Jeremy Côté

Admiring Is Not Doing

I like keeping track of people’s work that I enjoy through a technology called RSS. This means I can follow people who do a variety of things. I follow artists, writers, runners, cartoonists, scientists, mathematicians, and business people. This creates a broad range of ideas and work that I am exposed to each day. I can then fuse disparate ideas together, which improves my own work.

However, I often end up getting distracted by all of the fantastic work. If I read a science article, I itch to get at the keyboard myself and write some science explanations. When I see a beautiful comic that has the perfect tinge of humour in it, I want to make my own comics. When I see meticulously drawn art, I want to get out my own tools and start sketching.

You get the idea. Not only do I admire the work, but seeing it makes me want to make my own.

This becomes a problem when I am motivated by everything and want to pursue five different directions at once. Throughout any given day, I oscillate between wanting to write fiction, writing scientific and mathematical explorations, composing essays, and making comics. This is a lot when you realize that this is all during my free time. Clearly, trying to do everything at once is not going to work.

Why can’t I just focus on a single pursuit? What is tugging on me to try and do a bunch of things?

This is what brought me to the idea that admiring is not doing.

When I look at my RSS feed, I see a range of work that excites me and that I enjoy. It is at this point that I tend to make the mistake of thinking that I would therefore like to do the activity. I read a great story, I imagine how much fun the author had writing it (though I suspect the truth is a lot less glamorous), and I declare that this is something I want to do. Rinse and repeat with all of the other activities I see.

As you might imagine, this leads to a lot of wasted time. My nose ends up following the scent of interesting work in all directions, and I end up dipping my toes into a lot of activities without taking the time to improve at any of them.

I am very good at dreaming of doing interesting work in fields I have never stepped into. I think this is true for many of us. What I have realized is that I will not get much work done if I keep on jumping to something new whenever I am bored. This is true particularly when that other activity seems fun.

I can admire the work that people do, but that does not mean I have to do it. Admiring from afar is a perfectly respectable mode of being, and I would argue it is a necessary one. If you want to get to the point where you are making your own contribution, your own art, you need to focus at some point. Inspiration is important, but there is a fine line between allowing input and being distracted.

Making art is difficult work. It is even more difficult when you do not spend the time to hone your skills at your craft.

Am I telling you to give up your curiosity and only live for the pursuit of one objective? No. But I am saying that you have to keep in mind the distinction between admiring and doing.

Want to be inspired? Go look at the cool work being done! Just remember that you are an observer, not someone who will actually spend time on that activity.

It’s like watching professional athletes. You can admire the work they do without needing to become the best at their sport.

Admiring is good. Getting sucked into doing the work only because you admire others is a sign of distraction, particularly if this is not your main focus.

When I look at work now, I remind myself that I am a spectator, not an aspiring amateur. By all means find ideas from fields that are unrelated to your own, but do not feel the need to pursue these other avenues just because they look fun. You have art to make.