Goins, Writer

On Writing, Ideas, and Making a Difference

Why Your Work Never Feels Good Enough

All of us who do creative work, we get into it because we have good taste. But there is this gap. For the first couple years you make stuff, it’s just not that good. It’s trying to be good, it has potential, but it’s not. But your taste, the thing that got you into the game, is still killer. And your taste is why your work disappoints you.
–Ira Glass

If you are a creative, someone prone to perfectionism and driving yourself slightly mad, then you are rarely, if ever, pleased with your work.

Never Good Enough

Photo credit: Flick (Creative Commons)

It always feels incomplete, unfinished, and never quite good enough. And that’s okay. Heck, it’s even normal. But I have to tell you: You’re being too hard on yourself.

If you’re new, or maybe not so new, to the creative process, then frustration is most likely a constant companion. When you’re just getting started, whether you make videos or write stories or design websites, you are regularly battling the voices of self-doubt.

They tell you that you have no business doing this, that you should stop before you embarrass yourself. And those voices are wrong.

The reason behind your insecurity

So why do you do this?

Because you are a creative. And quite frankly, you can’t help it. In your mind, you see the project in its ideal form. It’s what the Greeks referred to as the “essences.”

In some ways, you will never achieve that level of perfection you see in your mind. On paper (or on film or whatever), it will always seem like something’s missing. And that’s because your art is never finished.

But when you’re beginning as a creative, there is something else at play. There’s a reason you have that nagging, “never good enough” feeling about your work. It’s because it’s true.

The problem is this feeling can lead to despair, which can tempt you to quit. And that’s the one you thing can not do, regardless of how much you think your work sucks.

There is no magic formula for overcoming this feeling of not good enough. In fact, it’s worth celebrating. It means you probably have good taste. But there are a few things you can do to work through this feeling and still get the job done.

Here are three actions to take when your work doesn’t match your expectations:

Give yourself grace

Failure is a gift. It’s your ally. In this season of life, in which you are less famous than you may be some day, be grateful for the opportunity to fail without millions tuning in.

Take advantage of anonymity. Try things you wouldn’t dare do if you had a stadium full of fans (and critics).

And don’t forget to give yourself lots of grace.

Forgive yourself when you create something horrendous (because you might). Laugh at yourself. This is all part of the process. It’s called “practice” for a reason. See it for what it is, and embrace this time of not-good-enough to get better.

Create, anyway

You’re not creative because of the accolades you get. You’re creative because you love to create. So do what you love, what you were made to do, and try to do it well.

But whatever you do, don’t wait. Don’t hold your work back from the world. If you keep shipping, if you keep creating and sharing what you’ve made, it will get better. I promise.

Stop beating yourself up

Be kind to yourself. Stop tearing yourself a new one every time you listen to that demo. Stop beating yourself up in front of an audience before you speak. Stop apologizing at the beginning of every blog post.

We didn’t pay our money, time, or attention to hear your self-effacing remarks. They aren’t causing us to admire you or even pity you. They just make us want to leave.

Let’s name this. It isn’t humility; it’s low self-esteem, and it’s unattractive. Please stop it. This feeling of never feeling good enough is common. I’m not sure that it ever fully goes away. But as a creative, you have to learn how to deal with it, or it will destroy you.

At the same time, realize that not everyone feels this way. Not everyone is like you. Consider this: your feeling of dissatisfaction may, in fact, be a gift, if you can see it that way and learn to manage it.

How do you deal with this feeling of being not good enough? Share in the comments.

About Jeff Goins

I write books and help writers get their work out into the world. I am the best-selling author of four books, including The Art of Work. Each week, I send out a newsletter with free tips on writing and creativity.

Ever Wonder If Your Blog Post Is Good Enough?

We built a free tool so you don’t have to worry about that ever again.

1. Pick your goal of the post
2. Answer 5 basic questions
3. It tells you if it’s good enough and how to make it better

Click here to use the tool.

  • LDee

    I’ve been writing professionally for more than 20 years now, and I’m never totally satisfied with my work. When I come back to work I did years or months ago, the itch to rewrite it is always there. My clients are happy – but I always feel I could have polished just a tiny bit more.

    I think part of it is perfectionism and caring about doing a good job. Another part of it, I now think, is a bit like not liking photographs of yourself, or wanting to photoshop them. A piece of writing – whether it’s a short story, a magazine article or website copy for a retailer – is a piece of yourself. I think what I feel uncomfortable with is looking back in on myself.

  • Wow Jeff. Great insight here. Perfectionism can definitely be a show-stopper for many people, and I too have felt its effects.

    It took a long time to deal with the feeling of being ‘not good enough’ (actually, I’m not sure if anyone truly dismisses it altogether), and I believe I’ve become better at recognising it, appreciating why I’m feeling that way and how often ridiculous it is.

    It’s funny how it’s quite often ourselves that are stopping us from achieving the greatness we really want. It all starts with self, and that’s what I teach in my own calling.

    Love your work. Keep it up!

  • Carona

    Hi there, I just wanted to stop by and say that this helped a lot. Today in my Art class I presented a piece that I basically gave up on before I even started, and seeing all my classmates scowl and pity it really made me lose hope. Now I know that I just need to believe in myself and get better, no matter what they think.

  • Daniel Harrison

    Thank you!

  • Daniel Harrison

    First time a non-faith related video made me cry!

  • Ellen

    Is there a transcript of this talk somewhere? Want to print it out and read it EVERY DAY.

  • RockLee

    Thanks :-). I feel this kind of satisfaction everyday I come back from work. Thanks to pointing it out, I can see it clearly now. Best wishes. Look forward to reading more insightful articles from you.

  • Fathima Meena

    we Meena Jewel are providing 21-22 carat Gold Jewelry, Diamond Jewelry, Silver Jewelry and Articles with precious and semi precious stones to all over the world in wholesale. For more details join us at https://www.meenajewel.com/

  • Erza Wang

    https://open.buffer.com/keep-going/ this site has a transcipt of the talk

  • The Library of Emma

    Well, I’m a bit late to the reply party, but this article came at a great time for me.

    Genuinely thank you.

  • Riley

    Feeling this as I write my college application essay, and I’m supposed to submit in a week…

  • Ali

    Thanks for this tip I’m working on a poetry book and a novel right now felt what you wrote about

  • Unsatisfied

    I’m not a writer or trying to be one but, I try to create art forms and have been having a lot of problems dealing with my perfectionism and seeing others working in the same medium do so much better than I. It’s a bit of comfort knowing I’m not alone and that what I’m feeling is normal, although it doesn’t make it better. You given me some good points to look back at and hopefully someday soon I can at least put the hate of my own work in the background and move forward more smoothly. Thank you