As most of you who have spent even 3 minutes with me know, I am a huge advocate for Elizabeth Gilbert’s Big Magic. I think everyone – artists, photographers, janitors, CEOs, gym teachers, and dentists – should read it at least twice. I’m on my second run through it and keep finding new truths I’d missed before.
In one of the early chapters, she uses the life of author Harper Lee to illustrate how “making it” can actually crush our creativity. “When artists are burdened with the label of ‘genius’, I think they lose the ability to take themselves lightly, or to create freely,” Gilbert says. I could not agree more. When asked about writing her next book after the incredible success of To Kill a Mockingbird, Harper Lee replied, ” I’m scared. When you’re at the top, there’s only one way to go.”
As creatives, we spend so much time striving for “the top” (which I don’t even know if I believe exists) and when we arrive – perceived or otherwise – we’re paralyzed by the notion that we may never outdo ourselves. As Elizabeth Gilbert puts it, we’re “pinned beneath the boulder of our own reputation.” Here’s where the lightbulb went off for me, though. She says,
“Such thinking assumes there is a “top” – and that reaching that top (and staying there) is the only motive one has to create. [It] assumes that the mysteries of inspiration operate on … a limited human scale of success and failure, of winning and losing, of comparison and competition. [It] assumes that you must be constantly victorious … against an earlier version of your own poor self.“
WHY DO WE DO THIS TO OURSELVES?
I have known from the day I began this business that someday being the CEO of large creative company didn’t feel right for me. Mainly I like yoga pants, but that’s another blog post for another day. I never wanted to “make it” in that way as an artist. After reading Big Magic, I’m even more sure and now understand why. I delight and thrive in my obscurity. For me, small is big. Big freedom to experiment and mess up and make things for the sake of making things while no one is watching or waiting. I know myself well enough to know I’d surely be pinned under my own reputation and my art would suffer.
So, whether you’re at the top, the almost-top or way down here with me, keep making. Remember those magnets with the cheesy quotes?
“Dance like nobody’s watching…” ???
Do that. Make ugly stuff. Crumple paper. Paint over it. And for Heaven’s sake, stop comparing yourself to yourself.