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I believe that we all have a north star; a shining light that guides us down the “one true path.” “The one true path” is our own unique road that leads to the fulfillment of our calling, our all-consuming passion, our sole mission in life.
When we’re not following our unique path that was designed solely for us by God, by the Universe, or by biology, bad things happen.
Bad symptoms manifest: we develop diseases—mental illness, depression, and anxiety. We develop neuroses—our self, or our spirit, becomes divided. We develop dirtied characters—we become angry and self-absorbed, we fight, we shoot bombs at countries with differing politics, we argue and injure others and, in the process, we injure ourselves.
To reiterate, I believe that the reason for many of these symptoms—both on an individual and societal level—is because many of us ignore our north star. We deny our authentic selves, and instead live through our conditioned selves (the self moulded and pressured by society, by parents, by friends).
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In the last few posts, we’ve looked at ways to improve our skills as artists. I call these methods “pillars of improvement”, and there’s four of them. So far, we’ve covered the importance of gaining knowledge, getting an instructor, and taking action. Getting feedback is the final stage. So let’s look at that now.
We can attain immense knowledge, seek out good instruction, and perform daily action. But without feedback, we won’t know how well we are progressing.
Feedback can either be constructive or destructive, i.e. person can praise your work or criticize it. You and I can learn and grow from both kinds of criticism.
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This is the third instalment of a series called: the Four Pillars of Improvement. In the first two posts of this series on how to improve your skills, we’ve learned two lessons: get knowledge and get an instructor. If you’ve taken this advice seriously, you’re ready to deeply study your craft. You’re ready to find an instructor and have them guide and train you.
Once you get into the habit of doing these things—studying your craft often and learning from a mentor—it’s time to do.
The first two stages are thinking stages. This is the doing stage.
Taking action involves applying what you’ve learned through your study, through your coaching. Try to write a song from scratch. Try to paint something worthy of recognition. Try your hand at writing a short story.
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This is the second instalment of a series called: the Four Pillars of Improvement. There are four ingredients that can help any creative or artist get better at what they do. They may seem obvious to some, they sure do to me, but either way they work. By enhancing each “pillar,” we will undoubtedly sharpen our skills, broaden our creative potential. The first article was about the importance of acquiring knowledge. You may want to read it before moving to today’s article, which is about the importance of getting a mentor.
I’ll admit: many artists/ writers/ musicians/ photographers were self-taught. They didn’t have mentors. They ignored what others told them to do, how others told them to create, and instead radiated their own unique style.
I respect that independent path to success, that self-reliant spirit, but I don’t necessarily recommend following it. The reason is because many self-taught artists were also inherently talented, or gifted. I’m not talented, nor am I gifted. So I need lots of outside help and direction to get smarter, to get better at my craft.
For those of us who aren’t geniuses, what we need is an instructor. An expert instructor—who’s more skilled than you and I—can teach us so many things that we can’t teach ourselves. They can help bring us to that next skill level. They can tell us what we’re doing wrong. They can see certain bright spots and advantages that we can’t see, because we’re too close to the work.
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Real artists live constructively. And they work constructively. They’ve learned to do their work despite flitting feelings. They’ve learned to be consistent, persistent, and professional. They’ve learned to get things done, and ship their babies out into the harsh, judgmental world.
Real artists know something pseudo artists don’t.
If pseudo artists knew this, they wouldn’t be what they are—a shadow of their real selves, a glint of their real potential. They wouldn’t do what they do—procrastinate, loaf, and let their emotions control their actions.
What Pseudo Artist’s Don’t Know
What pseudo artists don’t know is that in each moment of the day, they are in charge of their behaviour. They’re in charge, despite how they’re feeling at the time.
Time and time again, pseudo artists drop the ball, bail on responsibilities and fail in endeavours because of how they’re “feeling.”
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You and I have our creative dreams, our desires, our passions. Some of us were lucky to be born with an artistic talent. Some of us found our calling later in life. Either way, there’s something we are meant to do with ourselves, with our one shot at life.
Believe me, you wouldn’t be reading this if you didn’t have that something inside you, bustling to break free—a talent, a perspective, a story.
The very fact that you’re reading these words means that you have creative energy—whatever shape or form or colour that creativity may come in.
Only you know what you’re meant to do in life. Only I know what I’m meant to do. We each have our little patch of grass to water and fertilize with care and tenderness, to defend with all our grit.
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Have you ever wondered whether you lack what it takes to become excellent at what you do? Have you ever doubted your potential for greatness?
I doubt my skills all the time. I’m a writer. But that doesn’t mean I’ll ever be an exceptional writer. Regardless, I still want to do everything I can to get better.
If you’re like me and from time to time you doubt your abilities, doubt what you have to offer, no need to worry. Regardless of how unskilled you are right now, there’s a realistic way to undeniably refine your skills.
There’s a formula that you and I can follow.
And it has four key pillars. Here it is:
Knowledge + expert instruction + dogged action + feedback = improvement.
I know, sounds pretty obvious. And it is. But who cares. Even your loftiest of dreams can be accomplished if you diligently and persistently follow this formula.
A young painter who cannot liberate himself from the influence of past generations is digging his own grave.
When I read that quote, it immediately resonated.
I can’t paint. But I believe that this quote’s meaning can apply to me. And if you do creative work of any kind, it can apply to you too.
Take the quote and try replacing the word ‘painter’ with ‘writer’ or ‘musician’ or ‘creative person.’
A young creative person who cannot liberate himself from the influence of past generations is digging his own grave.
To me, this quote is about the importance of embracing what today has to offer. It’s about rolling with the punches. It’s about learning from your domain’s past work, but also freeing yourself from that work.
It’s about appreciating the present time you live in, and adapting to it.
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When you think of Eminem, how do you believe he became such a megastar?
Would you say it’s because he’s a talented, gifted wordsmith? If you would, you’re about half right.
Eminem’s technical skills—everything from penning tight lyrics to composing enthralling beats—are phenomenal. He’s a Hip Hop legend.
But that’s not the only reason he’s successful. Actually, that’s only half the story.
Eminem As a Marketer?
Yes, Eminem also knew how to market his work. He knew how to self-promote, network.
This shocked me. If you’re an Eminem fan, it might shock you too.
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“I want to be one of those guys.”
Saying these eight words will help you be successful.
I recently watched HBO’s Talking Funny, where comedians Jerry Seinfeld, Chris Rock, Louis CK, and Ricky Gervais talked about comedy. Initially I tuned in because I’m a huge fan of Louis CK, but I enjoyed a few of their interesting insights as well.
One particular insight that fascinated me was how they had similar mindsets at the start of their careers. At one point Louis CK asks Seinfeld what made him get back on stage after bombing his first set. Seinfeld explains:
Success wasn’t my objective. It was just ‘I want to be one of those guys’. If I can be one of those guys, then I win everything. Money was not the thing. So once I stepped on there for the first time, that’s it—I’m now one of these guys. I’m just going to keep doing this.