At some moments, in some projects, and in some lives, there are moments where we are faced with a sense of futility.
I was talking today with a friend whose work ethic has always impressed me, and whose passion for many projects has led him to many creative works. He had recently finished a project--a book that he had been working on in relation to his work as a teacher (and vendor) of a software package. The book had met with a cold reception and he was struggling with a sense of futility: it makes no difference if I try, he exclaimed.
I've had something of the same sense recently with this blog. There are moments when I look at the hundreds of posts and for all the effort, I've only ever heard from a handful of readers--four, or five. I wonder about the value of the effort. On the other hand, those who did contact me were appreciative. And maybe it's worth it just to have helped even one person.
One way to look at the issue of futility is to consider whether the activity is itself inherently worthwhile. I can find rewards for the efforts on my blog on a number of different levels. Some of those rewards of writing would be found in positive response from readers--which, as I noted above, is not overwhelming. But I can also find rewards in learning to write better, in practicing my writing, and in practicing a practice, and in struggling to refine and improve ideas that come into play in the work that I do.
When we're struggling with a sense of futility, I think that it comes from an overly narrow focus on the potential aspects of a situation. To follow on the example of this blog, I feel the futility when I think about the value of the blog to others. But when I think of the value of the blog to myself, then I have a more positive view: working on the blog has helped me learn.
Hypothetically a dissertation writer might find a sense of futility attached to a work--perhaps because some critique they received was harsh and belittling. Actually that's not so hypothetical: I know it happens all the time. But the work may be valuable to other people. And of greatest importance, you can ask whether the work has value for you. Chances are that you, as writer, started out with a sense of a question that interested you, or a cause that motivated you, is there some way to re-connect your work with that sense of interest or motivation?
By focusing on aspects of the work that do feel important, one can get around the sense of futility. With a dissertation or thesis, it can always help to remember that completing the work will lead to a degree, so the project is not inherently futile and meaningless if you can compete the work. Usually, though, knowledge of the degree is not sufficient to overcome any writer's block that arises from feeling a sense of futility. That's why it's so valuable to be able to connect with a sense of purpose that is internal: a desire to grow, a desire to face challenges, and a desire to share ideas that are personally important.