There are countless reasons we may need to end or abandon a project: too many external commitments, failed concept, no market value, feeling stuck or uninspired, bogged down by repeated complications, unexpected life changes, or just getting bored and distracted by something new and shiny. Additionally, the project may have come to a natural completion when the piece sold or the show wrapped.
It can be hard to acknowledge what we are loosing, and harder still to let go of any unacknowledged and unfulfilled dreams that project held for us. No matter the reason, holding onto an expired idea and postponing our inevitable grieving process can actually block us from pursuing new and rewarding paths.
Hopes and dreams are what motivate and drive us while we are working on a piece of art. Very rarely do our dreams line up with the reality of the outcome. Rather than viewing these dreams as merely "blind faith", "blind optimism", or even "delusions of grandeur" I see them as tools, vital fuel for our creative fire. We need to be able to release these hopes and dreams when the project ends so that we can attach all of this energy to our next project, and do so WITHOUT the emotional baggage of grief.
Cultivate those grand dreams, let them drive you to completion. Then release that energy and free it up for what comes next.
Ritual for Grieving
I do my best to set aside time each month to reflect on old projects. When I first started, I had accrued many unfinished projects that I needed to sort through. I started by writing a list of projects from my past, both successful or not, that I was still holding out some shred of hope for a different resolution. I went through the list and marked the projects that no longer feel "alive" or invigorating for me.
For each project I journaled on these prompts:
+ What inspired you to work on this subject?
+ Who and what will you miss most?
+ What were your unfulfilled hopes and dreams for this?
+ What did skills did you learn from the experience (lessons)?
+ How has this project enriched or changed you (takeaways)?
+ What will you do differently next time?
+ Does this project still feel "alive" to me?
+ What new projects would get more attention if I let go of this old one?
I made a little ritual for myself by taking my notebook and marching my ass up a mountain for an hour. On the way up I curse and vent the frustrations of the failed project. By the time I reach the top the anger has drained from me, and even my ability to cling to sadness has fatigued. Those intense emotions fade away. In that moment of clarity, I sit alone and answer these questions.
Then I release myself of remaining responsibilities. Finish by jotting down a few things that I am grateful for in the coming months and look out over the city to contemplate the future. As I hike back down the trail, I've found that this clarity stays with me.