Don’t rest on your laurels: Secrets of a creative life
Having a talent is one thing; but that’s never enough to succeed in the long term at something. You have to also have perseverance.
Perseverance is not something that comes naturally to all people, and is also not something you always get the chance to learn as a kid, especially if you have grown up in a privileged environment.
I didn’t really grow up in a privileged environment, but I still feel that I had lots of opportunities that other kids didn’t get, the chance to learn things like the piano, as well as the encouragement to find things out for myself.
But perseverance is never something I’ve ever thought much about. I can see that I’ve kept trying to do the same thing over the last twenty years in terms of my interests, but I do not yet feel the perseverance, that maybe someone in a much harder life situation than me has had to experience; to persevere at something out of sheer necessity.
But it is something that I have come to value, and can clearly see as a stand-alone quality in others.
And so how does that apply to creativity?
You may not be very good at something at first, but I wholeheartedly believe that if you keep working at it, and learning from it, that you definitely do become better at it. We are taught, almost by default, by the culture we live in, by technology and games, to grab the short-term gains; that you have to be young and go straight to the top.
But this is a kind of deceit; of gains that don’t stick around. Maybe only for 3 or 4 pop stars in the whole world.
Perseverance is something different. It’s about keeping doing something, even if you don’t feel like doing it one-hundred percent, but that you know you should be doing it instinctively, because it is a talent that you have.
You also need to work out what part of a goal or a skill, to persevere at, and what part to abandon, what part is going to give you anything in the long run. That’s where you have to bring in your intelligence; to not keep slaving on a stone, just for the sake of it — a stone that’ll never crack or bring you joy.
And you also need to learn how to keep going in spite of failures. To not feel discouraged by other people. And how to keep jealousy at bay, that self-comparison and measurement against the work of others, who you may, or may not feel, deserve the success that they are having. Basically, how to persevere without becoming bitter.
That’s no easy task — and part of the perseverance conundrum.
Anyway, no one really tells us that it takes a long time to become good at something. Mostly what we are taught, is that someone has an inbuilt talent, and they’ve just found the means to capitalize on it, like in the music industry. But you have to learn from observing others, in all walks of life, about how they’ve become good at something.
What’s kept them going through thick and thin, perfecting the thing they care about. It’s like a marriage, the relationship of you with a creative pursuit, which, funnily enough, is the only thing that we are really ever collectively taught to persevere at!