If at some point in your life you decided the world was too random and unsafe, you may have created systems to control the future. 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. 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. Growing up in an impoverished family in the suburbs of Brazil, I often heard my family say things such as: “that’s not for people like us.” I refused to believe it, as I also refused to conform and play by the rules. I didn’t have the support to trust myself, so I 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. 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. If everything you do is about 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. Braver than me, she followed her real passion, and she’s fighting for what she 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 the odds. Everything pointed in the other direction. Sailing across the world was a crazy idea, mainly since she never even sailed before in her life. Still, there she was, back in the water, no matter how hard she tried…
The difference between Moana and us 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. The real pain starts when you live your life only based on that voice, the one from your childhood, telling you that 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 grew busy “making it,” I lost all that enthusiasm. I 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, that 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. 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 has changed? I have no intention, 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 am 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.