Don't Say There's Nothing to Do in the Doldrums

Finding motivation has always been a unique challenge for me. I seek it out in various ways, from pushing myself when my peers succeed to having an intrinsic drive to manifest a concept (be a photo project, app, etc.) to just digging deep to find some meaning in my work to proceed with developing it. With that said, however, there are points in my life where all might be going swell: clients are coming in, I’m hitting deadlines, and I’m getting great reviews when all-of-a-sudden… Wham! I get slapped in the face with a wave of existential nihilism and, at least for the time being, lose motivation to work.

This has been a pattern throughout my entire teenage life and has always been a blessing and a curse for my work life. On one hand, as I touched on earlier, the sudden dread and notion of worthlessness of my work compels me to drop the ball and cease continuing with editing this girl’s senior photos whereas on the other hand the lack of implications if I fail, knowing any damage is contained to this instance of my life and that I have, when given a healthy dose of perspective, nothing to lose pushes me forward.

Crop the photo a bit, increase exposure two stops, export.

Wham! A contradicting wave hits me yet again. It says “Hey ~ what’s the point of editing this girl’s seniors… you have limited time in your life and she probably won’t look at these photos a year from now anyway.” I think. Both points are probably true but before I could even think of a counter of my own…

Wham! “Noah. Listen. You’re already 19. You’ve lived 20% of your life already and have nothing to show for it. There’s kids out there who already have sold apps to Apple by the time they’re 19 and you can’t even finish editing this senior session.”

I feel like I’ve been uppercut from multiple directions. Everywhere I turn there’s signs telling me I’m going down the wrong path. It seems like there is no way out of this conundrum. This reminds me of a song from my childhood…

At this point it seems I’m stuck in the Doldrums: a seemingly inescapable place of bleakness and gloom. I’m quite familiar with this place as I’ve spent many days here, pondering my existence and dreading the work to come. This is a life of complacency, laziness, and boredom. I feel even more choked than when I was being twirled around by the fleeing existential thoughts. I need to escape.

It turns out, for me, what’s worked best to find my way out of this dreary place is a combination of fear and reward. To hoist myself up and give myself a bit of a slap in the face, I remind myself that the only thing worse than being stuck here is the repercussions of not following through on the work I set out to do. Angry clients, poor reviews, and rushed work at all things I’ve had a taste of in the past and frankly, to me, it’s nightmare fuel. I can take criticism for sure, but a client who is upset just because I couldn’t keep my promise gives me a knot in my stomach. This puts the latter to get out of the Doldrums in my reach.

To climb that latter out, however, I remind myself of the rewards of finishing my work. A stress free day, payout, and the time at the end of the day to work on passion projects motivate me to put the pedal to the metal and grind out whatever it is I need to do that day.

Though this cycle might be unhealthy if kept up due to the undue stress that seems to accumulate with each successive trip into the dreary pit, it’s a system that seems to be working for me. Perhaps you frequent the Doldrums as well… what are your ways of getting yourself out?