CONFIDENTIAL: Why everyone needs to have a secret project

Today I’m working on a secret project. I’m very excited about it, and I’m putting a lot of effort into making it, but it’s a secret. None of you will find out right away what it is. Some of you may never know what it is. And that’s fine.

I think you should have a secret project too. Here’s why:

Good secrets are fun.

Isn’t it nice to have an air of mystery about you? To feel like a superhero who hides their identity, knowing that while you may appear to be this average person during most of your time, you do extraordinary things in secret? Think about it. Would Superman be as interesting without being Clark Kent? Would we relate to Spiderman so much if he weren’t Miles Morales/Peter Parker? Would Nikita be as effective with her plans if she couldn’t seamlessly integrate herself into different situations for intel/assassinations (yes I know she’s not a superhero, but she’s a badass). No! Become a superhero, keep a secret!

Secret projects take off the pressure.

Sometimes I tell people that I’m going to do a thing, but then I get a lot of anxiety about making it happen. I feel obligated to finish something not because I want to finish it, but I don’t want to disappoint whoever I told about my project. When I’m asked by someone “How is X thing going?” it makes me feel slightly shamed if I haven’t made enough visible progress to tell them about it. So if I don’t tell people about the project, there’s no pressure! They don’t know that anything exists! You can finish your secret project as quickly or slowly as you want to (or not at all).

When you tell people, you may be less likely to do it.

Bizarre, right? There is some research suggesting that telling others about identity-related goals (like I want to become (insert occupation or lifestyle), or I’m going to learn how to do (insert skill).) may make you less likely to accomplish them. From what I’ve read, sometimes when you tell people about what you’re going to do, the praise that you receive from others make you psychologically feel like you’ve already accomplished your goal. If you’ve accomplished your goal already, then why work on it so hard? Before you freak out that you already told someone about what you want to do, you should know that some studies suggest that accountability may be beneficial for achieving other goals.  The brain is very tricky. The best thing for you to do is to figure out what goals you can tell people about vs which ones you can’t.

Secret projects are fluid.

When I have a secret project going on, I find it easier to go with the flow when compared to a defined project. I don’t feel compelled to do something a certain way. Any new step in my project feels exciting because I have no expectations towards what it should look like – it just takes its own form! Earlier this week I was reading Neil Gaiman’s commencement speech to Philadelphia’s University of the Arts on making good art. It talked about how you should be a person who doesn’t know what you’re doing and who doesn’t know the rules, because it allows you to go beyond what is conventionally thought as possible or impossible. I feel like secret projects defy the rules. Secret projects have no rules! Secret projects have potential, and you should just go with it!

Photo by Jazmin Quaynor on Unsplash

I hope this inspires some of you to start your own projects. Begin a project that’s half of an idea, or extremely personal to you. A wish, or something new. Put all of the energy that you want towards it, and don’t feel like you’re being judged for not accomplishing/finishing/forming it fast enough. Do it because you like it.

Find your secrets.