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The big letdown
Post-project blues? Creative comedown? Whatever you name it, it’s normal, and it sucks.
Thursday was a big day for me.
Back in July, I received a grant from the Knight Foundation to support the relaunch of a website I’d created in 2018. Last week, after six months of hard work—hiring a web development team; articulating my vision; wrangling lots of people and moving parts; completing big-picture and small-detail tasks; and making countless decisions—the revamped Digital Women Leaders made its debut. The new website is a thing of beauty, in both form and function, and I couldn’t be happier with it.
If you spent time with me on Thursday, though, happiness is not what you would have witnessed. In the hours leading up to the launch, I was a ball of anxiety; once the site was live, I became fixated on and frustrated by various items that needed to be addressed; by the end of the day, I felt pretty disappointed by the entire experience. Any nice bit of website feedback I received—and there was plenty!—bounced right off me. In contrast, any bit of constructive feedback—there was a tiny bit!—stuck to me like glue.
Just like that, the excitement and momentum built from months of dedication to this project transformed into a big ol’ letdown. Instead of feeling proud of my accomplishment, I felt deflated: Is this really it?
I should have seen this coming. Feeling emptiness after reaching a big goal is a common experience, a result of our dopamine levels returning to normal after a spike. Some people refer to the phenomenon as post-project depression; others have dubbed it the creative comedown. Whatever you name it, it’s normal, and it sucks.
Working on the Digital Women Leaders relaunch kept me busy. My project mission was solid: to connect women in journalism who have life and career questions to other women in journalism who have answers. Everything else, though, needed a little work. The site was somewhat clunky and hard to navigate, and I’d reached the end of my limited technical abilities to improve it. The Knight grant changed that. I now had money to hire people who could turn my website dreams into reality.
I loved the team I worked with, felt incredibly motivated to make the new site as good as possible, and, as everything started to take shape, became increasingly excited about sharing it with the world. As the launch date neared, I settled into a routine of working long hours. I zipped through punch list items, finding an easy rhythm and purpose in the tasks. I didn’t mind working late into the night, on vacation, or during weekends. Whenever I experienced a dip in motivation, I’d energize myself by imagining what the response might be like, and how great it would feel to be finished.
That ... didn’t happen. Once the website launched, those good vibes evaporated, my routine fell apart, and the free time I now had felt daunting.
I should clarify that none of my negative feelings had to do with the site itself, the response it received, or the team I worked with. Not even close! I truly am thrilled with the end product, the nice things people have said, and the rockstars who made it happen. As is often the case, my feelings of disappointment had everything to do with my sweet dumb brain.
“It’s natural, too, to feel sad, disappointed, even depressed at the end of a big project, even one that’s a resounding success,” Dustin Wax wrote for Lifehack. “The things we do define us as people, and the biggest things we do are the biggest part of us; losing them, even by choice and design, is hard.”
Thankfully, the letdown I’m currently experiencing isn’t extreme, partly because I have plenty of things to keep me busy. For better or worse, there are a number of website bugs to fix and improvements to make (to be expected in any project like this), which means that the job isn’t really over. I’ve also got other upcoming deadlines to meet, and new project ideas to brainstorm.
Still, it’s undeniable that I have a minor case of the post-project blues. My schedule feels out of whack, and my mood is gloomy. I haven’t had any recent jolts of inspiration, I’ve been feeling less motivated to do things I typically enjoy, and I’m moving more slowly than usual. And, after three weeks of relatively free-flowing writing, this newsletter essay was tough to write—and even tougher to edit.
None of these things are life-shattering, but they’re notable, especially in contrast to the motivation-fueled weeks I enjoyed at the start of 2020. You might be experiencing your own version of this, too; January is the peak time for the winter doldrums. Maybe you’re feeling discouraged by your slow-going workout routine, or frustrated as the final days of Dry January drag on. Whatever the obstacle may be, feeling stuck or unmotivated is completely normal.
As for my lull in inspiration, I’m trying not to fight it or worry too much. I know the post-project depression I’m feeling is temporary and that it, like any other uncomfortable thing in life, probably holds some valuable lessons for me.
In the meantime, I’m going to ride out the creative comedown as best I can. I’ll reflect on the experience, step away from my computer and get outside, and remind myself that I did a job well done. Disappointment might be normal, but that doesn’t mean it’s rational.
p.s. Have you experienced a significant post-project or post-event letdown? Ever felt empty after finishing a particularly good book, or caught a case of the post-binge-watching blues? If so, what helped get you out of your funk? Teach me your ways! Reply to this email with your thoughts, and I’ll share some of the highlights in Thursday’s subscriber-only newsletter.
p.p.s. If you’re a woman or female-identified person working in the news industry, I hope you’ll take advantage of Digital Women Leaders! It’s a *free resource,* and the mentors who are volunteering their time for one-on-one calls are incredibly thoughtful and wonderful.
This newsletter is written by Katie Hawkins-Gaar. It’s edited by Rebecca Coates, who, like many of her millennial peers, struggled with post-project letdown after graduating from college.