How to be happy *and* unsatisfied

An artist’s work is never done. Therefore an artist is always unsatisfied; hungry with ambition, angry with disappointment, obsessed and never able to rest.

Would you say you’re doing your absolute best (work, life, everything) right now?

I bet you all said no.

You fall behind while someone else gets better, you find out someone is doing exactly what you want to do just way, way better, and your work in the context of others’ looks out of place.

But, you know, we’re unique, comparisons don’t work, and you can make peace with yourself if you just breathe, think of how great you can be, and do…

Ah, fuck it. Here I’ll admit it, I hate this post. I want it to be good. It probably isn’t. It’s definitely short of amazing. But you know what? I resigned myself to complete it anyway. Because youth and time and effort and annoyance are a huge amount of capital you can invest into high-risk creative ventures and mistakes to learn from them especially when you are stuck in life. That’s the point.

Now it’s published I’m even more unsatisfied because I had a point and it’s not articulated well enough to be worth the three hours or more I spent chipping away at a solid block of words to produce this sculpted post. Plus extra ‘research’ reading other blogs… yeah, I didn’t need to research. I knew this when I started.

But now it’s out in the world and it reminds me, and you, that there’s a long way to go between what you produce right now and what you ideally want to produce and you think you will be feel satisfied when your work is better but then I think about it.

Did you ever make a creative or artistic piece that you were utterly unhappy with? And then, instead of just letting it go, it bugged you for some reason and you spent far too much time and effort on it until eventually you just had to put it out there because otherwise you’d feel bad.

You surprised yourself, didn’t you? Later on, much later, someone reminded you of that piece, or you found it, and you recognised it from the familiar emotion it stirred in you again. And you realise it was so integral to who you are right now because it disgusted you so much you knew you didn’t want to stay on that level and you were spurred to do things differently and more often and better.

If you haven’t done it, do this right now: Take something you don’t like, accept it’s terrible, then hit publish, put it up for sale, or sing/read it out to strangers. (Yes, that’s a tip.)

And, however small or big, celebrate what you did today! When I do that, I realise I’m capable of more, and more capable of more in the future, than it seems right now. And that evidence-based intuition makes confidence and selling myself much more fun. I feel lucky to have the capability to continue on with this, with my life, and it doesn’t stop there. Because I’m alive! Fuck – that’s what dissatisfaction means, doesn’t it? It means I’m not done. It means I complete a sub-par piece of work and move on from it and still survive, and, as a bonus, the next piece/s will most likely be better because of it.

Being unsatisfied means I can kill my babies. It means I can reach the end and produce them to even have babies to kill. It means I have that professional detachment to kill crappy sentences and scrunch up paper and have the confidence to reject others’ work and not like everything and accept others have produced bad stuff out there just like me and we’re all learning.

I kind of have a confession. Despite my desire for an arts journalist position, I haven’t had the guts to be a harsh critic of others’ art. I think I’d be okay, though, with writing a harsh review if the artist recognised what I was doing and I could be wrong and s/he could kill babies and still come out to party and go through that hurt to learn so amateurs would grow into professionals and we’d all be happy because we were less satisfied with our work.

So, how did it go when you hit publish, put it up for sale or sing/read it out to strangers?


Join us! An amazing discussion in the Creative Designers and Writers Group continues:


  1. As an artist, nearly every piece I complete is noted as “complete” because either
    1. I’m tired of looking at it, or
    2. Afraid I’m going to muck it up by adding too much
    3. I know that no matter what I do, I won’t be completely, 100% satisfied.

    In effort to improve my technique, and possibly learn new techniques, I will “mock a master”, breaking down the process required to achieve the same effects. I’m not sure how it works as a writer, but I’ve learned quite a few things about painting this way.

    1. Thanks Melany!
      Your #3 is close to my point – and my call to revel in that dissatisfaction because that’s the fight and the desire needed to be fully alive!… and improve. I like the 2 definite points at which you stop. I tend to #2.

      Have you ever re-done a work of art when you found it again? Do you think that’s a good or bad idea?
      Tennessee Williams revised Cat on a Hot Tin Roof many times. Tampering with your art may well be to mock a master too!

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