Quit while you’re ahead

Some of you guys may have gotten an email from me, earlier this week, explaining that I have chosen to abandon the #yegfilm app I was building:

Campaign Overview   MailChimp

Click to read

It’s just one of a slate of projects I’m putting on ice, in anticipation of a day when I am better suited technically/financially/emotionally to complete them.

It’s obviously not particularly fun to admit you promised something you couldn’t deliver, but it’s also okay to opt-out of a project when you realize it doesn’t fit your time/skills/resources/schedule. Believe me when I say that your creative resources are finite, but replenishable – you need to protect them, you need to rebuild them, and most of all, you need to enjoy them – and getting pinned under something you can’t or don’t want to finish is the quickest way to drain them.

Here’s a few unsolicited words of advice from someone with a long and storied history of quitting.

honest-ethical1) Be honest with yourself and everyone else

It’s mighty tempting to just hide under your bed and pretend you DIDN’T tell everybody to get ready to star in your 4-hour opus about racist realtors who spend their evening hustling karaoke contests (yes, that’s a real idea from our idea jar). But fight that temptation!

In my early 20s, my exit strategy from everything consisted of “Don’t show up, and don’t answer the phone.”  But as I’ve gotten older, I’ve found that the best thing you can do is forgive yourself for your limitations and be straight up with people about them. They might not like you, but GODDAMNIT they’ll respect you.

a-good-mission-statement-284x3002) Know your success metric going in

This is really more preventative than anything else, but knowing what success looks like going in makes it less likely that you’ll have to bail at some point. Personally, I suck at this. My success metric for projects is usually way too vague and way too ambitious to be realistic. With the #yegfilm app, Jeff and I wanted to make something that could result in a huge, connected Edmonton film community that would eventually let the local film community become financially self-sustaining.

Ambitious? Check. Vague? Check. Impossible to accomplish with an app, given my programming skill level? CHECK.

The problem with this project, therefore, became that I could never reach the goal I’d set for it, and therefore, I never knew when I’d be done, damning myself to being trapped under it forever.

JF-Quote3) Every undertaking should be about the process, not the result.

Years ago, Jeff and I ran a website called the edmontonian that wrote about local news, events, artists, entrepreneurs, etc. We started that project because, at the time, we thought there weren’t enough outlets covering what it felt like to live in Edmonton. And it was really fun for the first year – but eventually, as happens to two people with careers, personal lives, and a great big personal project, we got tired.

When I got tired, my solution became “Well, I wouldn’t be so tired if this was my full time job.” So the last 6-8 months of the edmontonian stopped being fun for me, and became about obsessively finding a way to monetize it. In my mind, we couldn’t call ourselves successful until we were making our full-time living with the edmontonian. This focus on result over process completely devalued all the cool stuff we got to do (and believe me, we got to do A LOT), regardless of how much money we did or didn’t make.

rescue-rangers-cartoon54) You are not going to get rescued

This is the biggest thing I’ve learned from having to exit projects. If I could wave a wand, and impart one idea on every creative person in the world, it would be this: no one is going to discover you, rescue you or sweep you away to pursue your art.

I have years of painful experience, burning myself out in the pursuit of getting rescued: “if my band is good enough, we’ll get signed”. “If my movie is good enough, it’ll sell”. “If my Edmonton-specific news site is successful enough, it’ll magically turn a profit.”

The idea of being rescued from a life of working a normal 9-5 to pursue your art full-time in a comfortable environment is long dead, so let’s just agree collectively to let it go. The idea of “being discovered” is little more than a hangover from the previous 50 years – a period with wealthy movie studios, million dollar record deals, and a buttload more expendable income than we have today. For better or worse, the internet burned that house down, and our dreams of magically getting rich with it. Letting go of that dream lets us adopt a slower, more deliberate creative process, which will only ever equal better output.


BTW, In addition to the yegfilm app, here are just a few things I’ve had to pull the pin on lately:

In Beta: A web series about a group of Edmonton programmers who quit their jobs to create a startup and launch an app.

Problem: We started workshopping this project last summer, but Mike Judge stole our thunder with Silicon Valley. But Silicon Valley is so G.D. good, I don’t even mind.

Yum’s the Word: A web series about a Sherwood Park caterer who vows revenge on the local morning show that fired her from her cooking slot.

Problem: Scope. Successful completion would require being able to shoot inside a fully operational television station.

LeroyTV: A web series set in 2008, when Canadian TV channels were being sold off for as little as $1. Terence Leroy Catfish, a man who loves iconic Canadian TV with a passion usually reserved for science fiction and comic books, wants to start his own Canadian TV station.

Problem: Again, scope. Too many locations.