How do you define your work as a creative person? What kind of context do you put your work into? Do you have some sort of metaphysical yardstick to size yourself up with?
There are all sorts of ways to see yourself, especially in terms of being some sort of creative type. Whether you call yourself a dancer, a writer, a musician, painter, or entrepreneur, the need to know where you fit in the big picture is universal.
The modes of comparison are many. The amount of money you earn from your work, of course, is a big one, on some level, numbers don’t lie. (On another, they can be very misleading.) How many followers do you have? How large is your social media influence? Are you in demand? Is your name or brand a household word?
The real trap of metrics like these is that they are typically used to place yourself into a hierarchy. It’s far too easy to compare yourself others on the same ladder, envying those above you and gloating to those below. For pursuits of raw strength or endurance such as athletics this type of reference point may be fine, but in the grand scheme of things it’s anathema to creatives.
What do you call a writer or a painter or a playwright who thinks hierarchically? A hack. When an artist subverts his or her creative instincts and instead decides to produce “what the market wants” they’ve officially entered hackdom. True, they may enjoy the money, (and the security it provides), but inside their creative soul withers.
One might argue “What’s wrong with giving the market what it wants?” Well, nothing, per se, if you’re OK with that. But if you’re an artist of some sort who holds yourself to higher standards and has a greater personal vision to fulfill, being a hack is a fast track to despair.
How does one avoid being a hack? Own your territory. Be an undisputed master of your domain. Get your priorities in order and master your craft. At the end of the day, every creative pursuit boils down to learned techniques, a set off skills, specific tricks of the trade.
Krishna said that we only own our labor, never the fruits of it. In other words, let your process be your practice, and fall in love with it. Only your ego cares about comparing it to others. Finished work lives behind you in the past, future work has yet to be born, what matters is staying present and focused on what you are creating right now.
Having spent many uncomfortable hours immersed in the hierarchy I can report that it’s a place of fear, uncertainty, and doubt. One is never at peace looking over the shoulder or counting the scores of those ahead. You can never truly rest breathing the dust of winners with losers nipping at your heels.
Life is different ‘in the bubble’. This is the metaphor we use to describe our respective territories, the creative domains we inhabit. Whether it’s making hand-cut wooden jigsaw puzzles, doing metalwork and public art, or playing records (and writing about it), we’re both in our element when we’re immersed in our work.
For me, it’s a safe space. When I’m tuned into my tunes, locked onto my topic, or geared up and ready to weld, the rest of the world fades away and time just flows. It’s also about knowing the difference between perfect and excellent. The hack seeks perfection and waits for the muse, the professional just keeps showing up day after day confident that their output is excellent. It’s one thing to wish you were famous, it’s another to know that you are world-class.
You have something that you’re really good at, that you were born to do, that you’d be doing every day if time and money was no object. The degree to which you are doing it probably correlates to your overall sense of well-being. If you need to adjust things a bit so you can show up for it every day, then by all means, what’s holding you back? Your bubble awaits.
Much love till next Monday!
Director of the Dance First Association
Publisher of Conscious Dancer Magazine
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