Over the past week, I’ve been working through Danielle LaPorte’s The Fire Starter Sessions: A Soulful + Practical Guide to Creating Success on Your Own Terms, which is shaping up to the be the big, inspiring, creative read of the year for me.
The Fire Starter Sessions is, like many books on career and vocation, a guide to finding your passion and direction, in work and life. But, every now and then it throws in a wonderful provocation. At one point, LaPorte questions an outlook on work she calls the “myth of endurance.”
“Pay your dues. Put in your time. Prove yourself. Check the right box. Stay the course. Meet expectations. Soldier on. Nothing worthwhile comes easy. Good things come to those who wait. Blue collar, white collar, hard work pays off. No pain, no gain. Thomas Edison put it this way: There is no substitute for hard work.”
To be honest, the myth of endurance sums up my outlook on music, photography, art, creativity and life. Actually, as I’ll explain in a moment, that’s not totally true. But, when I’m asked how to start, or progress in the creative space, or when I find the going gets tough and I’m backed into a wall, I lean into the myth of endurance.
It’s the story I tell myself.
But I Also Believe In Momentum
In place of the myth of endurance, LaPorte suggests the idea of doing what is easy. Not taking the cheap route and cutting corners. But, focussing on what we can do and what we can do well (similar to the notion of facility I mentioned in last week’s piece on music practice). In the midst of this discussion comes the following paragraph,
“Less friction = greater velocity. When you start with the easy stuff, you foster optimism. You’re less stressed and more juiced. Less obligated and more devoted. You get more done. When it’s easy for you, you can be of greater service to the people around you.”
OK, here’s the rub. I believe in the myth of endurance, but I also believe in the reality of momentum. Everything is easier with a running start. Once you get past the blank page, or the empty stave, the work flows and builds its own sense of direction.
I also believe when we work with optimism, devotion, passion and grace we not only serve the people around us more fully, we inspire them as well.
Either, Neither Or Both?
Life can be hard and no-one creates anything of lasting worth without making hard choices and sacrifices. When I look back over my life, it feels, at times, like an endless string of tough and often lonely decisions.
But, when I remember what it felt like at the time, it wasn’t always painful – far from it in fact. Sure, when I was younger, I chose not to go to parties in order to practice and rehearse – and I would spend hours and hours a day on scales and patterns. Honestly, I loved it and it came easily.
Earlier this year, I was putting in twelve to sixteen hour days covering Thaipusam, in sweltering heat and recovering from an operation. It was an awesome, totally exhilarating experience.
When Easy Is Easy
I find it easy to put in long hours photographing when I travel, because the distractions of everyday life are not there and my purpose is clear. The easiest thing to do is to create images, process them and then create more images. It’s actually easier to do the work than avoid it.
Easy is easy when we know doing the easy thing, the thing we can do right now, the thing that comes most naturally to us will get us moving in the direction we need to go. It’s a trust thing. Knowing that easy will give us the momentum to take on the hard things, or even better, figure out a way to not do them.
Looking at our work and asking; what’s the thing here I can do well, or at least, what’s the thing I can do puts us in a very different place to saying, what’s the thing that will impress other people. Easy takes us to a different place, it takes us to authenticity and truth.
And, it’s my mantra for the rest of this year. Creativity means doing what comes easy, doing what comes natural, doing what I can right now, with what I have, in this place.