I flushed a year worth of work down the toilet. It was painful, confusing, confronting, terrifying and incredibly freeing.
I am also convinced more than ever, that it was the right thing to do. Sometimes you need to kill your darlings to make room for new darlings. Let me explain myself.
I have been working individually on the development of the interactive fountain I designed during my final master project. After graduating, my design was exhibited at TEDxBrainport and I decided to give it a try to bring the design to the market.
I love creating magical interactions and I love the playful fountain I created (it reacts to human behaviour and invites you to play). However, the problem with my project: I dislike the part that comes after the creative process where it’s almost only about logistics, networking and bureaucratic processes.
I don’t give up easily. So when my energy level for this project dropped, I continued. I knew it wasn’t going to be easy. I knew the project involved continuously reaching beyond my comfort zone. It was the biggest and scariest project I ever worked on. So I went on. I talked to a lot of people that I was afraid to talk to. I worked long and hard while my amount of inspiration and hope decreased continuously. I cried a lot. But I carried on.
This has been going on for months.
Some days only thinking about the work I still needed to finish made me want to crawl up in a ball on the floor. It was hard and it was stressful.
At one point I just knew that something had to change.
I drew a chart that included all the separate steps between where I am now and having a working fountain up and running in the public space. As I was staring at the piece of paper, I suddenly realised that none of these steps excited me. Not one of these steps made me happy. Sure, I liked the idea of my design being turned into a reality, but every single part of the process to get there had turned into a major burden.
What makes me happy is continually creating new things and finishing them in a reasonable amount of time so I can create more new things. But for this fountain, almost all of the ‘creating’ part of the process had been done already. I had played with fountains, I had brainstormed many ideas, I had quickly developed a load of them and I built a working prototype. These steps were challenging at times, but they were fun. But now, the main design concept had been ‘finished’ long ago.
I had forgotten why I wanted to do this fountain project in the first place. It had lost its play. It had lost its vibe. It had lost its heart. Not in the design, but in the process.
I had always thought that if I ever were to quit this project, it would be because I knew deep down I had tried absolutely everything in my power to make in into a success, but it didn’t work. The fact that I knew that there were still so many things I could try hurt the most. It was like admitting to myself that I didn’t try hard enough. But I also know that this was not entirely true. In fact, I don’t think there would ever be a point where I would think I had tried hard enough. Not because I wouldn’t have tried, but because I am hard on myself.
The real reason I was still working on making this project into a success, was to prove myself and others that I could. It was because I had invested so much time already that I just had to make it work. It wasn’t because I still necessarily really wanted it. And at this point investing more and more time in that black hole of energy-sucking process stopped making sense. I was terrified to admit to myself that I didn’t want this dream anymore for myself, because it made me feel like a failure without a sense of perseverance. But I also knew that deep down I was fooling myself. I had already made up my mind about the fact that this project wasn’t bringing me any joy or energy.
That was the moment when I decided to quit.
It was the bravest thing I have done all year.
If somebody would really love to buy my fountain, I am still open to the thought. But for the time being, I won’t continually invest time in finding a client and further developing the design.
It still hurts a little to give up on my dream, but it hurt even more to work on a dream without any passion.
Above all, these months have been a valuable learning process. They were worth the struggle, because they have taught me lessons about what I want and moreover don’t want. They have taught me to accept myself more fully. For so long I have been forcing myself to be somebody I am not. Accepting myself also means leaving room for the things I don’t want to do. I need to accept that some things give me energy, and others don’t. I need to accept that the person I force myself to be isn’t necessarily the same person as who I am in my core being.
Somehow I think I had linked my self-worth with the success of my fountain project. You would think that letting go of something that has been such an important part of my life in the past months would be devastating.
But the truth is, it feels like the world is opening up again, like there is so much more space to explore my true potential and work on the things that truly make me happy.
This post isn’t much like my regular posts. But I wanted to share my experience, because I think I might not be alone in my struggle. Sometimes you are so focused on a goal you set for yourself, that you become blinded to if that goal is still making sense.
You might work at a job that you hate. You might have started learning a new skill and only then discover that it looked way more fun that it actually is. You might love something, but only when you turn it into a business realise you would rather keep it a hobby.
That’s OK. Perhaps it only needs a small adjustment to still work.
But if it wears you out, day after day, if you forgot why you wanted it in the first place, if you don’t feel the passion anymore which you once had, if you tried long and hard but it’s still not working: it’s OK to let it go. It’s OK to change your mind. It’s OK that with everything you learned during the process, you are now drawing other conclusions as to what you want in life.
I truly believe that the dying of one part of your life means the blossoming of another part. You can’t do everything. In the end you need to prioritize and choose what things you want to develop in more depth. These things better be the things you feel passionate about. These things better be the things that give you energy and make you happy.
You might think at one point that you have found what you truly want, but then be disappointed later on. You can only learn these things through trying.
It is important to follow your dreams. But you have to realise that every once in a while a dream can turn into a nightmare. And when it does, it is equally important to give yourself permission to let go of that dream.
It will be scary. It will destroy some of the security you feel you have built for yourself. But it will also free you from negative energy and wasted time. It will help you live to your full potential.
There will always be new dreams to pursue.
I am scared, but not defeated. I find peace in the knowledge that I am fighting to find my true dreams. It may take a while, but I am patient and willing to try many different things in the mean time.
I hope you will find the courage to do the same.
Are there things in your life you secretly want to let go of? Do you have dreams you wish to follow while other things in your life are blocking their way? What are they? What is blocking you to make the choice you have been willing to take but are too scared to admit to yourself?
Don’t make the easy choice. Make the choice that will make you most happy in the long run.
June 11, 2014 at 17:38
this is a wonderful post, something that is not always easy to talk about so thank you for that.
I completely agree with you I think it’s important to try new things and re-evaluate as you go along, you never how a “failed” attempt could lead to something else entirely, a different viewpoint, etc.
I have wanted to pursue making art and selling it online for many years, I got started a couple years ago. and it definitely has not gone as a planned but I’ve surprised myself by trying new things and re-evaluating and trying other things. anyway thanks again for this post :)
love the pics of your fountain in public spaces !!!
June 15, 2014 at 10:40
Yes. Sometimes you find out things from trying that you couldn’t have knows upfront. You just learn as you co along
June 12, 2014 at 21:18
I love this post! It reminded me of projects I’ve worked on that didn’t work out. What I didn’t realize then was that my future projects would be influenced by the ones that didn’t work out. The ideas or methods I didn’t end up using almost always incorporated into something else. So maybe your fountain didn’t work out now because you’re supposed to work on a similar project with the right people later on. You never know!
Either way, your fountain idea is completely awesome!
June 15, 2014 at 10:41
Good point. I think this could still be possible. You are right in that some parts of projects die, but that in another form the same project could still live on.
June 13, 2014 at 00:22
Thank you for sharing this with us, Mariëlle. Dreams definitely turn into nightmares sometimes and it’s the right, wise and brave thing to do to let them go. Since I was a little girl, I’ve had lots of hobbies and interests and many of them led to dreams. And I pursued each of them, and at some point or another, let them go. And I never regretted it.
And now, I’ve been working on some kind of a project for almost five years (!), and I never quit it. From the very beginning this project felt different to all the ones before; it felt important and right. And even thought it’s the hardest project I’ve ever taken on, and it’s been almost five years now, I still care about it and don’t ever consider letting this one go. :)
Love this post, and have a magical weekend! <3
June 15, 2014 at 10:42
That\s so great to hear. I hope this project is fulfilling you in great ways. We can’t expect to find our dream right away without even trying different things now can we?
joyce m. welch
June 19, 2014 at 02:02
You express yourself so well. I have been there and the letting go did free me up for things that were unexpected surprising and filled me with a sense of joy. I do love your fountain, and I am happy for you as you move on to other creative adventures!
June 28, 2014 at 17:15
Thank you. I still like the idea of my fountain, and think it would be awesome to have it built somewhere. Maybe one day ;) For now I am enjoying my new creative focus on other stuff :)