In which the author rambles on about creativity and the pursuit of excellence, and ultimately ends with a non sequitur about canine games.
If there’s one thing I love, it’s a creative skill. (Not a big surprise to you, no doubt, gentle imaginary reader, given the title of this blog.)
I’ve been a dancer, an artist, a singer, a writer, you name it. Every Bliss I’ve followed I’ve endeavored to achieve mastery at (with varying degrees of success), but sometime within the past five years or so I discovered something important: it isn’t the mastery of a skill that makes me happy; it’s the pursuit of mastery.
This little discovery has actually been life-changing.
The beginnings of being a beginner
At age 16 I discovered dance (Bliss #1, though at the time I wasn’t aware there would be more than one.) I fell madly, passionately in love with it, and within a few months I was in dance classes three to six hours a day, every day.
I was a woman on a mission: to become a Professional Dancer. And not just that, but to become the best damned dancer I could be.
This part was especially important, and I spent a great deal of time and energy:
A) lamenting that I wasn’t a better dancer than I was, and
B) wishing, desperately, to be really, really good.
Since I was a beginner at an age when many Professional Dancers were already embarking on their professional careers, I felt over the hill at 16, hopelessly behind the curve. Being a beginner was merely a painful stage that I had to endure on my way to becoming really, really good.
Allowing myself to try something that I didn’t already do well – to be awkward and bad at it en route to getting good – was hard!
As fate would have it, I was sidelined by an injury before I ever got to prove myself or fulfill my “potential,” and I spent several years in a state of semi- to downright-miserable depression. Eventually, though, I got on with my life, graduated from college, got a masters degree en route to a PhD (thinking I wanted to become an academic), realized (thankfully) that the ivory tower wasn’t for me, and at age 28 I picked up a calligraphy pen and discovered Bliss #2.
A beginner again… and again
Once again, it seemed terribly important that I become really, really good at this new thing, preferably as quickly as possible.
And once again, I spent a lot of time and energy at A and B above (substituting calligrapher for dancer, of course).
Once again I was a beginner, which I still viewed as a painful but necessary state to escape from as quickly as possible.
About ten years later I discovered another Bliss, and found myself as a beginner yet again, this time with a microphone in a class on jazz vocal technique.
I was terrified, and yes, I wanted to be really, really good, preferably as quickly as possible, but there was a distinct difference this time around. By this time in my life and self-development, I was actually okay with being a beginner, okay with where I was.
Sure, I still wanted to be over there, and my goal was to get there, but I was also able to enjoy being right here, right now. I noticed I did not waste (much) energy on A and B, but instead was actually able to enjoy being a beginner and allow myself to fully experience the process of growing into my art.
What was the difference?
For one thing, at age 38 I’d already established a solid identity for myself as an Artist. I’d achieved some things, and felt secure in who I was. My ego wasn’t dependent on other people thinking I was really, really good at this one thing, because I already knew I was okay at other things in my life.
This was really important.
But equally important was the discovery that mastery of the skill is not what creates happiness for me.
Mastery is great – the more mastery you achieve, the more freedom and fun you can have doing the thing, and this is good. But happiness, for me, is in the journey, not the destination.
So, it turns out, the Pursuit of Mastery is part and parcel with the Pursuit of Happiness.
And here’s another thing: ever since I made the commitment to put creating the life I really, really want at the center of my world, I’ve been creating every day, and I’ve been a helluva lot happier.
In a certain sense, in the very process of striving to create the life I really, really want, I’m actually already living the life I really, really want. (Though still without the financial security part, unfortunately; I haven’t yet manifested great gobs of cash from my daily bursts of creative activity. Patience… patience…)
The Pursuit of Happiness, it turns out, is actually what makes me happy.
And finally, the canine games part
I guess this shouldn’t be so surprising. After all, the thrill is in the chase, right? If you throw a ball for a dog, doesn’t she just usually bring it right back for another throw?
It seems my life is simply one big game of fetch. Which, if you think about it, is kind of a cool metaphor.
It sure makes my over-complicated existence seem a helluva lot less serious, and a helluva lot more fun.
PS — Pssst! Know someone who might benefit from seeing this today? Pass it on!