Lose Battles, Win Wars

As a fellow colleague of mine recently reminded me during a rather uplifting presentation, not giving up when things get hard is a skill in itself.

Starting new tasks is easy enough, but it can be difficult to follow through with our commitments, especially when it gets difficult. That’s what got me thinking. That presentation had reminded me of a number of personal projects I never quite managed to complete, lacking the militant discipline I think I needed.

But, it also reminded me of an important lesson I learnt early in my career – sometimes it’s okay to give up. In fact, it’s sometimes the best thing you can do in a situation.

Let me explain.   Biting off more than I could chew In 2014, and approaching the end of my second year working for a local animation house, I was tasked with my first solo project – a big moment for myself. I was working at one of the most prestigious 3D studios in South Africa, and already, I was given the opportunity to make a name for myself. The brief was as basic as it gets: turn a script into an animated video – no assets, no storyboard, no nothing.

All I had to work with was a script and the client’s CI and logo. It was an important client, too, and it was made very clear to me that this was an important video to get right. For me, however, it was important for another reason.

This was my chance to prove myself and express my own creative spirit. It was the opportunity I needed to show what I could do. I should have stopped there, taken stock of what was required of me, but instead, like a newbie, I rushed into it.

You won’t always be right the first time around Having studied the script, and determined to impress my seniors and directors, I dived straight into the first idea that came to mind. I had broken the script down into scenes, decided on an art style and jumped straight into designing the assets for the animation.

I spent hours, days, weeks working on what I thought would best demonstrate the message I needed to convey. That’s where the problems started. After weeks of designing scenes and the assets that populated them, I jumped into the animation side of things. But, after a few days of work, I started to get the sense that something was wrong.

I couldn’t tell what it was, but something was missing. Despite that, I didn’t want to quit what I had been working on for almost a month, and with my doubts continuing to grow and fester, I kept at it. Attempting to fix the problem didn’t help. It just wasn’t captivating enough, no matter how much research I did or hours I poured into it; it just didn’t capture my imagination anymore.

Over the course of about a month, the project slowly started to consume me, and I went from being excited to show up to work every day to dreading opening up my animation suit each morning. Fortunately for me, December break was just around the corner, giving me the opportunity to separate myself from the project, to get a fresh perspective upon returning in the New Year.

I must admit, I didn’t feel much better upon my return. Ten days away from the office just meant ten days of anxiety without release, and 30 minutes into my first day back at the office and I had given in. This wasn’t going to happen.

Rebirth requires sacrifice I had no choice but to let my director know that I hadn’t come through. I packaged the entire folder, filled to the brim with my failed ideas, assets and the animation that had come to haunt me. That was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made, a revelation.

I started again, from scratch, redesigning even the smallest assets, with a new perspective on what needed to be done. Three weeks later, half the time of my original attempt, and the project was complete.

It was that easy. All I needed was a new perspective. I learnt a lot in that time, like new ways to see old techniques and new techniques to solve old problems. It cemented a confidence in my ability I won’t soon forget. Best of all, it was a big hit with my peers and our clients.

No matter how insignificant that moment might be 10 years from now, it will always be a moment of pride for me. It’s my license to experiment, take chances and tackle every problem with confidence because I’ve learnt that sometimes banging your head against a problem changes nothing.

You need to learn to let go. Whether it’s in your professional or personal life, from relationships to new hobbies, don’t be afraid to express yourself as passionately as possible. Failure is your opportunity to start fresh, to do it all over again, not a moment to dread. Sometimes the best path isn’t the first you tread, it’s the third or fourth or 30th.

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