I stared at the black and white keys of the piano. They blurred in my eyes. I tried to remember what I was supposed to play, which notes I had to press, but everything left my mind. My brain could only feel one thing: burning shame. I was supposed to perform a piece by Bach at a concert during my student days, and I absolutely failed. I forgot everything on stage.I pressed the last chord, forced myself to make the most awkward bow in my life, and walked off dejectedly.
I was 20 years old.
An email popped into my inbox, from an international competition I was waiting to hear back from. My ensemble and I had prepared hundreds of hours, used our own money to make the music videos, and submitted the recording of our playing to the committee. I didn’t want to read the email. If we were rejected, it would be hard to deal with the disappointment after all those hours of practicing. When I gathered enough guts to look at the screen, I saw the apologetic words. Fuck. We failed again. We were not good enough.
The above two are examples from my earlier years of some of the grandest failures of my life. Several weeks ago, I had a discussion on my Instagram channel about what we fear most as creators, whether it’s musicians, actresses, auditions, or writers sending drafts, or illustrators sending drawings, or any type of creators.
From the fear of failure, rejection, not being good enough, to fear of wasted time, energy, and effort, all of those are very real daily inhibitors of creating.
Oh, not to mention, economic pressure. HA. I bet 99% of creators on this whole planet are not making enough money to get by just from their creations.
What’s the whole point?
So why then, do we still create at all? If it’s scary; if it’s not going to give us enough money; if it’s just going to make us feel bad about ourselves, then what is the whole point?
I struggled a lot with this, trust me.
What gave me clarity of mind was one of my mentors, who told me about his cardinal rule of life which is to HAVE FUN. He would only do something if he was sure that it would be a fun, enjoyable ride for him. If not, then he would not do it.
Reflecting upon myself, I analyze again and again if I am having fun while creating. Did I enjoy myself? Did I have a good time? If I did, then it was worth it. At the heart of it, the act of creating is not about the receiver, it’s about the creator. It’s about me spending the most precious asset I have (which isn’t money, by the way, it’s TIME) doing what I like to do.
Whether other people like it or not is secondary. Whether they would pay for it or not, is also secondary. I am not saying it’s not important to be sellable, to make money, to be able to price your creations/artwork/time. I am saying that for me, it is secondary to the creating process. That’s why it’s different when you’re doing a commissioned work versus when you’re just doing it for yourself.
When you’re performing for a specific audience, writing for a specific target group of readers, or say cooking for a designated person with certain taste bud preferences. In those times, I believe the focus is the receiver, the client, the audience.
But I believe creating starts with yourself, and will end with yourself. So my advice: make sure you’re having a good time while you’re creating. If you’re no longer having a good time, then just stop and do something else.
That’s okay too.
A great book to read for creators is Art and Fear: Observations on the Perils (and Rewards) of Artmaking.