The ten thousand hours to mastery rule came across my desk like my death sentence. Now artistic ability and performance— two skills I enviously eyed— was quantitatively demanding my dedication. There was a rule, after all, a law of nature, perhaps. And I always take laws of nature very seriously.
The concept behind this law is a study done by someone somewhere about the performance of musicians, I believe, who discovered that the world’s top performers had spent ten thousand hours honing their craft. The details aren’t important to my story. What’s important is that I felt my urge for excellence evoked. I knew if I am to be the cream of the crop, the highest caliber of person (shouldn’t everyone think that of themselves? If you’re not the highest caliber person, change something. Right?), I must master. But master what? Here’s a brief list of things that crossed my mind in answer to that question:
- Bible study,
- hymn composition,
- raising children,
- tax code,
- managerial arts,
- personal style,
- community building,
Can you see my problem? How was I ever to master all these things at once? Now the pressure was on. Someone had cracked the code to excellence and I knew exactly the cost of my dreams. But, no, how was I ever to spend “just thirty minutes a day” on fifty-eight thousand things? It was the end of my creativity, nay, the end of my hope. I was forever doomed to be mediocre in all things, never to attain any levels of achievement or personal satisfaction. One more classic example of how I am stretched too thin to add to the pile.
When I began my online presence (my influenceship? influencedom? influencerness?), the advice that stagnated my progress the most was, “Be consistent. Find your niche and then do only that. Don’t surprise your audience, don’t stray from your primary content, etc., etc.” I grappled, I wrestled. This was a huge disappointment to me. I wanted to write about productivity and share my sad poetry. I wanted to review books and vlog while I was driving to the gym every day. I couldn’t force myself to write from inside a pigeonhole. I blamed myself for not conforming. Perhaps this was evidence I had been looking for of my lack of clarity and focus. The tension was quiet and ignore-able, like water lapping at a wall. But I knew from those pesky laws of nature that this angst was corrosive. Resolution must occur if my inner muses were to survive.
Something clicked this weekend, though. An abrupt turnaround in this tensive journey to express, create, and master. I finally realized I was not trying desperately to be the best in everything and I was not lacking purpose. I realized it was just me. I must write; I must sing; I must play; I must compose; I must rhyme; I must vlog and blog and YouTube and, every once in a while, I must even paint. And when some new medium comes across my path that sings to my heart, then I must do that, too. It is not out of a fickle nature, but a passion for beauty in any form. Now, and only now, I realize that I create to release the inspiration from inside my ribcage, not for someone else to condone or enjoy my ideas. I create because I must, because my imagination is a wild, free thing that empowers me. When I am blessed with inspiration, that’s between me and inspiration, and it has nothing to do with the rest of the world. No more will an idea whisper in my ear and I respond with worries of someone else’s reaction. If that idea whispers to me and I love it, then it must be worthy of manifestation by that very fact. No dependencies exist on how the finished product will sit on someone else’s palette. I finally reached the place where I don’t care if I get paid, if I get famous, if I get social validation. I create because I must, not because it’s an income stream. Cart and horse, my friends.
My great-grandfather was a jeweler, a house-builder, a fertilized rock collector, a handyman, and a one-man band. His name was Charlie and though I have no memories of this man I recognize his genetic contribution to me today. A one-man band?, you ask. Oh, yes, he played the piano, sang, beat a drum with his foot, and had a harmonica stand around his neck all at once. He was a dancer and a boogie-er and well-impassioned. I understand now his multiple hobbies, his unceasing creation-ing. I wish I could’ve met him, but his example— his legend, even— passes down comfort to me as a doubtful multi-passioned artist, like he’s nodding gently in his armchair, patting five-year-old me on the head, and saying, “Singing and fiction-writing? Well, why not? And don’t pick between the two. You have the right stuff in you. Create whatever comes to mind and don’t look back.”
My grandfather on the other side was a physics teacher, a preacher, a song-leader (choral director, if you like), a doer, and a tireless fiddler (not the player of a fiddle, but someone that is constantly fiddling with things). His name was Charles and I have very many memories of him. He was always knee deep in a project. I never saw the man sit down to watch a movie in his life. He was always in the yard, in the shed, at the computer looking up ancestry, whittling, building, bon-fire-ing, eating sweets, and drinking coffee. He worked on projects like he grazed on snack food. But he was so embedded in his passionate pursuit of doing that I never saw him gain a pound, even after all that sugar. He probably burned it off just by thinking of the next series of projects. The man was sharp as a whip, but by the time I came around (grandkid number #12?) he was also mellow and sweet and he loved me very well. I look back fondly on memories of him and I see how I am like him with pride, from the constant fiddling down to my hitchhiker’s thumbs. If he knew me today, he would listen with piqued interest visible in his sparkling eyes and say again what he said to me many times, “You’re doing all the good, granddaughter.”
And maybe this is all just me channeling the imaginary voice of my mentor, Elizabeth Gilbert, who would probably say the similar things about the nature of creativity if she knew me. (In fact, she did say almost the exact same thing in her brilliant book, Big Magic, and it was upon reading that pure starlight that I adopted her as mentor.) But no matter where it came from this release from expectations, this escape from the creative equation that society engineered, this peace treaty with my previously warring passions is the permission slip I was looking for. No more guilt for failing to become a child prodigy of some kind. No more shame for just now starting a guitar habit when I’ve owned an instrument for ten years. No more worry that I’ve “lost my touch” when I don’t write a hymn for months a time. I was just busy toying with some other medium and I’ll always come back. Because that’s who I am. I flit across the mediums and that doesn’t make my voice any less important or any more important than anyone else’s. So, if you’ll excuse me, or not, I’ll be creating.