We think it’s infallible. We think just because we have mustered our creative mojo once that creativity will always be palpable, readily at the surface every time we get to work. The problem with this assumption is life will inevitably get in the way. If we are not diligent in how we get to work, the magic dissipates. The wondrous act of creation becomes a memory from the glory days rather than a measurable, living, breathing practice. There are many different reasons we lose our productive push: our energy levels drop, we don’t have an environment that supports our work, we don’t schedule time to work. It would make sense that if we truly wanted to live a life of creative fulfillment, we would easily be able to just do it. But there are other elements at play when we self-sabotage like this and one of those things is our need to please others.
Unfortunately, as obsessed as we get with outside validation, pleasing others has nothing to do with creating good work. It automatically disconnects you from your voice and vision. It takes the onus off of your creating the work and places responsibility on others’ reacting to the work. Pleasing others is the fastest path to self-destruction that you can take.
If you want a really creative life, full of the color and temperature of your ideal world, you’re going to have to do something drastic: let everyone down.
Let them all down.
One more time for good measure:
LET THEM ALL DOWN.
Firstly, this has to do with permission. You have to grant yourself permission to be honest about what you want out of your life and how you want to spend your time. We forget to be honest when we're so busy being polite. Because when you give yourself permission to be honest, you will butt heads with someone. Not everyone is going to like you or what you do. So what?
Here are some guarantees:
You will be mocked.
You will be made fun of.
You will be called names.
You will be misunderstood.
Here are some more guarantees:
People will support you.
People will love you and what you’re doing.
People will go out of their way to help you.
People will be inspired by you.
Living in this contradictory world means that both of those reactions are not only possible, they are necessary for the other one to exist. You cannot have the bad without the good. If you want to do mediocre work and just kind of be average, then yes you can make gray washes of so-so, keeping anyone from commenting, much less noticing. But if you’re trying to do anything honestly creative, chances are you don’t actually have a burning desire deep down inside for blandness.
So let’s get it straight, letting people down is an act of creative authenticity. When you let others down it means you are defining your edges. You are deciding what exactly you’re willing to do, where you’re willing to live, who you’re willing to surround yourself with, how you’re willing to work. Those edges aren’t just borders, they are definitions. And for the artistic type, when everything is a possibility, creating definitions is what keeps you on track and keeps the midnight oil burning. Your definitions are your bumpers, keeping you on the right road, while staying open to inspiration and opportunity.
Letting people down means that sometimes you won’t come through for a friend, sometimes you won’t be home for the holidays, sometimes you’ll say no to your boss. It means some people may be angry with you. Some people may suggest you are selfish. You might even be a little selfish. But a little selfishness can go a long creative way. Letting people down means that your energy won’t be indiscriminately given away so you’ll hold onto more of it, meaning there is more mojo to create.
I’m not suggesting that you forgo having relationships to create your work, but I am suggesting that you evaluate what will serve the work best and what's simply in the way. I am suggesting that you choose when it is appropriate to give and when it is valuable to hoard. I am suggesting that you trust people enough to realize you don’t have to protect them. I am suggesting that when you give yourself permission to get a little bit protective of your work, you give others permission as well. I am suggesting that letting people down isn't letting people down at all.
How have you created these boundaries around your work?
Photo by Craig Hanson Photography