How to Overcome What Happens After Your Project Is Done


With the release of Think Like a Five Year Old, I am hearing my share of congratulations and well wishes from people. A couple of really honest colleagues have shared what they described as their envy that a book exists in the world with my name on it.

I appreciate the sentiments; I really do. But I have a different sort of excitement this time about my book’s launch. I’m a lot more cautious.

I remember the launch of my first book 16 years ago, which was written to help pastors and church leaders do their work of ministry better. I was at work when I received the shipment of author copies. Publishers don’t send you roses when your book launches (although maybe they should); you just get a box of copies in the mail. I was at work at my church in Ohio. I got word from the front desk that I’d received a box. I took it into the empty sanctuary, set it on the corner of the stage, and ripped it open with my car keys. I held the book in my hand for a moment. No fireworks went off. The new music guy walked by and I grabbed him to show him the book. He nodded and said that was nice and went on his way.

I got similar reactions throughout the day, and the next day, and so on. I don’t know what I expected, but whatever I wanted to have happen – confetti, a bullhorn, a marching band – didn’t. Here’s what I learned: People don’t care about your glory as much as you wish they would.

Of those that did, many of them only cared in so much as they were living the same publishing fantasy I’d been living. It isn’t to say that nothing happened. Sales were good; over the next few years I got several nice comments from people, and some even said it helped their ministry. But the post-launch was as slow as the rocket ride that got me there. After a few years and a couple of more book releases, I eventually realized something important about when you make something.

 

It isn’t the results that matter, but the work itself.

In the book I address the extremes of “I stink” and “I rock”:

The extremes aren’t necessarily bad; in fact, at points they are necessary. Each is critical to the creative process. If you skip “I rock,” then you never experience the courage you need to see something through. We drown in our own limitations. However, if you skip “I stink,” you never experience the humility that leads to the self-examination that all great work requires.

In broken people like me the results of creativity invariably lead to self-glory and self-glory is what mars the beauty of creativity. I’ve became wary of too much self-glory, because I believe it’s damaging. The challenge in any creative endeavor is to not “eat the cheese,” or get snared by the mousetrap of adulation.

It is the creative work itself that matters. Receiving the recreative work of Christ and responding in co-labor with our giftedness, advancing God’s kingdom, is the closest experience we have on earth to our Creator, and our deepest joy. Sadly, even a book launch can get in the way of this experience. In my brokenness, I have to fight to stay away from the lie of self-glory, which seems great but actually steals joy and creativity.

Just like I had to avoid the lie of lowered expectations when I was in the thick of writing it and nothing was finished and nobody was paying attention yet and I thought I was just wasting my time.

 

The most healthy thing any of us can do when we create is to detach ourselves – identity, esteem, ego – from what happens to our work once it is finished.

This is much easier said than done. But when we can release the work to the world then we can celebrate with others as they celebrate and learn with others as they criticize and in neither case do we get too caught up in what it means for us. When we’re free from chasing people’s reactions, we can focus on making a new work.

As long as we’re creating – making something new – we’re participating in the work that God established in the beginning, and all is well.

This is how I plan to overcome what happens after the project is done.

 

About the Author

Len Wilson

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Christ follower. Storyteller. Strategist. Writer. Creative Director at St Andrew. Tickle monster. Author, Think Like a Five Year Old (Abingdon).

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