I have a lot of bad habits that keep me from doing my best work. Instead of writing, my amateur mentality will always be there to coax me into taking a nap, or surfing the web, or getting drunk.
I think these avoidance habits stem from fear. I resist doing my work because I cringe at the idea of failure, rejection, being exposed. These fears lead to inactivity, procrastination, constant delaying.
Do you let bad habits prevent you from doing your work? If you do, then you know what usually comes next.
Guilt is that hollow feeling that gnaws at the pit of our stomachs. Guilt reminds us we’re cowards and phonies for not pursuing our dreams.
At this point we reach a crossroads—do we take the path of the pseudo artist or the real artist?
The pseudo artist continues to ease her guilt by latching onto bad habits, distractions, addictions—drug, drink, sex, to name a few.
What does resistance feel like? First, unhappiness. We feel like hell. A low-grade misery pervades everything. We’re bored, we’re restless. We can’t get no satisfaction.
There’s guilt but we can’t put our finger on the source. We want to go back to bed; we want to get up and party. We feel unloved and unlovable. We’re disgusted. We hate our lives. We hate ourselves. Unalleviated, Resistance mounts to a pitch that becomes unendurable.
Using guilt to fuel action
The real artist recognizes guilt as a sign that things aren’t right, that something needs to change.
Soren Kierkegaard, a 19th century Danish philosopher, wrote about the meaning of things like guilt, despair, and anxiety. He believed that guilt is a sign we’re not working towards realizing our true potential—we aren’t being our true selves and doing the work we were put on this earth to do. In one of his essays, Kierkegaard says:
The most common form of despair is not being who you are.
He believed that the more creative we are, the more capacity we have to feel guilt.
Guilt reminds us to reassess our position in life. It gets us to ask deep questions. Are we following our passion? Are we realizing our deepest, truest selves?
The real artist endures guilt and fear. Instead of dwelling on these emotions, she uses them to fuel her greatest creative efforts.
When I watch Inside the Actors Studio, I always see interviews of actors who say they will usually accept the roles they are most afraid of.
Will Smith, in a Charlie Rose interview, explains how his fears motivate him:
I’m motivated by fear. [Fear of what?] Fear of fear. I hate being scared to do something. And I think what I started to develop, is the attitude that, I started attacking things I was scared of.
What it takes
Usually it takes a lot of maturing to become a real artist. It takes a ton of struggle, awkward phases, and failure.
The creative journey can wear down the best of us. It takes courage to survive. Art is about the artist expressing her story, her voice, her uniqueness. To do this, one must be confident and prideful of oneself.
Not everybody is born with the shade of courage necessary to become an artist. But courage can be developed; sometimes even born out of sheer desperation.
For the pseudo artist to develop courage, she usually has to smack against a brick wall. She has to become fed up with her excuses, failures, and other bullshit. She has to stop caring what people think. She has to free herself to attack her art without inhibition, without holding back.
The brick wall offers a turning point; if we brush ourselves off and stand back up.
Nobody becomes a real artist overnight. It takes time, effort, sweat, frustration. We need to be patient, work hard, and be better every single day. Each day is a chance to take one step forward; let’s not waste it.
Image by Ace Starz