Perhaps because I spend so much time with creatives I spend more time with frustrated people who feel like they were meant for something more. Perhaps if the default in this culture was to make a living in the arts, we’d be seeing plumbers that just wanted to quit their job painting so they could follow their bliss and fit pipes*. Maybe. But the fact that it’s hard to make a living in the arts, to convince the culture at large that is our creativity where true value lies and not merely our ability to use a camera and Photoshop, means we hear of more artists than accountants who are frustrated, feel they are “waiting for their real lives to begin.”
I used to tell people, along with some other sage advice, to “be patient.” Now I’m frantically trying to recall those words, silence them. If I ever said that to you, I take it back. I was wrong.
Do I think patience is a good thing? Maybe. I guess. For some things. Behind the camera it’s invaluable. But if it were just you and me having a cup of coffee by ourselves, and what we were talking about was our dreams, and not, say, whether we should be patient with our spouses, partners, or children, I’d tell you I suspect it’s all bullsh*t. Patience is too passive. It waits around to see what’s going to happen. It falls down and waits for someone to come by and pick it up. Poor us. It’s not zen; it’s lazy. Perseverance, on the other hand, is active. It gets knocked down and gets right back up. It doesn’t have to be brash or stupid, or even hasty, as a lack of patience often implies. But it recognizes that life doesn’t simply happen to us. We are active players.
I’m not a patient person. Few people are. That’s why we keep getting told, “be patient.” Because we aren’t. For me those words go down a little more bitterly the older I get. Perhaps because with each passing day I’ve less days to waste on waiting. I think, more often than not, you have to go out and chase down your dreams, and patience is often just laziness or procrastination disguising as virtue. Everyone I know that’s doing something amazing or living life the way they hoped to, got there by chasing it down and not taking No for an answer. They are not lucky in the conventional sense, nor am I am, strictly speaking, a lucky person. I didn’t finally get on my feet because I have a horseshoe up my arse or because I was born under a lucky sign. I am a hard-working person who, despite all my faults, kept getting up when he got knocked down, which I seem to do with alarming frequency. And eventually I must have learned something. I hope I’m still learning, because I’m certain I’ve not taken the last licking that life is going to dish out.
Why am I splitting these semantic hairs? Well, for one, it’s what I do. You should know that about me by now. For another, I think it matters, which is why I do it. At least, it matters to me. I think with words, so a change in words is also a change in thought, and that leads to a change in action. When Craft & Vision, which turns 3 next month and has now had over a quarter million downloads, began, it was accidental in the sense that I had no idea if it would work out. I’d been there before, trying ideas that seemed great at the time but which only led to disappointment, and eventually failure. To be patient would mean sitting around waiting for these things to run their course. The thing is, they would run their course with or without my patience. But whether I recovered from them and moved on would be determined only by perseverance, which was fueled mostly by this unshakable sense that doing what I love, doing what I felt I must, was a better way to spend my life than merely doing what I knew I could. Perseverance has to be chosen. I’d fall down a thousand more times for a chance at that.
So now if you asked me about “living the dream,” I’d tell you to stop being merely patient. Stop it now. These dreams don’t chase themselves, then come back and lay themselves at your feet. They come with daily put-your-ass-in-the-seat effort. They come with picking up your camera when you don’t want to, and learning your craft. They come when you shut off the TV (there he goes on about the TV again…) and read a book about business or the biography of someone that fascinates you. They come when you save your money and get thrifty to avoid debt (Oh, God, the debt sermon again!). They come when you get hungry and want it badly enough that you’ll fall down again, learn, correct course, and keep moving. They come when you’re willing to wake up early, stay up late, and, if need be, to die trying. They come when you do what you love and stop doing all the soul-killing things that suck your time and affection for life. They come when you stop waiting, and start chasing.
They come neither easily, nor quickly, nor without cost. A life that comes easily, quickly, and free or cheap, is not worth your soul’s attention or longing. Find the thing that you enjoy so much you can still find joy in it while you’re falling down, making sacrifices, and losing sleep. Chase down that thing that gives you energy, not saps you of it. And then when you fail, there’s still meaning and fire in your getting up and trying again.
Idealistic? Sure it is. But aren’t you tired of being pragmatic instead of free? My own soul is so sick of this culture of pragmatism that has people locked into their fears and their anxieties as though staying safe will guarantee them immortality. Live forever, but live in fear without ever reaching higher than the cookie jar; that doesn’t sound like a life to me, even if it were possible. There will always be reasons we think we can’t do what we long to do. Few of them, if any, are good. Amputees climb Everest. People with children travel the world. And talentless hacks make a decent living selling kitsch they call art. If they can do it, so can you. So can I. Not easily. Not cheaply. Not quickly. It might take a lifetime and cost us more than we imagined. But we can do it. It’ll be a little easier if we stop being so damn patient, if we stop waiting, get up and try, risk, fail, and repeat. Sometimes good things come to those who wait; more often they come to the stubborn ones that won’t take no for an answer and keep chasing. Keep at it. I don’t know what “it” is for you, but now’s probably not the time to “be realistic,” “get a real job,” or “lower your expectations.” Leave the settling for mediocrity for the ones that want it.
*I’d be willing to bet that there are people out there working as plumbers and pipe fitters who love their work. My point was not to put them down or suggest it’s a lesser calling, but to contrast those, generally, who work in the creative fields and those who work in trades. One seems easier to get into, and earn a living with, than the other. I could be wrong. Don’t hate me because I pick random metaphors.