A client I'll call Hugh had been dancing around becoming a filmmaker for fifteen years. He was educated, successful, and from the outside, already "creative." But Hugh knew he had only the most tenuous relationship with his storytelling powers. He rarely sat down to do his own work. His voice felt buried.
Enter the Loop.
Hugh started noodling with ideas, and noticed that discomfort arose every time, He kept getting stuck on - for lack of a better term - hogging the spotlight. He worried that the "true motive" behind his ambitions might just be a form of narcissism.
Okay, I said, time to disentangle two related but separate parts of a life: 1. the desire to be seen and known, versus 2. the need to satisfy the creative organism within.
1. The desire to be seen and known is universal, and normal. When artists look to that yearning as their motivation, however, the result isn't what they seek. In short, making art so people will love you doesn't satisfy. If you are able to succeed in this endeavor, what you receive is ginned-up attention, and potentially even adoration. But it's not for you, it's for your ability to please.
This feels awful. Hence, hacks turning to substances they then abuse to feel okay again. If you are good enough, strong willed enough, and resourceful enough to manipulate the world, then you are uniquely vulnerable to conditional love.
Don't fall into conflating a need for attention with a need to create.
2. The desire to do honest, quality work is the mixed burden of the artist. This need can't be negated, only negotiated with. Creating because you need to, because the real you has something to say and you must behave with integrity, i.e. honor the real you, is totally separate from making something you know the world will applaud.
This is where the stereotypical crazy, uncompromising auteur comes from. Obeying the artist within can at times feel like pushing attention away, actively, because you don't know yourself where the work will take you. You can't know. If you did, you'd be stifling yourself. You can only start with a desired outcome, and undertake the journey with humility, knowing you might fail. You are accepting the risk that being seen and known will expose something you don't have control over, that makes you vulnerable. It is that thing, the mysterious spark that you allow to inhabit the work, that makes it interesting. It is the risk that could result in great work. Or, bad work. Or, for most artists, some of both.
Hugh had mixed up in his mind the idea of wanting attention, versus letting his voice out to play. All his life, he'd been convinced that his motives for writing screenplays were suspect, and vaguely unacceptable. For certain, this doubt about his own creative urges inhibited him.
So when Hugh connected with his authentic, uncompromising voice, and let go of his ability to get attention for its own sake, guess what happened?
Motivation flowed through him, unfettered. Suddenly, he had permission to just simply go.
He called this "a major leap" and he could not wait to apply himself.
What would happen for you, if you disentangled the desire to be applauded from the need to do your own fearless work?
p.s. Don't take this post as disparaging toward people who are both wildly authentic and hugely successful. I want that for both you and me. If you have a chance, spend time with a real artist who is also materially rewarded for their work. That brilliant person will show you with their actions how they protect their internal artist from external pressure. This action can be interpreted as Diva behavior. It might come off as eccentric. But big time artists have ways of making safe space to risk. If they don't master this part of their self care, they will falter. If you look, you'll see the distinction between people-pleasing and boundaries around the creative spark is part and parcel of any great artist's creative practice.