It’s Okay to Hate What You Created Yesterday
After four years of sharing my photography online, one evening I logged on to my Flickr account and deleted my entire photo-stream. Four years of chronologically ordered photographs, thousands of likes, hundreds of comments, even a good chunk of poetry that used to function as captions to supplement the pictures — gone, in two clicks.
I faced a lot of backlash for it. I wasn’t a well-known artist on the platform, but back in 2009 when I first joined Flickr, it was alive and crowded. I made some friends there I can keep for life.
And they were agitated at my surprise purge — not because they’d miss revising my reel of experiments but at the sheer indifference I showed towards vaporizing 48 months of consistent work. “What the fuck, Mutasim?!”
If you’re wondering, I didn’t even bother to keep a backup.
I was taking some of my best photographs yet, and participating in exhibitions one after another. In a span of years, my work came such a long way that I looked at my older pictures and thought “Sheesh! What is this reel of crap? I was horrible at this!”
I improved years beyond those clichés.
“This is not who I am as a photographer today” was realization enough for me to delete my entire portfolio.
The Garbage in Retrospect
I started blogging in 2007. Remember Blogspot? If you’re born in the late 90s, ignore what I just asked. (Did I just hear an “okay boomer”?).
I had WordPress blogs, Tumblr blogs and articles on Facebook Notes. I wrote poetry on the back pages of school notebooks, thoughts in journals, snippets of inspiration in .txt files that died with old computers.
Heck, I even hand-wrote letters as long as 37 pages to my high school sweetheart.
With all that writing, I can’t count how many times I revisited an old writing and borderline laughed at the tonal immaturity or the extravagant display of vocabulary.
Over a decade later, I still look at pieces I wrote just days ago and scroll away in embarrassment.
When I was younger, I used to only focus on the negative and wonder—
“Why was I so lame?”, “How could anybody like this?”, “How was I even proud of such crap?”.
But with time I learned to focus on the other side —
I hated what I’ve created before because I was creating better now.
Doubt — The Far Lesser of Two Evils
As awesome as it is to experience constant growth, it’s frustrating to look at what you’ve done so far and feel dissociated.
As if months and years of hard work is turning into an infinitely growing pile of garbage and there’s nothing worth a dime to show to anyone.
Not quite so.
Your audience doesn’t know that. They don’t put your yesterday’s output against today’s and decide that was clearly inferior.
They may objectively put your yesterday’s work against someone else’s, but that’s not something you need to obsess about, not in this context at least.
Remember, what you’re feeling is safely contained within you.
Can you imagine being at the other end though?
What if you had faith in your work but nobody else was paying attention to it?
“That happened to J. K. Rowling too. I wouldn’t worry.”
Okay quick-wit! Now pair that with the situation that you look at a collection of your earlier work and feel like you’ve done your best, and there’s nothing you could do to make it better if you re-did it now.
What if you were stuck in mediocrity and simply stopped growing?
Hating yesterday’s work doesn’t sound so bad now, does it?
Embrace the Feeling
Many writers advise sleeping on your draft and editing it the next day. It’s a wonderful tip.
One reason is when you’re too much into your story, you don’t readily see potential improvements. A new day gives you a fresh perspective. You de-familiarize with the page a little, see it with fresh eyes, and things you didn’t notice yesterday suddenly scream for your help.
The other reason — to take advantage of your constant growth.
Not only do I find mistakes in the morning that I didn’t notice last night, I lose faith in entire paragraphs that 12 hours ago seemed well-composed.
Welcoming this feeling of finding flaws in your earlier work, paired with the awareness that it’s your own growth is constantly setting a higher standards to reach will catalyze your evolution.
A great way of keeping yourself assured is to engage in a community of creators with similar interests and build friendships where you can talk about it.
When fellow artists share doubts about their past work and you think they’re out of their minds, you’ll know better how to morally support them and yourself.
Reaching a peak is a wonderful feeling, but at the same time, knowing it can only go downhill from there is a horrifying.
Celebrate the constant climb more than reaching a pinnacle.