I recently came across a quote by the brilliant NPR reporter and storyteller Ira Glass. It’s about creativity, about work, about living up to our personal ambitions for our professional self. He says that something beginners should know is that for a good long while, they will be disappointed in their work. They will create bad work. The only solution, he says, is to keep creating.
While I agree with Ira Glass (because let’s get real, who could ever disagree with Ira Glass?), I do feel he is missing out on a certain component of creative success versus failure.
What I wish someone had told me early on in my budding adult life is that it is okay to let your creative work of choice go when you’re disappointed, stuck or starting to find other things alluring. Whether you write, paint, sing, or sell – all work is creative work in my book – it is okay to let go. And this is the big part: Letting it go does not mean you are quitting.
Yes, as Ira Glass says, the maturing of taste and preference plays a big part in shaping us into the creative professionals we aspire to be. But beyond taste there is experience and self-awareness outside of our artistic selves. If it is true that we have everything we need already inside us, then it will always be safe to go pursue something else while leaving the former option open. If we already have everything we need, then we are already capable of producing the creative work we so aspire to. It just is not fully developed. Doors have not been opened and structure has not been built around the framework. Steel frames anchor the house, but we can’t live inside steel frames alone.
Case in point, coming from someone who grew up believing that shifting focus was synonymous with quitting and failure: I never used to share my writing. I journaled, and I had a blog that lived anonymously online. And every so often I would write an essay-type piece I was a bit scared to publish. After putting myself on a semi-regular blogging schedule, constantly churning out the work I felt I should be doing to be a leader in this community I so admired, I realized I was becoming more and more frustrated. I stopped enjoying it and stopped writing with my voice. I became too stressed about the content I was creating. I stopped growing from it. I was at this standstill of trying, struggling with my inner dialogue, the proving and the questions and the self-judgment. So…I stopped writing for a while.
Obviously, I have started back up again, years later. I not only have renewed passion – my writing is what I always hoped it would be: an honest voice I not only identify with, but fully embrace. Am I done growing? The best I’ll ever be? No freaking way. But I am creatively fulfilled, open to growth and not just trying to fulfill a vision. I might not be writing forever; I might take a step back again sometime in the future. But what I do know is this: It’s ultimately not about the writing. I am feeling more like I am adding to my mission and purpose, whatever that may be (because I am still figuring it out!), in a way I never have before.
When you think of the concept of a “long-term goal,” what comes to mind? Is it a role? A project? Something tangible and visible? What I challenge us all to do is think more in terms of purpose and mission than position and benchmark. Because what we love to do should never, ever define who we love to be. If our happiness is rooted in what we are doing, then what happens when it goes away? What then? To me, it is more important to take care of oneself and one’s mission; it is more important to our sense of accomplishment both personally and professionally. If we are more in tune with the idea of internal success and fulfillment than the outward look of things, we can’t get stuck. We can’t fail.
Feeling creatively fulfilled is directly related to and almost entirely about experience. It’s about landing a sweet gig and then having it pulled from under your feet. It’s about thinking This is what I’ve been waiting for! and losing it; then realizing it was not at all what you needed. It’s about observation, careful observation, about listening and not having answers. It’s about seeing your best friend cry and not knowing how to fix it. It’s about watching your family age. It’s not so much about the grand gestures but about the other moments of courage both innocuous and wildly out of character; it’s about being honest about the people you choose to surround yourself with. It’s about hearing and listening to your true voice, because only when you’ve found it will it live and flourish in your craft.
We’re encouraged to keep going even when it is rough, but I feel that if it gets so rough your sense of self-worth is suffering, stop. Not forever, but for now. Who knows…maybe it will be forever. But if you are truly meant to give it to the world, it won’t. Meant to give, not just want to give – both need to be present for magic to happen. Work begets work, but it’s not about that until you are ready for that work.
Frustrated? Let go a little. I know you don’t need my permission, but just in case you needed a support system for that little voice in your head that is saying something is just not right, know that it’s okay to loosen the reigns. I’m working on it, too. Listen to the voice that is singing to your heart, free of shoulds and musts, and the outside will take care of itself.
And when it does…oh boy. Things will fall into place and opportunity will seem endless.