Nothing New Under the Sun

When we encounter a piece of art that delights us, we creative types feel an urge to invoke that same power in ourselves. It’s not enough for us to merely appreciate what we’ve seen. We want to inhabit that same spirit to express ourselves with the same level of grace.

So, we give it a try. At first, we might feel that things are going well, but as we spend more time with our work, we might find ourselves encountering our own inadequacy. We look at what we’ve done and compare it to the source of our inspiration and we realize that it is nothing like what inspired us. It falls woefully short of the mark.

When I write, I feel like an armless, legless man with a crayon in his mouth

Many of us throw up our hands in despair. Maybe we move on to the next thing, the next inspiration. We repeat the cycle, again and again, bringing none of our projects to completion, rarely settling in deeply enough to master our craft. We begin to wonder if we’re just not cut out for this creativity stuff, and we start to resist and avoid our creative work. Some of us give up entirely.

The problem is that inispiration, while powerful, is short lived. I like to think of it as kind of like a “Nitro boost”. Great for a quick shot of energy under the right circumstances, but it can’t carry you the whole way.

What we need when we’re trying to make any kind of meaningful art, is a foundation to carry us along. We need the right tools, habits and sense of purpose to show up day after day so that when inspiration strikes, we can make the best use of it.

When we are present with our work, we can begin to construct this foundation. Presence allows us to see what we need, to seek help and to develop the necessary tools for the job. Presence gives us the ability to slow down and take stock, to assess what is happening and to temper our expectations so that we can play the long game.

Instead of unhelpfully comparing our own works in progress to the beautiful work that inspires us, presence helps us stay engaged with what is right in front of us. We can see that no matter how inadequate we might feel, we are doing what we love to do at this moment. By putting our pencil to the page, there is already magic happening.

When we learn to focus our sights on the small moments of the present, we can take each step forward, and instead of seeing how far we need to go, we learn to enjoy the journey. And when the time comes to run with our boost of inspiration, we’re ready for it.