Last week I shared a suggestion for what to do when your brain is over-flowing with ideas. Today I want to talk about the opposite problem...
I wish this one had a simple solution. But it's a harder one to fix because you can't just narrow it down or force something to work. This one takes effort, but also timing and luck.
I actually suffer from this much more often than "too many ideas." Sometimes it's obvious; I want something new to work on but I can't for the life of me figure out what that will be. Or I see "everyone" and they appear to have "found their calling" and I think, "Dude. I want that." Over the past few years I have had lightbulb moments, but I have also had periods of drought.
Here are a few things that I have learned about living and working when the proverbial idea well feels dry.
Don't stop doing what you're doing. This is key. It's easy to think "oh, if I just had more time, I'd be able to come up with something." Or "if only I cleared my plate of everything else it would be easier to see the best new path." This is false. It feels like it will work because we can trick ourselves into thinking that "more time" is the solution but it's not. Ideas come when you're working on other things. They come when you're driving your kid to daycare. Or when you're getting your first five minute shower in two days. They come when you're frantically trying to solve another, totally un-related work problem. Keep working on what's ahead of you. Don't stop yet.
Don't go trying to read inspiring stories of what other people have done. I think this is another common misconception. "I know! I'll read about Jane and how she built X out of six wooden palettes and $45." NO. That's not helpful. Reading Jane's story might give you a quick hit of "Yes! Go! Get it!" but then, when your new direction doesn't immediately become clear you'll feel bummed out again and go looking for that next inspiring story hit. It's a trap! I'd recommend instead trying to find stories that INTEREST you (not inspire you). Fiction, science research, 99% Invisible Podcasts. Whatever. Fill up your brain with fun and facts and interesting tidbits that entertain you and make you think. What we're trying to do is THINK, not get inspired.
Please note: I'm not saying "try to avoid being inspired." I'm saying "when you're feeling down about not having ideas, reading about other people's great ideas will not make you feel better nor will it help you come up with your best idea."
Do share your passion often. What do you love? What makes your eyes light up and your brain go BOOM and your heart explode? Work on that. Share that. Share it as widely and freely as you can. My passion (as lame and nerdy as it sounds) is setting goals. I LOVE TO SET GOALS. I love more to reach them, but the entire process makes me giddy. I spent nine years blogging about my own goals without any plan at all to make money from this concept. Then I thought..."hmmmm, I'll write a goal setting book." And then I thought "but I don't really think people need to be talked to about goals. I think people need to just set the damn goals." And ta-da! The seed of an idea for GET TO WORK BOOK was born. The entire lightbulb moment took just a minute or two in the garage one Saturday with my dad. But getting to that moment? It took nearly a decade.
Do talk about your ideas. Tell people your ideas. Even your dumb ones. Talk about all of them. Another misconception (or at least something I hear about often) is that people think that other people are going to "steal" their ideas. Which for sure happens. People are always going to be working on similar things. Sometimes they are even going to "take" an idea from someone else. But I think this is rare. A good idea is hard to steal because it's so much a part of YOU. It's your voice and your passion and while the concept can be replicated, the heart behind it can't. You can't fake heart. You can fake almost everything else, but not that.
So talk it out. Talk it all out. You'll quickly realize just by trying to put something into words what's garbage and what's the beginning of something. You'll gain supporters for the Real Stuff and you'll get a decent sounding board for the bad stuff. It can only help to talk things through.
Personal example: For the past six months, I've been telling almost anyone I've chatted with for longer than 20 minutes that I want to create a goal-setting app that's community based. I haven't flushed it out, but I can sort of see it and love what I think I can do with it. I don't have the capital or time right now to make it real so I am no where near starting the process. Guaranteed someone else is already working on it and it's going to be amazing (at least I hope so; then I can just use it, not run it). Meanwhile I'm just talking about it. But every conversation I have gets me a bit closer to realizing this idea. So I keep talking (and thinking)...
...and working on everything else.