I have been sitting here wondering for the last couple of hours:
How is it possible for creative people–those playthings of their rich imagination–to recognize how extraordinary and talented they really may be when so many seem blind to the heights they may reach if they are patient?
I’ve been wondering too:
How to inspire and rouse creative people to overcome the detours and false starts of the past that so often bog them down and now leap forward and move steadily, with new confidence, toward a more fulfilling creative life?
I was a guest on an hour-long lunch time TV talk show talking about my book Fighting to Win. It had just been named the best motivational book ever written. It identifies the main reasons people are blocked from reaching fulfillment. It prescribes specific remedies for leading a more liberated existence. As the show ended I said, addressing the viewers, “What I’m sayings is, ‘There’s so much to you, DO something with it.’“
Then I shook hands with and thanked the host and the engineer and left. The next day I was in my work room talking with my son who wanted to play hooky from school that day and wanted to talk it over when the show’s producer called. Her voice was excited. She told me that the response to the show “was incredible.” The phone had kept ringing late into the night: who was I, where could they get the book, would I be coming back? She asked me to come back for a “return engagement.” I said I would be happy to.
I am convinced that that little sentence that ended the show was the reason for the fuss. “DO something with it” was saying, “You are something, you have talents that you just must make use of because you will not have another life: this is it.”
All it took was for me to empower viewers out there–homemakers, unemployed people, people taking time off from work, and self-employed people–by reminding them that they are special and not to deny any more their own potential that they might have forgotten or never noticed.
Many people–possibly most, I believe–don’t think highly enough of themselves. Do you think highly enough of yourself? They underestimate themselves and their potential. They think other people can achieve noteworthy things, but not them. Because they are “ordinary.” They settle for lesser lives.
I’ve met many quietly magnificently gifted people who frustrate me and whom I’ve felt like shaking by the shoulders and saying, “Wake up will you: your life is happening and you don’t seem to be aware of it. Your life needs you. Half the days allotted to you have passed and how far have you gotten?”
But I was aware of the audiences’ greatness and had all the respect in the world for them and wanted to tell them: “Don’t waste a day of a precious life; get with it.”
I had talked with such conviction and compassion for them in my voice that they knew I had recognized something exceptional in people and they wanted to know more to help them get started in a new direction. Here’s the background of my thinking. You’ll see why I am so optimistic:
There is a Hasidic term that means “turning.” It’s the complete change of a person’s whole being. Quakers too use “turning” to mean the same major existential event. To realize that you can turn is to realize that you are at liberty to rotate a life that is facing one direction–your life at present possibly–and face it in another, to change the direction of your whole being at any time. What an insight that is.
It’s a misuse of a creative life to be able to turn, to feel the necessity to do it, to feel the powerful urge, and not to turn. Mary Oliver wrote about missing the opportunity to pursue a creative life when that was exactly what you should have done: “The most regretful people on earth are those who felt the call of creative work, who felt their own creative powers restive and uprising, and gave it neither power nor time.”
Is it time for you to turn?
An inner impulse pushes you and me and all other living things to become what we and they are equipped to become, regardless of how harsh or unaccommodating the environment we find ourselves in. People in the creative arts have often gone through periods of dire deprivation which they overcame. We can learn from them and from trees–oaks and birches, elms, and cedars.
Denied water, a tree is not helpless. It will send out its roots long distances in search of it. Hidden in shadows, it will twist and wind its branches until they reach blessed sunlight. The tree is driven by its nature not merely to survive, but to flourish. It is driven to be all the tree it can possibly be, as beautiful as it can be, as functional as it can be. A tree all twisted–whose life hasn’t been easy–isn’t it lovelier than a tree without twists?
You and I were brought into this world for the purpose of making the most of our creative lives and are driven by an innate urge to do just that, whatever obstacles, phantoms, ogres, and fears we must overcome to find happiness. You could have lived a thousand different lives, but are inclined toward the life of a creative. It is like no other life it was possible for you to have.
It is as though whatever power created us had a particular concept in mind of the creative person we each should become (I was to be a writer, starting at the age of eight; you were to be what?) And after conceiving of us, lovingly, with a gentle nudge, sent us sprawling into this unfamiliar world fully equipped with the complement of unique creative strengths it seems everyone envies and wishes they too had–unique talents, aptitudes, qualities, gifts, sensibilities, skills, intelligence, determination, energy, and inclinations–necessary to thrive and become the successful writer, artist, actor, composer, or dancer we really could be when we set our minds to that goal.
There was an expectation then that once on our own, we would decide what art we would follow and commit ourselves and work hard to achieve mastery of it.
In the course of a creative life that’s changing there is a particular period of upheaval when the momentum shifts and the creative who is moving in the wrong direction stops and starts in a more promising direction. That may entail a deliberate process wherein you set out intentionally, with forethought, to create a more fulfilling creative life, holding an idea of what your life could be steadily in mind, consistently showing the sense of purpose, motivation, and deliberate effort needed to turn that idea into concrete reality. Or a tremendous change in direction of a life may occur in the blinking of an eye.
American Sherwood Anderson turned. He was a successful businessman in Ohio, the President and owner of a profitable company who enjoyed writing his firm’s advertising copy. One day he noticed a stranger sitting in the waiting room outside his office. He asked who the man was and was told he was the printer who set the type for the newspaper advertising that Anderson wrote, and Anderson called him in. All he wanted to say, he told Anderson, was that while setting the type he always noticed how unusually excellent the writing was, that Anderson had a talent.
That was all there was, a printer taking time out to praise the quality of a client’s advertising copy. But it was an event that completely changed Anderson’s life. Anderson went home, cleared space in his attic for a desk and books, and began to write seriously. Eventually he gave up his business and turned to writing full time. With his book of short stories Winesburg, Ohio he became one of America’s major authors. He is considered one of the masters of the short story.
I’ve traveled a great deal and talked to privately, I’m sure, thousands of people about their lives. I’ve found so many times that all it takes to ignite a person’s desire to change their creative career for the better may be just a word or two of encouragement and confidence from another person they respect and trust, even a stranger–a guest on a TV show, for example, or a printer.
As a young man George Bernard Shaw wanted to be a novelist. Every year for five years he wrote a novel–one a year–and sent it to publishers. The manuscripts always came back rejected. But one day Shaw received, in addition to the standard rejection form, a note from an editor that unfortunately his novels did not fit their list. But then in the note appeared the words: “Your dialogue is wonderful. Did you ever think of writing plays?”
He never had, but then he started to, discovering that indeed he did have a talent for dialogue, eventually, of course, winning the Nobel Prize in Literature for his drama. Would Shaw have become a playwright had he not received that note of encouragement, or would he have continued to write bad novels, one a year and meet only failure, sensing he had talent but getting nowhere, or would he have given up writing?
Weary of being one kind of person, creatives about to bloom and produce finest creative works transform themselves into something else: “I don’t have to be the way I’ve been just because I’ve always been that way.” The worst excuse for not changing is to say, “That’s just the way I am. I guess I’ll never be any different.” You’re different if you say, “I don’t have to put up with this obstacle that’s holding me back for one more day “I can buckle down and get to work to develop my talents,” “What I always wanted to be–I can really can be that.”
Every day and every moment in each day you have the power to fashion a new creative life to your own specifications, training yourself, educating yourself, turning, encouraging yourself, forming friendships with other creatives, seizing opportunities, taking risks, working hard, applying yourself seriously to your craft till you are committed to it in a way you never have been before and your head spins gloriously. That will lead to a reshaped destiny all your own. It will be unique to you.
What can I say but, “There’s so much to you. DO something with it.”
© 2018 David J. Rogers
For my interview from the international teleconference with Ben Dean about Fighting to Win, click on the following link:
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