A very talented young friend of mine recently made a post in Facebook, in which she delivered her personal manifesto for the future. It was a very heartfelt list of creative desires, which, she believes, will lead to a life free of restriction and filled with personal satisfaction. She wants to be “part of something amazing” and feel like she is “living a dream.” She wants a life without shame and doubt. She wants to be a true artist.
All of these things are absolutely possible. Right now at her very young age, they seem, if not insurmountable, at least unnerving in their magnitude. I was there once. I remember feeling exactly the same way she does now. I remember being an angst-ridden twenty-something living in a small town and chomping at the bit to achieve something more than my birthright would allow. And you know what? I did it. Granted, it wasn’t nearly as black and white as I expected it to be – living a life free of restriction comes with a price – but it was definitely worth it.
I still cling to those ideals, even now, some thirty years later. I still believe in my right to live a life of creative pursuit. I still long to be part of something amazing. Though for me, here and now, it would mean building upon and topping past successes. I’ve had so many amazing experiences. I’ve achieved satisfaction so many times, in so many different ways. I’ve wowed large crowds and I’ve orchestrated memorable events. I have become the Svengali I always dreamed of being. I have found contentment. And better, I don’t have to bore anybody with accounts of my glory years, because, as I have said before, I’m still living them.
As I said earlier in this missive, however, it has all come with a price. It isn’t easy to be the kind of person who stands out in a crowd. Especially being an introvert which, make no mistake, I very much am. It takes a certain kind of fortitude to accept both the acclaim and the inevitable criticism that comes with even minor celebrity. Because, for every successful venture, there will always be those who feel they have been slighted or wronged, in some way. When I was younger, it was easy to discount this discontent as professional jealousy. Again, a very black and white viewpoint.
As I’ve grown older, however, I have a better understanding of what it is that makes people look for the dark underbelly of success. To trash that which they don’t see as “worthy.” For one thing, nobody likes to be upstaged. It’s easy for some to achieve what they believe to be a pinnacle, only to be upstaged by the next big thing. This causes resentments and a belief that the person who is now stealing the limelight is unworthy.
Then there are the procrastinators. The talkers. The planners. Those who never get past the planning stage. These are the people who are going to write the next great American novel, though they only put pen to paper, as it were, when the inspiration strikes them, i.e. once every few months. These are the people who envision a community of support for some great endeavor they never expend the necessary time and energy to realize. The people who say, “I’ll get to it tomorrow.”
They don’t seem to understand that the people who actually achieve their success work every single day to make it happen. We don’t take time off. We don’t put things off until tomorrow. We work steadily for days, weeks, months, sometimes years to create something that stands out admirably and leaves a lasting impression. We work hard for that one single moment that will become memorable. We don’t simply arrive fully formed. We achieve our moments through blood, sweat and tears. We lose friends and alienate family members along the way. We let relationships slip through our grasp. Not because we want to be alone, but because we work damn it! We make sacrifices just so we can live our truth.
And finally, there are the haters. Those who will never achieve anything of worth and resent anybody who does so. Those who believe in the status quo. The critics who take any kind of success outside the national obsession as a personal affront to their community. Either you must be good enough for the world to love you, in which case you must achieve the pinnacle of success in THEIR eyes, or you are simply wasting your and their time. You are small change. A chump. A loser.
They like to say things like “well, if you’re so talented, why are you living HERE?” Or, “if you’re so great, how come nobody’s ever heard of you?” For them the world is very black and white. There are celebrities who are on the national or international scale, or there are “normal” people who should act normal, not make a spectacle of themselves and “get a job” like everybody else.
These people are the worst obstacles to personal contentment, because their arguments, very often, hit very close to home. They echo the sentiments most creative people have to deal with from the time we are very young. Teachers, classmates and often parents tell us to “get over” ourselves and not to “act up.” We are often derided by others who think us strange, weird or socially unacceptable. They will never understand that in order to achieve anything of worth one must stand out from the crowd. It becomes their only goal in life to crush those creative spirits or “take them down a few pegs.”
So, here’s what I have to say to my young friend with the personal manifesto, and to all young creatives out there dreaming the big dreams. DO IT! Live it. Be everything you want to be, and more. But be prepared for the backlash from those who can’t wrap their heads around your choices. Be prepared for the wannabes, the procrastinators and the haters, because they will be drawn to your light like moths to a flame, but their only goal will be to extinguish you. Many times they will come in the form of “concerned” friends and family. Other times they will be complete strangers who don’t know you at all, but say horrible things about you. They will make you feel small and lonely, but never give in!
The price you pay for becoming an artist, living the life of creative pursuit, skirting the edge of societal norms and achieving anything even remotely approaching success, is censorship, denunciation, slander and even vilification. In the end, however, it is a small price to pay, because in the end, you will find that none of it matters. None of them matter. If you live an ethical life, if your pursuits are pure, if you give credit where it is due, if you don’t give in to reproach or allow yourself to be baited into pointless debate, if you refuse to lower yourself to the base level of counterpoint, you will be just fine.
Because I can tell you, as one who has tasted those successes, both large and small. As one who has participated in both group endeavors and solo enterprises. As one who has risen to great heights and fallen flat on his face more times than he cares to remember. As one who has picked himself up, brushed himself off and started the climb all over again, it is worth it. Let the naysayers have their petty achievements, but never give in to despair, worry or doubt. They don’t matter in the end. All that matters is that you achieve your dreams. It is worth every moment you spend getting there.
YOU are worth it.