If at some point of your life you decided the world was too random and unsafe, you may have created systems to control the future. Or if you decided, and this is a popular one, that you can’t trust the adults around you, you may have trouble trusting even the ones you chose, like your husband or friends. Our childhood has taught us most of the systems we use to make sense of the world. In other words, we still behave today based on a concept or idea we created when we were 5 years old.
These systems were created to keep us safe, but they also keep us small, because if you’re not playing big, you’re not risking much.
As a child I had decided I needed to prove that “I can make it”. I was a passionate dreamer willing to conquer the world, but growing up in a very poor family in the suburbs of Brazil, I often heard my family say things like “that’s not for people like us”. I refused to believe it, as I also refused to conform and play by the rules, but I also didn’t have the support to trust myself, so dreamed big, but I also dreamed safe. I exchanged an artistic career for a career as an advertiser. Instead of writing books, I’d be writing ads, instead of painting, I would design billboards. I dared go to college and I was the first of my siblings and cousins to get a degree, but I wasn’t going to risk it on a failed career, so I spent my life proving I could “make it” while living someone else’s dream. I left Brazil and landed a job in the Silicon Valley. Coming from the hoods of a third world country I think it’s safe to say I “made it”, but at what cost?
It’s a dangerous place to be caught up between “I’ll prove I can make it” and “I’ll dream big”. Dreaming big is important, but you may not make it, and that’s ok. However, if everything you do has to do with that voice in your head telling you you’re not good enough, it doesn’t matter how far you go, you’ll never make it. When I ask myself what kind of dream I’d had followed if I wasn’t too busy making it, the answer is pretty clear: singer, dancer, writer.
I’ve recently found “dancing” in the form of pole and circus arts. I reconnected to myself in ways I didn’t even know I had lost. It helped me to get to know myself better, to reflect on my choices and help me to grow into a completely different person. Still, something was missing.
Two weeks ago I took a trip to Los Angeles to meet with a friend who’s a music composer. We had great conversations on this subject as she, too, struggle with matters of worth, dreams and career. However, braver than me or maybe for having a different support system, she followed her true passion and she’s fighting for what she really loves. She’s already a winner in my book.
During our conversations, the movie Moana came up – the daughter who needs to disappoint her parents to follow her heart against all odds. Everything pointed in the other direction, sailing across the world was a crazy idea, especially since she never even sailed before in her life, but there she was, back in the water, no matter how hard she tried…
The difference between us and Moana is that she wasn’t trying to prove herself. She had a calling and she followed it despite what she had to sacrifice. Don’t get me wrong, this is not an easy job, the entire world seems to conspire to keep you in your box, but the real pain starts when you live your life only based on that voice from your childhood telling you you’re not good enough.
Elizabeth Gilbert’s Ted Talk illustrates the idea of being “away from home”. Both success or failure takes you away from yourself, only doing what you love for the sole reason that you love it, will take you back “home”.
One moment through our conversation brought me back to a time when I used to write fiction stories. Every free time I had I spent with paper and pen and when I wasn’t able to write, I was daydreaming about characters and plots. As I grew older and busy trying to “make it”, I lost all that enthusiasm and stopped writing, but I never stopped daydreaming about stories and characters. Throughout the years I did try to reconnect to that part of me, joined meetups, read books on creativity, started and stopped a thousand blogs. Nothing worked.
It wasn’t until I watched my friend creating music and living the life she chose, even though struggling to find herself, I realized what I’ve been missing all along – home. I once loved writing for the sake of writing, but I fell so hard for the trap that I wasn’t good at it that I became too scared to continue.
I started writing on the plane back to San Francisco and I haven’t stopped since. It’s like something magical happened and suddenly I could feel like the 15 years old I once was, so obsessed with my stories that I didn’t have time for teenage drama. I reconnected to my characters and the thrill I once felt to give them life and purpose. What have changed? I have no purpose, I write because I love doing so. Do I fantasize about publishing my story? Of course I do! Do I doubt I’ll be able to? Every second! I doubt anyone will ever want to read it, but I still want to write, because I love writing and I feel more like myself now than I have felt in years!
So I write this post to share this feeling: you’ll never feel ready, so do it because you love it, not because you are good at it. Do it even if you can’t see where it will take you. And if you’re an artist, I’ll leave you with the words of Neil Gaiman:
“Life is sometimes hard. Things go wrong, in life and in love and in business and in friendship and in health and in all the other ways that life can go wrong. And when things get tough, this is what you should do.
Make good art.
I’m serious. Husband runs off with a politician? Make good art. Leg crushed and then eaten by mutated boa constrictor? Make good art. IRS on your trail? Make good art. Cat exploded? Make good art. Somebody on the Internet thinks what you do is stupid or evil or it’s all been done before? Make good art. Probably things will work out somehow, and eventually time will take the sting away, but that doesn’t matter. Do what only you do best. Make good art.
Make it on the good days too.”