“I am furious at inspiration!” So exclaimed a woman once to the author Elizabeth Gilbert, at an event they were both attending. “I lost all my faith in the universe because I jumped, and the net didn’t catch me,” she explained.
According to the woman, the trouble all started after she had taken a risk to follow her dreams: she quit her job, took out loans, and mortgaged her house, then threw herself 100% into her creative endeavor…only to have it fail completely. This leap of faith had ended up costing her money, her dignity, and even some of her friends, and it left her shaking her fists at the universe, which had so clearly let her down.
But, did it? In life, whenever we find ourselves standing at the cusp of a new venture, we almost always immediately first take a step back to judge what we are doing by two criteria: will this be a success (good) or a failure (bad)? And based on this assessment from conclusions either assumed, or actual (like in the case of our unfortunate lady in question), we decide what is the worth of our work.
But could the value of us setting forth creatively like this, be cheapened like so? Could the sum of our creative selves, in being opened and allowed to reach to our full potential, be blighted by anything as common as the perception of good or bad? Is the value of creativity, then, relegated to only as high as the means to an end? Some may agree, but I beg to differ.
To the woman angry at inspiration, after having perceived her risk into the creative unknown as a financial-ergo total-failure, Elizabeth Gilbert had this to say: “When did inspiration promise us that it owes us anything? Inspiration doesn’t look at you and go, ‘Well, that didn’t work.’ Inspiration looks at you and says, ‘That was fun, look what we did!'”
There is an old saying: A journey of a thousand steps starts with just one. But once you have reached the last of those steps, you may find you have not moved forwards even one inch. Why, you have just walked in a circle! One thousand footsteps to take you right back where you started. Congratulations!
Now those who only see value in what can be quantifiable may lament and rage at this. They may think: “All this effort I have put in is wasted, I don’t have anything to show for it!” We all think like this at some point-believing that the only things ‘worth’ doing are things that bring in tangible ‘worth’, such as money or fame. But what really has worth, where is the value really hiding?
A journey of a thousand steps delivers exactly what it promises-a journey. Where does a set destination come in to the bargain? If you will choose to set out on a new venture only on the guarantee that you know exactly where you will be going, then you will set out very rarely. You are asking to be put on a conveyor belt, one in which the ride is only from A to B. And even then, conveyor’s break, and you might never even make it to that promised land.
So where does that leave us? Still angry and shouting at creativity, for having pulled us out of our egotistic selves and into a bigger, better version of us? One in which we dare to connect to the inner voice telling us what we need to do, what we were meant to do, to fulfill a purpose that benefits our souls, and by default benefits others around us because we become happier, healthier, versions of ourselves? Should we look at all this gain, and still say: “Well, my soul feels lighter because I wrote that comedy routine I always wanted to-but I didn’t get my own Netflix special I was expecting-so fuck you universe, I’ve been jipped!”
To repeat the words of Liz Gilbert: Inspiration does not owe you anything. By that stream, you actually owe inspiration a huge debt, because by inviting Her in you are allowing magic to flow into your veins, breathing life into every corner of your being.
“When you’re taking on creativity, you are taking on soul work. This is not about what we do, this is about who we are.” – Brené Brown
What you do, what you are capable of doing, is so much more than the tiny scale that is good or bad, success or failure, can account for. Too many of us judge the worth of pursuing something we are drawn towards by the materialistic means of what it can give us in return. Before even setting off from the shore, you are already counting the price of the treasures, or the fame of your name, that this venture into the unknown will bring you. But what can you know about sailing on the open waters? All you’ve ever seen is the sand upon which you stand. All your scheming, your worries, all those wild fantasies-they are as solid as the air from which you dreamed them up. The real thing is out there. The real treasure is in the adventure you will embark upon, with the soul satisfying cessation of curiosity, the infinite joy of simply pushing off from the dock. Everything else is just immaterial, my dear.
There is no rule that says to make art you must make money from it, or that to create means your name has to be attached to that creation, followed by a rave review. There is nobody’s approval that you need, no formal vetting process for permission to do you what you do. Do it for you. Be bold, be selfish. Hide it away from the world if you need to, for no one else even has to know. Don’t apologize, and don’t explain. The point is, you don’t have to.
If a song is created, and no one gets to hear it, that song is still important. If a dance is choreographed, in the middle of a bedroom to a sold-out crowd of one, that dance is still important. If a novel is written, and left in the back of a drawer with no readers to its name, that novel is still important. Each of those things needed to be done. Done for the sake of doing.
Never get it twisted to the fact that creativity does not owe you anything. Creativity is the thing. The fact that you woke up one day with this undying urge to put your hands into something new, to bring forth into the world something that was previously not there before, that is the gift. Inspiration, whether it comes to you in a sudden realization, or it’s already been within you since the day you became conscious, that is magic that the universe is offering you. Accept the gift, by partaking in it. Don’t shut it out, don’t try to quiet the Muse through excuses such as there’s no money in it, what if it’s bad and people don’t like, the risk is too high it’s not worth it. It is absolutely worth it!!!
When you are living in your creativity, and breaking off from those boundaries that say you can’t, you will be living in your own truth. And that is the essence of being.
“What would I do if I knew I couldn’t fail? But now, the question becomes for me what’s worth doing even if I fail?” – Brené Brown
Author’s Note: One of my favourite writers, Elizabeth Gilbert, has a podcast that speaks all about creativity and deals with the challenges and triumphs that can be met when one fully embraces this aspect in all of us. In her episode with fellow author Brené Brown, you can hear more about her encounter with the woman angry with inspiration, and the advice they give to her. You can find it here to listen, or search for “Magic Lessons Season 1 Episode 12: Brene Brown on Big Strong Magic, Jul 25, 2016” wherever you get your podcasts!
Programming note: I will away for a little vacation, and will be back at the end of May, 2017 to continue posting. You can always of course email me or post in the comments to reach out with your own thoughts and discussions. Cheers!