Another Lesson in Expectation and Humility

Saturday, July 19, 2008

In my 4 or so years doing serious and semi-serious web development, I have learned countless lessons. I have learned how to modify existing web spaces, how to create from scratch, how to write html, xhtml, css, and javascript, how to create and edit images, and how to utilize an amalgam of free resources available to us nowadays in order to produce functional web spaces at low cost. All of these things are straightforward and externally locuted skills I've picked up along the way. However, they pale in comparison to the countless internal and emotional lessons I've learned (and continue to learn) in the course of this mini-adventure I've been on.

From the very first seriously creative project I undertook, to create a collaborative online space for Student for Environmental Action, until now I have consistently run into the same internal emotional battle. At various points I've dealt with it better or worse, but I am still baffled by its ability to put me on my ass. In most of my online projects I am expressing a vast array of both my external skills and my internal creativity. When a project grabs my attention, it usually takes hold of me, only to let go when I either see it to fruition or give up on it (to be pushed under in my subconscious). I end up putting so much of myself into these projects, physically and emotionally, that by the time I am ready to show it to someone, I have built up massive expectations for their response. I think I am looking for this person to match the level and intensity that I've put into whatever web space it is with her/his excitement for what I've done. To date, this has never happened, and so I'm perpetually dissappointed. Sometimes I can just brush off the disappointment. Sometimes it refuels me. But other times, the disappointment devastates me and I manage to let it invade all nooks and crannies of my life.

In the latest episode, I recently worked very hard and very solidly for nearly three months on a single project. I had developed a new book display virtual interface for the library that I work for throughout the fall '07 semester. It was a relatively simple web page/app, using javascript to parse and display everything entirely on the client side. Very few people in the library knew about it, but those who did were pretty complimentary. Around mid-May I began hearing from some of my colleagues that they were very impressed with the new books page and some even expressed interest in extending the idea to their own collections of books. Not only this, but a blog post on the central library blog was created drawing attention to the page I had created. This relatively unsolicited support for the work I had done floored me. I was so excited that someone was interested in what I was doing and even wanted me to implement the idea in a different context. So, I set to work further developing it to add a suite of key features I thought it needed.

Nearly three months down the road I was ready to emerge with a new version (it still needs work mind you). The excitement of feeling like people, my colleagues among them, were paying attention and interested in what I was doing propelled me onward. In this excitement I began working on the project at home and off the clock (something I promised myself I'd never do). The more I worked the more excited I got about the interesting and new features I was able to throw together (dedicated search, user-generated tags, enhanced labels, sorting, light box popups, breadcrumbs). About two weeks ago I decided it was time to stop developing new features and cleanup what I had, getting it ready for release.

Last Wednesday I had it ready and sent it off to be put to the live servers. After checking to see that it was working properly, I sent out an email on Thursday to some of my colleagues, those who had been supportive in the past. In it, I included details about the new version and details about he amount of work I had put into it. With my excitement about the new features and my relief to be done with it for a while, I honestly expected to hear back rave reviews. I expected that many of them would reply to me with praise and even suggest that another blog post be created noting the changes. Since most of us work at computers all day and check email constantly, I figured it wouldn't take long. To my surprise, it did. Only one person responded noting the changes and congratulating me. I was devestated. I am devestated. I put a smile on my face and went on with my days (checking my email and getting excited at the appearance of every new message for the chance that it could be something about my work), either ignoring my disappointment or rationalizing it, only to let it creep into my mood and relationships in shadow form.

I write all this not to invoke response from whoever might read it, and not so much to get my emotions out in cathartic fashion. I write this because it viscerally and intensely brings up a core life experience. I want to get mad about this. I want to be mad at my colleagues and mad at the world. But how can that be? That would imply that someone external to me is at fault for my own inner state. How can I honestly be upset about this when my expectations for how my work will be received are both so massive and so prescripted that no one could possibly live up to them? In this vein, how pompous and arrogant am I to have such expectations; as if what I have done is some feat worthy of worldly recognition?! And so, I think I need to own up to my disappointment and anger and be accountable for/to it. To clearly understand that I am the owner of my emotions and the creator of my emotions. To clearly evaluate the motivations behind what I set out to do in the first place, and who I set out to do it for. On a conceptual level, I get this. I understand that I'm creating my own emotional rat race. But in the real world, in my real life, I don't know how to deal with it or stop it.

I honestly don't think I can or should blame myself entirely because it is more complicated than that. I see a proportionally equivalent relationship in the amount of effort and creativity I put into something and the level of expectation I have. I am constantly pushing myself to the next level of creative expression because I feel like it is an expression not limited to my finite self and corporeal body. I feel like in fully expressing creativity, I am just a vehicle through which flows the lifeforce of the all. I also feel that connection to this lifeforce requires a humility that goes beyond the definition and scope of the word humble. It requires a certain opening and surrendering. What I want to be able to do is be that vehicle for creativity and remain ultimately humble. What I am finding through this life experience, is that those two things are at odds with each other. It seems the more creativity I surrender to, the more sacrifice I make, the more creative and effective the end product of my creation, AND the more I have expectations for how it will be received. I feel this contradiction intimately and don't know what to do about it.

Worldly success tells me to push on. Emotional and spiritual well-being tells me to stop. But I don't believe in these two being at odds with each other. I don't "buy it" that I have to choose. I don't want to settle for "either/or". Where's my "yes/and"? What am I missing?

How to fully manifest... how to be fully creative... how to have right intention, and thus humility...

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