Just Because We’re Young Doesn’t Mean We’re Useless

Being young is no excuse for not delivering value.

What we lack in experience we make up in enthusiasm, by
being the most energizing one around. What we lack in certainty we make up in
curiosity, by asking the most disturbing questions around. What we lack in
wisdom we make up in perspective, by making the best observations around. What
we lack in velocity we make up in flexibility, by being the most patient one
around. What we lack in knowledge we make up in savvyness, by being the most
digitally proficient one around. And what we lack in history we make up in
courage, by taking the most risks around.

This simple shift in posture is the smartest, easier and
cheapest way to show the world we’re here to contribute, age notwithstanding.

Just because we’re young, doesn’t mean we’re useless.

Reject Anything That Reeks Of Meh

We are defined by what we decline.

Especially in those moments when it would be easy to say yes
to the quick buck, the quick win or the quick applause, the heroic response would
be to respectfully and consciously reject anything that reeks of meh.

To decline the projects that involve uninspiring,
unchallenging, unrisky and unrewarding work, no matter how many of our ego and
financial needs they fulfill, because deep down, we know they’re only going to
lead to more of the same meh work.

When we make this choice, we allow the door of opportunity
to swing open.

Doesn’t Anybody Want to Change the World Anymore?

That’s the sound of the world gasping.

exhausted entirely too much breath over vain pursuits like driving traffic, getting
hits, gathering followers, increasing views, gaining exposure, accumulating
likes and attaining celebrity.

And maybe
I’m blessed with a broken sense of priorities, but doesn’t anybody want to
change the world anymore? Are we so spellbound by the size of our own fire that
we’ve forgotten to leave the campsite better than we found it?

It’s time to reunite our efforts with a higher order by asking
bigger questions.

What are we mandated to cure? What are we on a mission to
eradicate? What conversations are we going to restart? What cosmic injustices
are we committed to fighting?

Sure beats going blind over blog analytics.

The Problem of Constitutional Incompatibility

Opposites attract, but that doesn’t mean they stay together.

I spent several years with someone who, in many ways, was
the mathematical opposite of me. Different attitude, different lifestyle,
different goals, different everything. Which, admittedly, was kind of endearing
at first. Our personalities seem to compliment each other nicely.

But as we got more serious, and as my friends started
dropping more hints, I learned that what we lacked was a commonality of
constitution. We might have listened to the same music, but there was still no
overlap in value system. We might have enjoyed the same restaurants, but there
was still no sublime connection.

When the time came to plan our future together, I knew there
was something missing. I knew I couldn’t make her just like me, no matter how
books I read. And I knew that if I didn’t make a move soon, cognitive
dissonance would stick me into a corner that would be agonizing to escape.

So I ended it. Abruptly. As honestly, kindly and clearly as
I could. And it wasn’t the smoothest breakup in the world, but it certainly
wasn’t the bloodiest. I’ve seen worse.

About a year later, once the minefield had cleared, once I’d
siphoned all the regret and pain and guilt out of my system, I made a decision.

Life’s too short to spend with someone who’s
constitutionally incompatible.

Whatever Happens Will Always Be Part Of Us

Not everything needs to be understood.

That’s hard for a lot
of us to understand.

Especially if we’re the kind of people who think, reflect,
evaluate, replay and over analyze everything that happens to us, in an effort to
make sense of our own existence.

But in the portfolio of life experience, whatever happens to
us will always be a part of us.

The hard part is trusting that that alone is enough. Because
even if we don’t comprehend certain experiences at the time – or at any time,
for that matter – that doesn’t make them any less important to our lives. It
all matters. It all changes us.

If we let it.

Your Savings Account of Human Healing

It’s okay to ask people to be there for us.

In those moments when the fury of the tempest leaves us tossed
and tattered, we should never hesitate to call in the cavalry.

They love it.
People want nothing more than the opportunity to show up for someone they care
about. That’s why they became our friends in the first place. Not because we have
the same shoe size, although that’s certainly a nice perk. Have you seen her
fabulous red boots?

No, they’re our friends because they want us to call on

The human longing to be useful, to be asked, to be necessary
to at least one other person in the world, runs deeper than anything. And when
we rob people of the chance to hit their daily quota of usefulness, to validate
their existence – if only for five minutes on the phone – we commit an act of

But if we’re fortunate enough to have a savings account of
human healing, we should never feel guilty about making a withdrawal request.

The Escape Route Surplus

Nobody commits anymore.

Not just because it’s
hard to commit, but because it’s easy to bail.

When picking a vendor, picking a university, picking a home,
even picking a mate, technology dissolves loyalty. With instant access to an
unlimited reservoir of choices, every additional option makes it harder and
harder to stick with something.

The problem, then, is not just our fear of commitment – it’s
our surplus of escape routes.

If we want to paint ourselves into an accountable corner, if
we want to become known for our commitment, the only answer is to burn the ships, practice some serious restraint and play for keeps.

Otherwise we’re just another question mark in people’s

The Young Artist’s Guide to Playing For Keeps, Part 20

You’ve chosen an uncertain path.

You’ve adopted an inconvenient lifestyle.

You’ve embarked upon an unconventional journey.

You’ve felt the voice inside you growing more urgent.

You’ve committed yourself enough so you can’t turn back.

IN SHORT: You’ve decided to play for keeps.

This is the critical crossroads – the emotional turning
point – in the life of every young artist.

And I’ve been there

From my latest book, Writing is the Basis of All Wealth, here’s a list of suggestions to help you along the

1. Miles
Davis didn’t make many hit records.
sold the experience of seeing him in person, and he changed music forever. But
that was decades ago. Now everything is different. “Today almost everything we
encounter has been recorded and played back,” writes Rian Hughes in Culture, “and very little of what we
experience is actually live. Yet live is how life happens, and live was the
only way, before technology permitted reproduction, life happened.” The
challenge is figure out how your art creates a breathing the same air experience
for your fans. From live events to streaming online, making hit records isn’t
as important as it used to be. When was
the last time you made art in public?

2. Life was
here first.
The artistic landscape is littered with the corpses of people
whose life was solely about executing their will. People who selfishly ignored
their families, neglected their health and abandon their communities, in the
name of art. And while their body of work was impressive, their body in a
coffin, wasn’t. In a recent podcast interview, Ben Stiller explained, “Life
doesn’t happen on its own when you just go and work all the time.” It’s a
helpful reminder that whatever balance you strike, staying devoted to the
project of building a life is just as important as the art you make from it. We
have to create a life anchored by regular experiences of meaningfulness outside
of our work. Are you living a life worth

3. Be open to criticism, but not defeated by
To not be critical of your own work is to not be human. It’s part of
the job description. At the same time, you don’t want to criticize the work to
the point that you scare yourself out of creating it. Please don’t interrupt me while I’m beating the shit out of myself,
as some artists are prone to say. Fortunately, if you can confront yourself
without condemning yourself, if you can meet yourself without turning away, and
if you can take stock without making a judgment, your art will get better without
getting under your skin. It all depends on how willing you are to face your own
work with a critical eye. What pieces are
you afraid to go back and look at?

4. You can’t
be an inactivist
. Art is something you have to do every day, otherwise you
get too far from it and forget what it’s about. That’s one of the reasons you
make things – to find out why you made them. Leonard Cohen once told American Songwriter, “You have to redeem
the day so it does not go down in debt.” As an artist, whatever bargain you
make with yourself, be sure it’s enough to meet your daily quota of usefulness.
That will validate your existence. That will keep you on top of your game. And
even if you don’t score big today, there will always be tomorrow. What did you create yesterday?

5. Your
entire career is an act of entrepreneurship.
And as such, part of your job
is to search beyond your current professional boundaries. To risk rejection by
exploring new artistic worlds instead of courting acceptance by following
already explored paths. Julia Cameron teaches her writing students to recite
the following affirmation, “I am not going to limit myself just because people
won’t accept the fact that I can do something else.” If that means trying a new
genre, so be it. If that means working for a new audience so be it. And if that
means moving across the country to a city where you don’t know anybody, so be
it. Art without risk, isn’t. When was the
last time you did something for the first time?

6. Start
with design in mind.
Design isn’t a veneer we apply after the hard work is
done – design is the hard work. It starts on day one and it’s part of
everything. In the words of the great Alan Fletcher, “Design is to conscious
effort to impose meaningful and beautiful order, surround the spirit with flesh
and make the pragmatic poetic. It’s the intelligent equation between purpose
and construction.” No matter what medium you use, we’re all designers. And the
same way that you build remarkability into your ideas before they go public,
you also build design into your ideas before they get finished.Choose to champion the beautiful. Invest
as much energy as possible in making your art a beautiful organism. Are you making something you would put in
your coffin?

REMEMBER: When you’re ready to play for keeps, your work will never be the same.

Make the decision today.

Show the world that your art isn’t just another expensive hobby.

Are You Pursuing Wholeness Or Perfection?

The real beauty is when we can be ugly together.

When we can join each other in a safe space of honesty and
imperfection and give voice to the darkest, most perverse sides of ourselves. Somewhere
we can set shame aside and let vulnerability meet vulgarity, without the fear
of being judged.

We might do coffee with friends. Have dinner club with
colleagues. Share at storytelling open mic nights. Attend quarterly meetup
groups. Write weekly letters to family members or post on online message boards
with digital pals.

All are good options.

The point is, it’s less important where, how or with whom we
do it – and more important that we do it. Regularly.
Because without this emotional release, without this outlet for our most
primitive hostilities and human tendencies, we fail to acknowledge, appease and
articulate our shadow.

If we don’t go
crazy, we might go crazy.

The goal is to pursue wholeness, not perfection. To admit
that, despite our best efforts to keep our hands clean, humans can’t hide their
hideousness forever. To decide that, eventually, the ugly has to come out. And
to believe that, when we’re willing to share what’s most appalling about our
lives, we’re always better because of it.

There’s Only So Much Manure We Can Shovel

When times are tough, it’s a lot harder to believe our own

Anyone can self-rationalize when there’s money in the bank,
clients in the pipeline and projects in the works. That’s like riding a bicycle
downhill and assuming our legs are strong.

But when the phone stops ringing, when the obligations start
accumulating, and when we’re not sure where the next check is coming from,
there’s only so much manure we can shovel. Eventually, we have to get radically
honest with ourselves about what’s working and what’s not. And we have to wake
up to what’s true about ourselves at the risk of seeing something we couldn’t
see back when business was good.

Otherwise, under the weight of our own delusions — even if
we’ve managed to convince the rest of the world that everything is going fine
— we’ll know the reality. We’ll still have to look at ourselves in the mirror
every morning.

And it might not be a pretty sight.

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