There’s no better motivator for work than passion. Looming deadlines give you a motivational boost driven by panic, but it’s a different kind of motivation. It’s messy, and more often than not, it shows. Compare that kind of motivation to that of passion; a project motivated by passion is always improving. It’s never “done”. And it’s always fun.
When it comes to passion-driven projects, if you lose that passion, then it usually isn’t the end of the world. You can shut down a personal project knowing that no one will miss it, and if you miss it you can start it up again, hopefully with the passion you lost. But what happens when you lose passion for something that does have a deadline? What happens if you lose your passion for a contracted job, or a school project?
That’s what happened to me. That’s what happened to Sqetch.
Sqetch was an idea I had while I was working in Manchester for my industrial placement. I was doing a lot of designing of websites, and one of the deliverables for the designs I produced was a bunch of wireframes. I’d sit down with the rest of my team a couple of times a week and show them what I’ve been working on; wireframes gave me something to show them when the mockups or prototypes weren’t yet finished. They were also easy to scribble on. People could grab a copy and make changes, leave comments, and share them with other people. It was highly collaborative, but it was all on paper. This meant there was a lot of running around, printing wireframes, drawing them by hand, and running back and forth between desks to share ideas.
And then I thought about a solution. Something that would let me create, share, and edit wireframes with my team. I imagined what such a tool would look like. I built Sqetch in my mind’s eye.
Now, at the time, I had no idea what I was going to work on for my Final Year Project when I’d return to University. This idea jumped out at me as the perfect thing. It would be challenging, cover new ground, and have aspects that already work to my existing strengths; exactly what a dissertation/project required. So I let the idea stew. I made a few early mockups, launched a little teaser site, and opened up a Twitter account for it.
A few months later, and I was back at University and ready to start working on the idea. Of course, the dissertation was a big part of the final year project, and we all know how much fun writing 20,000 words can be. I knew the dissertation was a big ask, but I was still excited about the project. So I buckled up, wrote the project planning document – the first formal deliverable for the final year project – and started work on a prototype application. And that’s when things took a turn.
I was beaten to the punch. Just days after submitting my project planning document, I see tweets describing the very same application I was working on. Only it wasn’t. Someone beat me to it. It was almost exactly what I’d envisaged. Down to the colour scheme. This was a pretty major blow to my passion for this idea. I’ve said on a number of occasions before, “There are no original ideas, only better ones.” But this was different. I couldn’t imagine how I would possibly improve on this product. It was everything I’d pictured and more.
So I tried to keep going. Draw inspiration from what I’d seen and rethink the steps I’d planned; rethink the steps the creator of this application had made. But as with all projects motivated only by deadlines, I found myself procrastiworking. I made Onword (another University assignment, but one fuelled by great passion) when I should’ve been working on Sqetch. I wrote blog posts when I should’ve been writing my dissertation. I did everything possible to avoid doing this work I simply didn’t enjoy.
By the end of the project, I had only a few sources of motivation. My project supervisor, who was always confident of my ability. My flatmate, who was always there to help me think out loud. My partner, who was there to help me think out loud, as well as make sure I ate something.
But in the last few days, as the deadline rushed towards me, I got a little of the passion back. I felt that satisfaction of implementing features that I’d only found in Onword and my other projects. At the very least, I found satisfaction in the kind of design challenges that the project presented. The passion I’d lost had manifested itself in other projects and areas of my life – be it Onword, Gateway, or Skyrim – and eventually gone full circle, bringing with it the knowledge and experience I’d gained in those other projects. Early design choices I’d made were swept aside by the experience gained from my more enjoyable projects. The CSS was architected differently. Code was refactored and the shape of the project changed from an awkward, shoehorned mess into a slightly less awkward, shoehorned mess. The dissertation was written up, and the project was submitted a whole day ahead of schedule.
I won’t pretend that Sqetch is finished. It isn’t. It’s another piece of work that won’t make it onto my portfolio. I’m not proud of it. It was rushed, and it shows; but that’s what happens when you lose passion for a project you can’t just shut down. And once the work has been assessed by the University, it may well be shut down. Or I might find that passion again.
Failure isn’t when you fall down. It’s when you don’t get back up.