Are you like me, do you put a metric ton of pressure on yourself? In the light of our Social Networking World, my hunch is that young Americans are finding it harder and harder to live up to expectations and the achievements of the "best" of us. It's no longer surprising to see someone discovered on YouTube launch into super-stardom before their voice changes. Millionaires are getting younger and younger. Or if you have just a bit of talent and a clean face, you can audition for a sleuth of instant reality shows. Our new, radical world leaves the door open for possibilities, and you're doing what? It's a rough reality to handle.
If you allow it.
Freezing perfection is not possible. If not today, there will always be someone superior to you and it shouldn't be a hard thought to swallow. As a matter of fact, and it is a fact, it is just as universal a truth as the inevitability of death. And when we look at the most successful among us, hard bodies, mountains of cash, shining résumés, brilliant minds, and gorgeous significant others, we often tend to see the framed photo. Like rapper B.O.B. says in the track Where Are You:
"People only see it the way it appears, but they never see the ropes and the pulleys and the gears."
Whether you're an "artist" or not, the best of us is defined by time and effort, trial and error. Some of us may have been born with some bit of luck, but no one is born successful. We make decisions and we take risks. And to inspire and help everyone around us, we show our work.
Austin Kleon, author of Newspaper Blackout and Steal Like an Artist, is working on a new book with that very idea in mind, Show Your Work. Analyzing the advice he gave in his old work, the process and success of his writing endeavors, and brand-new fatherhood, Kleon opened a Creative Mornings event in Austin, Texas with proof that art is not always romantic and glittery and clean. In Steal Like An Artist, Kleon's original advice was Do Good Work and Share It With Others. After questions continued to roll in, Kleon realized there was a need for more definition. "Good Work" is the foot that's out to trip you. Looking up to idols of creative masterpieces, we naturally measure our work against them. (Ira Glass caught this too.) The irony here is Kleon's success began with a writing exercise he thought was stupid (his words), blacking out newspaper articles' words to make poems of the few remaining visible on the page. He was discovered by another blog and then myself and now the rest is history.
Doing anything in this lifetime, we want to give our best. No one sets out to be half-assed or stupid or disappointing. We handcuff ourselves to perfection and fail to let go enough to share our work - the whole dirty, ugly, tough progress - with the world.
I'm no stranger to the artistic ideal. Aside from Explode into Space, I have notebooks filled with half-realized ideas and unpublished blog entries. And while they don't see the light of day for, what I call, their imperfections, they become failed chances to connect. I often toy with this vision of dying young, and having those closest to me cherish everything I've left behind in my journals, blogs, and scratch pads. There is no skeleton in my closet, mind you, it's way more ridiculous. I'm feeling sorry for myself. It is a grandiose and moronic idea to think you need a prescription of death for someone to take you seriously, when there would no longer be a "you" around to enjoy it.
My former boss for Rutgers Television and, since then, an even better friend, Brent, sent me a quote from the Mason Gross School of the Arts Tumblr page that has captured my driving force as of late:
"No one is ever going to ask you to do the thing you really want to do. This will never happen. So just think about what you’d like to do, and then just start doing it." — Laurie Anderson
Hoping for Death or American Idol to knock on your door and discover you will never get you as far as sharing your true self with the world. When you're able to start seeing it this way, every day is another chance. If it means you have to reveal the weakest spots of your armor, so be it. Perfection is for no one, strive for process.
Until next time...
I explode into space.