Time v. Talent

Does it ever seem like talented people never have time for you and the people with time for you never have talent? Yeah, I noticed that, too.

All my life I was a bad student, even when I got good grades. Anyone who goes on to work in the arts probably feels the same. If we were good at math and science, the theory goes, we wouldn’t be writing stories and drawing doodles in the margins of our notebooks during math class, right? Right.

That was my excuse, at least. While this probably did more damage than good, the silver lining is a peculiar one that I’d like to dedicate the rest of your attention span to unpacking.

Procrastination is an effective way to increase your talent ceiling because speed is the mother of innovation. And nothing teaches you to work fast like forgetting to start the project until an hour before it’s due.

But there’s a flip side of the massive strides we tend to make during those incredibly stressful bursts of creativity. More often than it goes well, procrastinating leads to embarrassing results. And that feeling of embarrassment overshadows any memory of what you learned in the cauldron of cramming. This can make us reluctant to internalize the lessons we learn in those tough times, and even more reluctant go recreate the conditions to further your learning-by-failing experiences.

That reluctance to be creatively vulnerable eventually manifests itself as creative anxiety, and each time you cave to your creative anxiety you strengthen your resolve to not create. If your goals in life include creating things, this can be a psychological catch-22 that’s nothing short of career threatening.

So, then, what’s the solution? Steven Pressfield calls it Turning Pro, Malcom Gladwell calls it 10,000 Hours, and I call it growing the fuck up.

Seth Godin (yeah, another name drop) calls deadlines “vitamins for creativity,” and I couldn’t agree more. Like vitamins, though, it’s important you don’t take them on an empty stomach or take too many. There’s no replacement for a steady diet of consistent, on-time, scheduled productivity.

Every so often, supplement with a vitamin. Put another way, procrastinate with purpose. Challenge yourself or your team to pull a rabbit out of the hat before noon, don’t end the meeting until the board has five good ideas on it, lunch on me if we all pitch a company blog post before Friday. That kind of thing.

When talented people suddenly have time, look out.