and imposter syndrome. I wanted to give up, and I did many times, but the need to create is still there, so I’ve been at war with myself for well over twenty years. I moved away from the creative and into user experience design and software development.

I knew early I was on the wrong track and that I needed to learn to enjoy the process again. For a short period, I returned to art as a lead artist in the gaming industry but comparing my work to other artists; I became engulfed in shame, and I didn’t stick with it.

And here I am with this desire to create, to write, draw and share my stories and my wisdom and foolishness. To inspire, to be inspired.

But I am terrified, and I am still an addict.

I am afraid of the pain of judgment. To be told, I am wrong or reminded I am never good enough. I am equally scared I won’t get my fix, and all my energy is spent thinking about how I can impress people and make the most mind-blowing blog about design and psychology and become world-famous.

The result ultimately is that I don’t produce anything, or delete it again immediately. I don’t achieve anything or be truly good if I don’t open myself to the possibility of judgement and critique.

It is hard for me to admit this. I prefer to narrate my blog as an “I only want to help others.”, but while it is true that I do want to help others, that isn’t the most potent driving force.

A good friend once asked me: “how would you feel if you won a trophy today for being the best designer in the world?”

What do you think my answer was?

Continue reading: The five whys

This post was the first exercise in the book “Write Blog Posts Readers Love” by Henri Junttila.

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