A friend shared this beautiful video featuring the words of the amazing Ira Glass on Facebook today, and it’s just too good not to share — and also to extend some thoughts I have about his topic of ‘doing work’.
In it, Ira touches upon an insecurity that any creative person, or anyone, for that matter, has no doubt experienced: am I any good?
In the beginning, he explains, the answer is probably that your taste is good (and always has been), but the actual work…. needs work.
Then Ira brings up another great point — how many of us have attempted something for the first time and given up after one or two tries because we weren’t perfect at it?
Here’s the deal: no matter what we do, there is always someone better at it. But it doesn’t mean we shouldn’t do it. And it doesn’t mean the work is complete crap — or that it’s not worth doing.
In fact, the more work we do, the greater the chance we’re going to fail at it. But, my friends, I believe in failure. Failure means you’re learning something; failure is simply practice. It is the pathway to success, and the only way you’re going to fail — and succeed — is to do more work.
After watching the video, I was reminded a quote by one of my favorite artists, Chuck Close (I even have this as my twitter description)..
Inspiration is for amateurs; the rest of us just show up and get to work. -Chuck Close
This resonates deeply with me. I’m a workhorse. I always have been and always will be. Sure, I have moments of inspiration from time to time, and that’s terrific. But what is inspiration if we do nothing about it? It’s just an idea that never escapes our head.
For a long time, I had huge insecurities about my creativity, and the work I was putting out. So much to the point that I felt like a fake. I constantly thought about what it meant to be creative, and spoke passionately about it to others… but in the back of my mind, I was thinking ‘who are you to say these things – anyone who talks about doesn’t really have it’.
This feeling of inadequacy has been with me for as long as I can remember. When I was in high school, I was the top of my class, but I never felt smart. Deep down, I knew that I achieved top status because I worked hard, not because I was actually that smart. I studied more than anyone else, I listened, I participated… but mostly, I burnt myself out trying to learn things that people told me I should learn.
As an adult, I’ve slowly created a life where I work only on the things I want to work on (and this in itself took a lot of work)…. but what’s different from my youth is that I’ve learned to be curious, instead of passively accepting what comes my way. I ask questions about things I’m interested in, and apply them to my work. This kind of curiosity has planted in me what I consider true knowledge — that which has been acquired by unadulterated curiosity, and then applied through hands-on experience. But, it took me a long time to realize this.
The thing is, when I felt inadequate, doing more work was always the answer — but not just any work. It had to be work that I was interested in. And what I found was that the more work like this that I did, the more ‘a-ha’ moments I had, because as I worked, I was actually discovering things. In other words, the act of creating results in discovery, which gives way to more ideas, which plants the urge to keep creating.
As I continued my work, that voice of inadequacy got softer, and another one got louder: the belief that I actually was creative, and that I always had been. My work was my evidence.
Is burnout still a threat? Sure… but burnout only happens when we work too much on things we feel we’re forced to do, without balancing it with things we want to do.
Rather, when we take time to do the work we were put on this earth to do, we allow ourselves the chance to enter flow. Flow is not something achieved overnight. First you have to uncover what it is you’re meant to be doing, and then practice at it.
Flow can only be achieved after the act of doing it becomes a part of you, so that you can do it without thinking. When we enter flow, we have unlimited amounts of energy for the task, because we are honoring our natural state of being. But, first you have to do the work. To put it another way: Michael Jordan didn’t come out of his mother’s womb with a basketball.
In hindsight, I realize now that ever questioning my creativity was nonsense, but questioning the work was ok, because it drove me to do better.
As someone who considers herself a ‘creative’, I rarely ever find myself fully content with the work I produce, to this day.
Even if I arrive at a point where I know the work is good, or I receive praise from others, I’m still not satisfied. And I’m not talking about perfection here — I’ve grown out of that. I’m talking about the constant urge to see what else I can do. A burning desire inside to always be creating.
But this feeling – this urge — is good. If you experience it, it simply means that your vision is constantly expanding into new territory. That your imagination is greater than your body can keep up with — that your drive to create is so great within you, you must, must do the work to quell the desire.
So I leave you with a simple idea, my friends – listen to Ira and Chuck: keep doing the work you believe you’re meant to do. Never become satisfied. Always be creating.