I highly recommend Elizabeth Gilbert's book, Big Magic. It is a wonderful read that really helped my perspective on my art, my career and my life.
One of my favorite things in the book is her recognizing out loud that her best work is almost certainly behind her.
What does she mean by that? She is the author of the blockbuster best-seller turned into a movie starring Julia Roberts, Eat, Pray, Love.
She is right. There is almost no chance she will write another book that will sell that many copies, that will affect that many lives. Big Magic has been hugely successful and it hasn't been a drop in a bucket compared to Eat, Pray, Love. And they aren't turning into a movie starring Julia Roberts or Meryl Streep any time soon.
But so what? The only person in the world who can let that almost certainly accurate observation affect or even grind to a screeching halt her creative output is her.
She's the only one with that power.
All of us throw up roadblocks all the time. And its always for one reason and one reason only: fear.
The only surefire way to guarantee no one thinks the book after your blockbuster didn't live up to its predecessor is by never writing it! But that sure seems like a silly decision to make out of fear.
You might be saying, "If only I had the privilege of worrying about people being disappointed with the book (or album or movie or whatever) after my global smash hit!" Yeah, I don't have that problem either.
But we all can sell ourselves from time to time on narratives that are very similar. We would never say these things out loud to friends or colleagues because they would instantly point out that we were being ridiculous. But the crazy and terrifying thing is that we totally buy this bullshit when it is just a one-sided conversation in our head! Some possible examples:
"My performance of the Bach Goldberg Variations will never be as good as Glenn Gould's so why bother."
Here's the problem. No one wants another version of Glenn Gould's Goldberg Variations. (Full disclosure: His 1981 recording of that might be my single desert island recording of any piece of music in any genre ever.) But he already played that. Who gives a shit if some tuba playing podcast host thinks that's the gold standard? If you have a version inside of you, for the love of all things holy share it with us!
"I've always composed for choir in the past and really don't know anything about wind ensemble so even though I'm interested in learning, I know my writing won't ever be as good as John Mackey's or even my choral writing so I'll just drag my feet and never start, or at the very least never share it with anyone."
No, you won't speak with as clear a voice as John Mackey does when you first start writing for wind ensemble. But here's the problem with this one: Nor did John Mackey when he first started out! You know how John Mackey got to be "John Mackey" and Dale Trumbore got to be "Dale Trumbore" in the choral world: By composing their first piece and then composing another one. Lather. Rinse. Repeat. Everyone has to start somewhere.
"I could never produce an album that sounds as good Dark Side of the Moon so I'll just stick to playing bass (even though my shifting passions really are leaning strongly towards producing.)
And you may already know what I'm going to say here, but Alan Parsons, who produced the Pink Floyd masterpiece Dark Side of the Moon, didn't start at that level. He was an assistant at Abbey Road when the Beatles recorded their album by that name and then went on to work on many albums in a variety of capacities. The point is he learned from some of the best in the business and wasn't intimidated that he wasn't a finished product the day he first walked into Abbey Road.