My first job out of school was at a white-shoe consulting firm. We’d be tasked with solving big and thorny problems for clients. In just about every project, we’d reach the three-week mark and still have no idea where our work was going. As a new analyst, this was terrifying. Some of these engagements were only supposed to last ten weeks. However, the seasoned partners and engagement managers wouldn’t worry nearly as much. Sure enough, without fail, a breakthrough insight or conclusion always followed those periods of being lost.
After I’d been at the firm for over a year, though I still didn’t enjoy the “holy crap we’ve got nothing yet” moments, I didn’t freak out about them nearly as much either.
Fast forward a decade when I am first becoming a professional writer. Guess what? In just about every big project there came a point during which I had no idea where the story (or worse yet, book) was going. It, too, felt terrifying, perhaps even more so than at the consulting firm; this time around, I had no partner overseeing my work and taking ultimate responsibility. And yet, I found that if I just stuck to my process, eventually the path forward would emerge, seemingly on its own.
After nearly a decade of being a professional writer, the blank page is still overwhelming and the feeling of uncertainty still no fun, but it’s not nearly as hard as it used to be.
During a conversation on faith and contemplation, my friend Brandon once told me that faith is confidence borne from realizing the fruits of practice. In both of the above cases—as I got more consulting and writing reps in—I gained more faith, in myself and in the work. It wasn’t blind faith or delusional. It was faith borne out of practice.
I was thrilled to see that in his new book, The Creative Act: A Way of Being, the legendary music producer Rick Rubin writes:
When we sit down to work, remember the outcome is out of our control. If we are willing to take each step into the unknown with grit and determination, carrying with us all of our collected knowledge, we will ultimately get to where we’re going. The destination may not be one we’ve chosen in advance. It will likely be more interesting. This isn’t a matter of blind belief in yourself. It’s a matter of experimental faith.
Rubin’s experimental faith is based not on expecting miracles. It’s based on honing an ability to do the work and adjust as you go:
Over time, as you complete more projects, this [faith] grows. You’re able to hold high expectations, move forward with patience, and trust the mysterious unfolding before you. With the understanding that the process will get you where you’re going.
In our various endeavors—whether it’s organizational change, problem solving, writing a book, creating a record, training for a big sporting event, or parenting a child—there will come moments when we feel stuck, lost, or overwhelmed. What keeps us going in these moments is faith. Not blind or delusional faith. But faith based on our confidence in the process. Faith that increases with practice.
I am going to stick with the blank page because it’s the example I know best, but it can be a metaphor for probably just about anything. The blank page is always scary, especially when you don’t know where you are going. But over time, you learn that being unsure of where you are going isn’t something to freak out about. It’s merely a predictable part of the creative process.
A process that you learn to trust based on evidence. A process that the more you trust, the more you are rewarded with faith.
This is what having faith in the process is all about.
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