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Don't Ache To Be Great: Care Enough About Your Gifts To Get There

Apr 5, 2008
There is a place where ideals can crush you instead of inspire you. It's like you stop looking at the North Star as a guide and you start looking at it as a benchmark of your own light instead. Comparing your business potential or art to those who have already established themselves is cruel and pointless. Nobody starts out as a gold medalist. Nobody begins at the Grammys...

Perhaps you, too, suffer from this "instant master" syndrome, some persistent hallucination that the talented "greats" bounded from the cradle into unfathomable and crank-it-out proficiency. Well, last I heard, anyone who has ever realized a dream, has stayed awake at night, aching and praying, ripped up scientific theories and scores of music, paced, clutched at hope and lost it, opened another business, plummeted, sweated, dreamed, and envied other talented lights. Oh, and one other thing. They began. They hunkered down in their own less-than-perfect, museum-quality experience.

I remember visiting New York and catching the Broadway play Gypsy starring Tyne Daly. I sat transfixed in my velvet seat as she ripped through her audience like a gale of wind bows trees and flowers. She tore through our masks and barriers and defenses and moved us to tears, laughter, realizations, and what felt like altered states of consciousness. In response, we the audience clapped with glee. We rose from our seats and howled our adoration. We couldn't give enough, say thank you with enough relish.

Later that night, still reeling with gratitude, swaying on a downtown D train, one of those blinding flashes of the obvious struck me. Tyne Daly couldn't have started there. She couldn't have gone to her very first acting class or audition and blasted away like that. But she had cared enough about her talent to get there. Something in me clicked. I wanted to reach that startling dimension with my own tender gifts. I wanted to be that good. I wanted to rise. And finally I was willing to settle down and begin even with low self-esteem, cellulite, boredom, and this desperate, breathless need to make it to the top of the hill without anybody catching a glimpse of me in progress.

We must be small to be great. Greatness is born of our own inelegance befriended and assisted. If we can't allow ourselves to be bad, we will never allow ourselves to be good. It's that simple and shocking. Our egos hate this and shield their squinty, little eyes from the light of this kind of truth. But there is a wise and genuine part of us that is willing to work with tolerance and produce ordinariness, inefficacy, and so-so results. This wise part knows the grace of things to come and it knows that patience and compassion turn ordinariness into wine. It's a sad and funny thing, But grandiosity actually chains us to inferiority. If we can't allow ourselves to be awkward and inept, then we will stay nothing but awkward and inept in one of those thin, dim hallways of creative purgatory. It's not a pretty sight.

So come to your work in your cotton robe. Sit before your talent in simple devotion. Let your actions be coarse and apparently fruitless. It takes a lot of "fruitless" actions to culminate in fruit. Practice with dignity. Grapple with humility. This is one of the greatest times in all of your creative career life. It takes such compassion and faith to work with blunted abilities while we covet big and flattering dreams.

Go ahead. It's time to start. Sculpt a vase that looks like a skinny chicken neck or teach a class that could be sold separately as a cure for insomnia. It doesn't matter. It's not the end of the world; it's the beginning.

If you wait for skill before you dare anything, you will only wait and ache. Yet proceed with simplicity and you will inch, then launch, towards proficiency. Don't ache to be great. Don't desire and wait. Care enough about your gifts to get there.
About the Author
The following is a book excerpt from THIS TIME I DANCE! Creating the Work You Love (How One Harvard Lawyer Left It All to Have It All!) by Tama J. Kieves (http://www.ThisTimeIDance.com) reprinted by permission of the author. Visit the author's website for free monthly email support.
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