People always told me that if I found something I was passionate about, I’d never work a day in my life. “Do what you love” they said. “Follow your passion” they said. After all, how bad could it be? I had found something I loved to my core; what could go wrong with diving head first into it and trying to turn my passion into a full time job?
It seemed pretty harmless, so that’s what I did. I worked non stop at what I loved for months going on years. I surrounded myself with what I loved and I lived and breathed my passion…
But was I really passionate if I didn’t work 24/7?
At first I began to procrastinate. Just a little bit here and there, but everyone does that right? No biggie. I could still get stuff done in time for my deadline, I was a smart dude. I had this. Quitting wasn’t an option.
But then procrastination turned into avoidance. Its weird, but there is always a point where you notice something is wrong. Something triggers that inner voice to tell you “hey, dude, you’re slacking”. That point came for me when I realized I spent 3 consecutive days on my computer on Netflix, YouTube, and Reddit without getting a single line of code written. The whole time I would beat myself up, feel guilty, and know that I should be working, but yet I wouldn’t. But quit? Nah…this was my passion. No quitting here.
Then avoidance turned into loathing. I started to hate my project. For every item I crossed off my task list, I had to add two more. The last 10% of my project had turned into the last 90% and I felt trapped in an inescapable task list Hell. So much to do, so little motivation to do it. This project I had started with so much passion and motivation didn’t give me the same warm and fuzzy feelings I had when I first started – they were gone long gone. This beautiful passion project had turned into 110% ugly, grueling work.
At that point, I felt so horrible about myself that I dove into a deep depression. I had a lot of other things going on in my life, and the thought of me possibly being a failure and letting down the people that were counting on me made even facing my project almost unbearable. And talking to those that cared the most was out of the question.
I couldn’t take it anymore, so I quit.
But I never officially quit of course. We passionate people don’t do that. No, we simply put our project down one day and never pick it up again. It’s a slow death, one that no great project deserves. Because without the official quit, you continue to think about it, get anxious over it, feel guilty about it…and yet you never touch it.
I didn’t know it at the time, but I was the victim of burn out – an under-discussed but overly abundant problem many passionate and creative people face.
I wasn’t aware of the problem because of the lies I had been fed.
I thought I was the hero of the story, with my super power of passion preventing me from ever facing such a soul-sucking problem like this.
That day, I learned a few things:
- Passion does not equal unlimited motivation.
- Passion does not prevent burn out.
- If you have no motivation to work on something and/or you are burned out, it does not mean that you are not passionate.
Passion does not equal unlimited motivation.
There seems to be a common belief that if you are passionate about something, you can do it at full intensity forever, but that is just not true. I found out later than I would’ve liked to that sometimes, passion does not equal unlimited motivation, and in fact it can be completely separate from motivation at times. I’ve found in my own life that just because I loved something and I was passionate about it didn’t mean I wanted to do it non stop for extended periods of time, and that passion did not protect me from things like burn out or just plain procrastination.
In fact, I would go as far as to say passion has nothing at all to do with motivation.
Sure, when you’re passionate about something its absolutely easier to get started. And maybe it pushes you over a hill or two when the road gets bumpy.
But motivation – real intrinsic motivation – doesn’t come from passion, and often is completely disconnected from the project completely.
I realized my motivation for game development came more from making other people happy and improving their lives than it did from completing a game. And if I focused on that and sprinkled in fun and energizing play tests during the hard stages of development, finishing was a whole lot easier.
I realized my motivation for building Game Dev Underground came more from a deep desire to connect with others, and that piece of loneliness inside of me. And I found that if I can find a way to see the impact the site has on people and their game development journey, it makes it easier to keep going.
Being passionate and unmotivated is normal.
So why the in the HELL didn’t anyone tell me that? Why did I feel like all of my peers and the people in my circle were keeping this deep dark secret from me? Why did it take a spout of deep depression and abandonment of something I loved to teach me this? Shouldn’t this shit be like…you know…common knowledge?
It really made me angry at first, because the planet tells you that passion is the answer. Especially in the startup world. Companies hire passionate people. Passionate people make great products. They make it seem like passion just means that you can work 24/7/365 and that is just a flat out lie.
For a long time I didn’t think I was actually passionate about anything because everything I dove into burned me out.
I realize now that was my lack of impulse control and my inability to stick to the hard path when it got hard. I realized it wasn’t really passion or motivation that I needed, because I couldn’t really control those things or bend them to my will.
I realized that dedication is what gets things finished.
Motivation comes from outside of you. Its external and cant be cultivated or captured in a jar to save for later. Passion can’t be steered or pointed in the direction you want it to go. You cant choose the things you end up loving in life, you just love them.
But dedication – dedication is a different beast. Dedication is the stuff the top performers on the planet are made of. Its not who’s better in basketball, it’s who buried the game so deep into their psyche and muscle memory with repeated practice that truly wins the game.
Dedication is something that comes from inside, and its something you build over time. Its fucking hard to do too. There are some days where the last thing on this planet that you want to do is work on your project…but its dedication, not passion or motivation, that makes you do it anyway.
Dedication is what keeps you going when you give zero fucks about your project and you would literally rather jump into a pool of piranhas then write one more line of code. Dedication is what makes you take that one step beyond what you thought was possible. Dedication is the stuff of legends. It’s the only thing that separates you from greatness.
And so, after way too long, I finished it.
Game Dev Underground itself was the project I’ve been talking about. I’ve been at this thing from an idea stage in 2009, to the initial BETA in 2013. And only now in 2017 do I feel like its far along enough to release it publicly. A lot of you have been with me since then, and I appreciate you sticking by me and believing in my vision…and yet this is the first time I have ever been really open and honest about how much of a struggle it was to get this thing out there.
And this is the damn 3rd version!!! Its been this way every time.
It has not been easy. It took the majority of my adult life to get this thing out there. There were so many times that I stopped and started again. There were so many burn outs and moments of insecurity that prevented me from communicating or getting this thing out there, but here we go.
So to all of you out there who feel like your project is too big, or you feel burnt out…trust me, it gets better. You just need time and a little dedication and you’ll get there.
Passion and motivation are great but they will not get you to the finish line by themselves. Keep that in mind.
What about you? Have you ever struggled with motivation or burn out with your projects? Let me know in the comments below!