There is a market demographic known as the “Self Help Junkie.” They are the people, mostly older women, who support the $11 billion dollar a year self-help industry. Constantly trying fix, accept, or better themselves, they go from one guru to another, one seminar to another, one life coach to another; all in hopes that they will find happiness. The paradox is this, the more they focus on themselves, the less likely they are to land in that elusive place called happiness. There is nothing wrong, I might add, with gaining a little self-confidence, setting goals, or trying to improve oneself, (I’m a big fan) but I have found that it is in losing ourselves that we find our true reason for existence. That happiness pops up when we quit trying to define it and capture it.
One of the best ways to lose yourself is to focus on creation.
Waking each day and approaching life as someone who is going to create something is one of the best ways to stay engaged in your life, and, as an artist, you get to focus on your unique point of view, bringing your emotions and experiences to your work that helps to identify you as the unique creation that you are. The payoff comes when you are through with your work, when you see it posted in a blog, hanging on a wall, or performed in front of an audience. The payoff is not necessarily the commission or royalties, it can be simply be the feeling of accomplishment you get when looking at your work… let’s call it Pride.
Pride has gotten a bad rap, “Pride goeth before a fall” and all that; but pride is actually a good thing. On the subject, Jane Austen said,
“Vanity and pride are different things, though the words are often used synonymously. A person may be proud without being vain. Pride relates more to our opinion of ourselves, vanity to what we would have others think of us.” Pride is the feeling you get when you stop looking at the flaws in your work and say, “Hey, this is pretty good.” Pride gets such a bad rap nowadays that it is more difficult to find, do we take pride in our own work anymore? Has our culture devalued pride in the name of casual dress, job performance reviews and doing only what we are told?
So pride then, has nothing to do with pleasing anyone else, it comes from within. How do we get to pride? Daniel Pink, in his groundbreaking book, Drive, tells us that the only time we are at our best is when three conditions are present: A sense of autonomy, a feeling of mastery, and a sense of purpose. In other words, our work has to give us a certain amount of freedom, a bit of a mental challenge and must have some deeper meaning than simply getting a paycheck. (So, the next time you are about to go off on your waitress for bad service, ask yourself what is it about her job that drives her to be better at it? Beyond money, she probably good use a little encouragement!) The American philosopher, Huck Finn, put it this way:
“What’s the use you learning to do right, when it’s troublesome to do right and ain’t no trouble to do wrong, and the wages is just the same?” And, really, what saves us from going through the motions? Does it matter? When I lived in Rochester, New York, I knew a number of Kodak lifelong employees who “RIP’d” (Retired in Place), the company was large enough to hide in, to do just enough to keep from getting fired. Kodak, it should be noted, is bankrupt, and part of the problem was that the culture got away from the artists. A company built to help artists (photographers) forgot that they were artists themselves. The culture of service and creativity became focused on earnings per share and playing defense, the equivalents of corporate “self help.” The employees had no chance to follow their own creative ideas, they weren’t particularly challenged by their work, and the only meaning they found was in taking care of themselves.
Not all of us, I know, are lucky enough to have day jobs that allow us to be truly engaged and challenged. (You could, as I did, change the place you work, that’s a nice solution!) But, if you have a creative outlet, even if it is only on the weekends, everything changes. When you approach life as an artist you are surrounded by inspiration, your day job (and everything else in your world) becomes a part of your work and you can’t help but feel more engaged in your own life. Enthusiasm follows. By challenging yourself to improve your art and find sources of inspiration that come from places you never thought you’d venture, you are living as an artist. It is a pretty cool way to live!
And, when you are in the middle of being inspired and creative, you really don’t have time to be worried about your own “happiness.” You are much too busy! And, then: you have that Pride that comes with accomplishing your art. That is as close to happiness as you will ever need to get!
Go make something !