Creative Compass Minicourse

Creative Compass Day 1: Establish Your Priorities

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Your goal for Day 1: Choose to focus on a single creative goal to accelerate your progress

No doubt, if you’re here on this page, you’ve been struggling for a while to get traction on your self-generated creative work. You probably have a backlog of projects you’d like to work on.

That’s kind of at the heart of your problem.

People like us have always been told that generating lots of high-quality ideas is at the core of what we do. But that pressure alone can create anxiety: what if my ideas don’t make the cut?

But really, most ideas can become high-quality…if we invest the energy and attention to enrich them with layers of meaning.

None of that is going to happen if you’re constantly flitting from project to project, never allowing yourself to dive deep. You won’t get into creative flow, you won’t create work at the level you dream of. In fact, you likely won’t finish things at all if you don’t deal with your Idea Debt.

What’s Idea Debt?

Idea Debt describes a phase of the creative process where many people get stuck, sometimes permanently. It’s what happens when you spend a ton of time picturing what a project is going to be like, and how awesome it’s going to be to have this thing done and in the world, and how cool it (and therefore you) will look, and how in demand you’ll be, and how much money you’re going to make, and… very little time actually making the thing.

Idea Debt Type P

There are two main types of Idea debt. The first essentially comes down to perfectionism. I call this Idea Debt Type P.

So many people let perfectionism stop them. You picture how great the project will be, and then when you think about how inadequate your current skills are… you stop.

Well, guess what? If you don’t actually try to make the project, even with your current skill set, and learn to live with the difference between what you imagine and what you actually are capable of, you will never become capable of bigger, better things. It’s humbling. But there is no bridge over the gap. The only way out is through.

But it doesn’t have to be so overwhelming. By breaking giant projects down to tiny next actions (and then ignoring the big picture for a while) you can make concrete progress—without freaking out.

Idea Debt Type N

Another kind of idea debt is what happens when you carry Idea Debt Type P for too long, and your life moves on but your idea hangs on like an albatross.

This is what economists call the Sunk Costs Fallacy. You have what feels like a great idea at some point in your life. Then you grab on to it with a death grip, making notes and dreaming about it for years, until it takes over your imaginative space. But you never step back and think: “Is this really, still, a project I want to be doing?”

This is Idea Debt Type N, for nostalgia.

We are weighed down by too many ideas. If we don’t truly shake free of them, some part of our brains is devoted to processing them at all times.

That old saw about how we only use 10% of our brain? It’s totally not true… but if you’re living in major Idea Debt, you may feel like you only have 10% of your brain actually available to you when you want to make your work. That’s not great.

Just as when you carry financial debt, which limits your choices about what to do with your time and energy because you have to earn cash to service your debt, carrying Idea Debt can cripple you creatively.

A lot of people get stuck here. But it doesn’t have to be complicated.

Your dilemma

Facing “opportunity cost.” Doing one thing (especially doing only one thing for an extended period of time) is, by definition, not doing other things. And allowing your focus on all the other things to slip can feel really scary.

Keep two things in mind:

  • First, that this is a choice for now, not forever. You can be multipassionate and work in many media. Just not all at the same time.
  • Second, that if you start working on this One Goal, and you figure out it was the wrong goal, you can stop and choose again. Sometimes it takes actually doing the work for a while to know for sure.

Don’t find your passion. Grow It. 

Creative Compass Day 1 Q&A

Fill in the form below to start setting the right priorities:


Post your One Goal on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram with the hashtags #OneGoal and #CreativeCompass to help hold your feet to the fire!

(Tag me! I want to know! @jccabel on Facebook and Twitter, and @visiblewoman on Instagram)

Further reading: If you’d like to dive deeper into the One Goal and Idea Debt concepts, check out these posts:

You probably have Idea Debt, and how to “cure” it.

One Goal to Rule Them All

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