When I was eighteen, I wrote a play about falling in love, being afraid and not knowing what to say. I wrote it late at night after walking home from my first serious boyfriend’s house. I wrote it to make sense of what I was feeling.
A month or so later, with no other material to turn in for my Grade 12 playwriting class, I submitted the play. As part of the assignment, my classmates and I were also required to submit our plays to Tarragon Theatre’s “Under 20 for Under 20s” playwriting competition. Much to my amazement, I won.
The feedback from the artistic director at Tarragon was that what I had written was raw and honest. It transported him. My play wasn’t well-received because it was a play about young love. It won because I connected with the judges’ humanity.
This weekend, while cleaning the house, the girls and I started playing silly Youtube videos. We watched and sang along with What Does the Fox Say? and Gangnam Style and I couldn’t help but remark that the singers look like they’re having an incredibly good time. I’ll bet they didn’t write those songs and create the dance moves and hilarious music videos because they thought they would become the massive international hits they did. I have a feeling they created them because they thought it would be fun. And the results are fun — and undeniably authentic.
This isn’t only the case with songs and music videos. It’s true of everything. When you do something because you want people to like you — or to impress them or seem smart or important — the results are usually mediocre at best. But when you create from purpose, from the need to channel something, to lay your soul bare and reveal a truth to the world — even if that truth is that nobody knows what the fox says — that authenticity shines through.
After winning the playwriting competition, I learned this the hard way. I tried to write other plays but I was so concerned with writing what I thought other people wanted to see that I simply couldn’t create anything interesting. The same can be said of much of the other writing I did in my 20s. I was so desperate for approval that I was mostly unable to write anything genuinely touching. My writing was good but it wasn’t great. It was only when I wrote out of the need to understand something, or when a poem or story simply popped out without my trying that I felt the shimmer of authenticity emanating from what I had made.
Much of humankind’s greatest writing was created without thought of publishing. These were acts of meaning-making, of pure creation. The poetry of Emily Dickinson. Marcus Aurelius’ Meditations. So many of the letters written by great writers and philosophers to their friends and lovers. Spiritual texts (not the dogmatic kind). These weren’t acts of the ego, they were true acts of courage, of love, of joy, of vulnerability, of deep reflection that still resonate centuries later. This is what makes people incredible — this ability to channel truth and love. When someone is really present in their act of creation, you can feel it when you’re on the receiving end. That’s what makes incredible art. It’s also what makes people and businesses shine.
Last week, while coaching a startup founder, I asked her if she could imagine what it would be like to create from purpose and passion rather than from fear and the need to prove others wrong. Another young writer friend of mine recently told me that he was going to write an astonishing play out of spite for another writer. Now, it’s entirely possible that they will both be successful in their endeavours by the sheer force of will. People who are motivated to get rich often succeed. But at what cost?
Will the startup founder sacrifice all of her personal relationships in order to build a business that transforms her industry? Will the writer compromise himself until he becomes the mirror image of the person he is trying to spite? These are the questions we simply don’t ask ourselves when we’re motivated by fear or greed or arrogance. But we should! Once I finally learned the difference between being driven by anxiety and fear and creating from a place of passion and love, it became so much easier to write and create beautiful things. The recognition that I don’t want to live in scarcity or propelled by fear of failure freed me from the grind that I had been living for so long. And it made space for joy and play. Now, I get so much more done and I get to have fun!
Of course, fear is still there. Of course, I still have my internal stories about perfectionism and the need to be better than other people — they’re my survival mechanisms and they helped me feel safe, even if they didn’t really serve me all that well. Awareness is the key. I know they’re there and so when I notice I’m drifting into survival mode, I can do something to bring myself back to being present. It’s actually remarkably simple and I can’t believe it took me this long to realize. The real doozy is how tough it can be to start taking those brave steps away from how you’ve always been toward how you want to be.
Take it from me. It’s worth it! And as I said to that founder last week: imagine how much more joy and impact you could have if you let go of the ego and stepped into your power.
If you’re curious about what your life would look like if you were to step away from scarcity and into joy and abundance, get in touch! I’m running a storytelling webinar on November 10, 2020, and have a bunch of other programs coming up and ways I work with people. You can also sign up for my newsletter to receive articles like this one in your inbox. Have a beautiful day! ❤