Creative Overflow, Motivational Drought. Or, just inflated standards?

Something I have been struggling with more is that I still have plenty of ideas, even the drive to create. But when I finally do sit down with the intention of starting with a project, the enjoyment quickly runs out. So before I have even started, a project will already be dead.

I have honestly considered it is just aging on my part. Not that I'm particularly old, but as I navigate through my late thirties, I find learning new things slightly more challenging. There is a lot of discussion around the idea that the older people get, the more trouble they have learning new things. Personally, I don't think I have trouble absorbing new information, what I do tend to notice more is the amount of information I do need to acquire. When I was younger, I was much more able to dive into a subject and just learn things bit by bit, not bothered by how high the mountain in front of me really was. These days I have seen the mountain, bought maps with the various climbing trails, read up on previous expeditions. Once I am done with that, I realize that there is, in fact, a mountain in front of me.

Which is a problem when many projects do require new skills. That or deal with a different mountain.

As an example, for a lot of projects I'd need a user interface. Most likely one with a web front-end. No problem, I have worked with HTML, CSS, and JavaScript for years. Here we get to the mountain I already know. One of the things I don't enjoy doing is the chore of setting up a basic functioning UI in them. Once the scaffolding is in place, I do enjoy tweaking it, but writing UI elements and their interaction is a joy zapping chore of a mountain I rather no scale.

What this means is that for many projects I might have written some proof of concept functionality without a UI. I then start thinking about how I would like to actually want to use it from a UX perspective, realize what I'd need to do to write the UI, and put the project on hold right then and there.

Part of the problem here is also that my current skill set is simply outdated. A lot of this could be partially solved by picking up and learning more modern tools and techniques. For example, use a more modern framework like React to handle a lot of the interactivity I otherwise would need to implement from scratch. In fact, I am pretty sure that if I could get over my disdain of the selector clutter Tailwind CSS causes, it would help me in prototyping interfaces much more quickly.

But here we get back to the mountain analogy again (I promise I am done with it after this). Because all of this means learning something else than the thing I want to work on. Even with that in mind, I have often planned to start learning new things. And it isn't as if I have completely stagnated here, either. But truly diving into new things really doesn't seem as easy as it once was.

Is this how software architects and tech leads are born?

Yes, this is a hot take. At the same time, I find that I have a lot of ideas, just often not the youthful energy to fully attempt to execute them myself. Roles like architects and tech leads do allow you to work out ideas, explore new techniques, while leaving the implementation to others.

While this train of thought has some validity, it doesn't provide a satisfying answer on a personal level. I don't have an organization available to me to work out things for personal projects and ideas. And, no, most of my ideas are not marketable as a product, so the startup route is also not an option.

Is this entire train of thought just a red herring?

When presented with certain challenges, I still greatly enjoy diving into the deep. Figuring out how things work, peer deeply into the abyss of logging and metrics, work on solutions and implementing them. That, to me, makes it pretty clear that it isn't really about me getting older and less motivated to dive deeply into things. So, a lot of what I just wrote might be an easy justification, but not a correct one. Or, at the very least, an incomplete explanation of something more complex.

In fact, when I take off my nostalgia glasses and look back at previous projects, I struggled with similar issues. The difference would often just be the context in which I framed it. But one thing is very clear, even when I still had plenty of “youthful” energy, many projects never saw the light of day.

What I do think is true is the fact that I didn't let it bother me that much, as I simply didn't really know how close I had gotten. These days, I have a more complete overview of what would be needed to pick something up. So I can also more realistically make a judgement about my ability to do something if I could be bothered.

Then there is the simple fact that my standards also have gotten higher. It is much easier to be happy with results when your standards aren't as high. Young me had not even heard of code style guides, proper version control, UX, and plenty more things. Knowledge driven perfectionism truly can be a hidden motivational sapper. Even more so when you are looking to add more knowledge to your tool chain.

So, what does this all mean?

Honestly, I don't know. In fact, I am not convinced I have gotten to the bottom of everything here. At best, I have done some exploration around my struggle with projects. Which has been meaningful, if I had not written this all out I probably would just get frustratingly stuck over and over again up to the point where I might have given up.

In fact, the realization that some of it really is driven by unrealistic perfectionism has already helped me. I have been toying with the idea of setting something up under this domain for a long time now. But for well over a year I got stuck on the technical part. I had all these requirements in my head of how I wanted it to be set up and work. In the end, I just needed to settle for a ready-made package, not quite a fit for all my requirements but easy enough to adjust. Which is what I did, and you are looking at the result now!

The same might be true for many projects. Depending on their scope, I don't need to aim for perfect. I do realize that this is very much an open-ended conclusion. But, I am not writing these posts to present the reader with a mind-blowing insightful conclusion. I write these posts to get my own thoughts in order and share that process. That doesn't mean that it hasn't been meaningful, it very much has been a rewarding experience. It also means that the journey isn't yet over and that I might revisit this topic in the future.

This is very much a test post

See title