On Doing Something Well, Creative Integrity and Passion
Q: How important is it to not just achieve a creative dream, but to do it well?
I think what you’re asking is really an issue of creative integrity. I’m not sure anyone starts out to put work out there that isn’t their best, but it happens. Some people are willing to sacrifice quality for success. Basically, selling themselves and their potential out for a quick return. Some people just don’t care. A lot of it comes down to maturity, motivation and professionalism.
I’ve always been someone who won’t do something unless I know I can do it well. That can trip me up sometimes, but for the most part, you’re not going to see my work until I feel pretty confident it represents the best of me at that time. You’re going to get quality and you’re going to get a professional who respects you as a human being. We live in an age of instantaneous results. The expectations that creates makes it hard to give yourself and your work the time, focus and protection you need to truly become something that stands out. Going to market too soon may pay off in early returns, but it will cost you in the long run because you’ll never know what you could have achieved if you’d given it more.
There’s another element involved, too, and that is respect for others’ time and talents. I’m not going to bring to market a product unless I know it meets high standards in my field. That isn’t arrogance, but understanding that doing something well is how you give and receive respect. When you respect someone, you honor them as a human being regardless of their position. And really, all of life comes down to how we relate to one another, so how you relate to others IS what life is all about and all of our creative work is really just play. It’s more important to me that you feel cared for as a human being than it is what you can potentially do for or with me on a project.
I read an article the other day by a screenwriter who said he always has a script or two in his car so if he sees Ben Affleck in the parking lot, he’ll have something to give him. Really? I think that’s terribly obnoxious. Is it possible that Mr. Affleck would accept a script that way? Maybe. Is that how you want to be known for doing business? Not me. (Would you want to be approached during your non-working time by a stranger trying to sell you something or get you to do her a career favor?) There’s a big difference between ‘taking advantage of an opportunity’ and having the self-respect to trust that how you do business is ultimately more important to your career than any one project.
You respect people’s time, talent and investment when you deliver your best – and you don’t waste their time with something that’s not ready yet. It really is a matter of setting high expectations for yourself and your work – and letting those expectations lift you and the work higher. You have to have the humility and discernment to take guidance from those you trust and the self-confidence to trust yourself when it counts. But at the end of the day, if you know you’ve put everything you’ve got into the work and you’ve delivered your best, well, that is the reward, isn’t it?
Q: But you talk about being bold? It sounds as if you’re after perfection, isn’t that risky?
Excellent point. I do talk about being bold. Because in my experience, I’ve always made decisions based on what I knew to be true for me – even when others couldn’t see the logic or reasoning. (For instance, I knew in my heart from the time I was 17 that I was meant to go to Bosnia – and for six years of turbulent life circumstances that calling simply wouldn’t let me go, no matter how many well-intended people tried to talk me out of it. I couldn’t explain why I felt called to travel there or why I felt attached to a people I’d never met – but I knew it was what I was meant to do and it proved that the calling was right.) I make decisions with my heart and intuition, and disregard the opinions of those who can’t see beyond the potential risks (which for some reason have never seemed that risky to me). So, be bold? Yes. Have the faith in yourself to make connections and act as a professional with those in your field you respect? Yes. Be willing to say yes to yourself and your dreams? Yes.
Perfection? No. Doing something well involves trust. Perfection never trusts. Perfection is built on doubt. Doing something well means listening to your inner voice when it tells you you’ve done everything you can and now you must let go and move on. Perfection will never get you to the point of letting go and moving on. Doing something well means you have the humility to know you will continue to grow – as well as you have done now, you will eventually do even better. Perfection has no room for that. It’s not built on wanting to deliver quality (though it appears that way) – but on fear of not being accepted. Never build anything on fear or doubt.
Q: Is it really a matter of being passionate about what you do?
Oh, passion, passion. Hmm. Passion has such a strong connotation of unwavering high-energy to it, doesn’t it? I hear ‘passion’ and already see the burn-out. But, maybe that’s just me. If you were to ask me if I’m passionate about writing, I would probably say no. If you ask me if I’m passionate about using writing to inspire and nurture the human spirit, I would say yes. I’m not trying to be coy. It’s just that for me, motivation and purpose are my driving factors. Passion feels too fragile to be the anchor that will hold for all the ups and downs and getting thrown off and having to be the one to dust yourself off and convince yourself to get up again and keep at it. I think passion is good when it means “enduring love for what you are doing” – but if it means “always feeling the high” then it fails miserably.
I should add that high quality in our day and age is something that will set you apart. You do something well and you’ll already be at an advantage. You show the dedication to master your craft, trust yourself, display self-confidence built on humility, and a conviction in your dream and you have already elevated yourself above the crowd. People respect courage, they respect those willing to take a chance on their dreams, they respect those who aren’t scared that they’ll miss their chance and trust that they have the power to create their lives – but only when you bring respect, integrity and are someone who is genuinely good-natured and pleasant to work with. You have to respect yourself if you want anyone else to respect you – and that means having some principles. Old-fashioned? Maybe.
But greatness is built on that.