The problem is we’re scared. Scared to create. Scared to put ourselves and our creations out there in public view. Scared to consistently be there for others. Scared to seek feedback. Scared that our new endeavor might not work. Scared to try that new medium for our art. Scared of what the spouse will say. Scared of what The Boss might say. Scared of what our customers might say. Scared for our reputation we’ve worked so hard to protect. We are so scared, in fact, that we freeze into position, into inaction, falling back on old, ingrained habits. We say we want to take on the thing, the new project, breathe some fresh air into our creative lungs and minds, but at the close of business, we are right where we were at the beginning.
One of the ironies of success is that we become comfortable with comfort. Comfort becomes the new normal for us. We’ve got the house and the Lexus now. We’ve got the Trophy Spouse and the two beautiful children and the pure bred dog. We’ve got the retirement accounts. We’ve got the vacations and the airline status to match. Even Marriott sends us nice things because of our loyalty to their hotels. We can breathe now, take a look around at what we’ve got, and say it is Good. We’ve worked hard for this. We’ve earned it. Isn’t this what we’re all after anyway? If not this, then what?
Too much comfort can become surprisingly uncomfortable.
If everything is going great, something must be wrong.
While personal chaos is not 100% necessary for creative expression, a little dose of it helps. In fact, it can act as a creative catalyst, creating necessity for action. Musicians use the emotional rollercoaster of personal relationships to mine for lyrical inspiration. Producers and directors borrow from legendary and contemporary stories to tell their stories of today. Photographers examine their own emotional histories to help navigate and guide their artistic expression.
Everything need not be perfect in order for us to create. In fact, our output is far better if circumstances are farther from perfect. You don’t write your Greatest Hits at the Ritz Carlton. You write them from your own kitchen table, surrounded by your own accoutrement, along side your own personal chaos, from whatever level and temperature that is at today. You choose to sit with it, knowing it is there, knowing you might not get along today. You proceed anyway, like an old, married couple fighting redundantly over medication. You may argue. You may make threats. You may even get up and leave the area because the noise is simply too much to take. But there you are, working and creating because you have to. Because you know you have to. You have no choice. People need you.
With experience and reflection, you come to know that it is always like this, especially at the beginning. Creative sessions are a form of war: we’re taking on ourselves, battling our inner minds and demons of self-doubt and anxiety. Steven Pressfield calls these demons a dragon, one where we, as the hero of the story, must take on each time we sit down to do our work. It never gets easier. It just is. You are punching the time clock, ready to break rocks with your bare hands all day. You win, you slay the dragon when you successfully sit down to do your work for an entire creative session, one block of time with no distractions, no interruptions.
Notice what is included here in your creative session that none of us want: fear. Fear is a part of the creative session. It turns out that fear is a good thing for our creative sessions. It means that creative sessions require courage. Courage to face ourselves in our darkest moments. Courage to take on the noise inside our heads and keep pushing despite its sirens. Courage to bleed all over our creations. Courage to leave it all out on the carving table.
How can this possibly be good news when the fear is so debilitating, freezing even the best among us into suspended animation? Fear is good because it means that few among us will go despite it. Our cohort of 100 people will soon be 5. Few among us will choose to march forward at the same time each day, every day, with no excuses toward our creative session. Few among us will show up, ready to serve our people. Few among us have the guts to embody the change we seek to make, to leave it all out there on the battlefield, to keep pushing no matter what.
There is a saying in comedy insider language: not giving a shit in the best possible way. What it represents is you are proceeding with your jokes despite the audience’s good or bad reaction. You are here. You have funny material you believe in. You’ve got a good, authentic angle on the stuff. And you are here to deliver it to them with emphatic enthusiasm whether they like it or not. So, sit back, enjoy yourself, shut the hell up and listen to my jokes. This belief steels the comic from threats, insults, hecklers, and the like. Perhaps more important, it calcifies the comic from herself. It is a statement of personal power. It says, “I am here to bring you the Thunder. So, watch out!” It says, “I am here. I am not going anywhere. You can’t do anything to me. I don’t care what happens. And I am delivering you the goods. This is what I do.”
This is precisely the attitude and state of mind we need when we sit down to do our work each day. We say this to the noise inside our heads as a statement of Mission, of Purpose, of Intent. And then we proceed with doing our work. When we make it out on the other side for the day, when we are somewhat satisfied with our daily output, when we’ve slayed the dragon, we will know we are capable, good enough to live our creative capacities and be the living, breathing example for others.