Living the Long Game

Like many people trying to live a creative life – whatever that means – and trying to reconcile who I am with what I do, I often find myself neck-deep in The Sea of What Does It All Mean. Sometimes I’m only there for a few hours, but I have also spent weeks or months at a time there, treading water, looking for the current that will take me back to shore. I chose this path a long time ago and while I get the whole Steven Pressfield idea that art – which, again is subjective, so let’s agree to say creativity – comes from struggle on an intellectual level, I don’t completely agree with it. Where he and I differ is on the idea that struggle has to be synonymous with pain. I don’t think that creativity has to come from pain, far from it, but I do believe that there has to be struggle – call it effort, if you like or even “skin in the game.” Choosing to lead a creative life, a fulfilling life, means saying yes to struggle, to effort, to process.

I find great joy in the process, whatever form it may take – from grinding coffee beans by hand to writing using actual pencil and paper, to building one of my paintings with layer after layer of acrylic medium. My joy is as much in the doing as it is in the thinking, maybe even more so. My effort – or pain, if that’s where you need to be – comes from the starting. Beginnings are extraordinarily difficult for me because beginnings are rooted in uncertainty and uncertainty is often a neighbor of paralysis. But, as one of my heroes Seth Godin points out, “If you don’t start, you will fail.” Starting is what we have control over.

I’ve spoken about this several times on episodes of On Taking Pictures, most recently in episode #115. I’ve also made no secret about the fact that I have at times felt lost, without direction after the death of my mom. She was not only my biggest fan, but also my North – not that she told me what to do or what direction to go in, but she gave me things to think about that I would often not get to on my own and working through those things would help me to set and follow a course. A few months ago, I was talking to David duChemin on the phone. We were talking about Faded + Blurred and I was telling him how frustrated I was creatively and that I’d hoped that “by now” it and I would be much more (again, whatever that means) than it is and I am. “You have to remember that you’re playing a Long Game,” he said. “Yours is the path of persistence and integrity.” I’ve gone back to that conversation several times and when we had the chance to sit down for the first episode of Process Driven, we talked about the addiction to certainty and how believing that you need to know the outcome is actually counterproductive to letting the process – whatever the process may be – run its course. When I lose my way in the Long Game, I somehow shift from leaper to looker. I go, at least partially, from embracing the unpredictable excitement of letting the creative process run its course to a seemingly inexorable addiction to certainty. I find myself searching for answers that I cannot possibly know, forgetting that, as Rilke points out, I would not be able to live them even if I did. “And the point is to live everything,” he wrote in Letters to a Young Poet. “Live the questions now. Perhaps then, someday far in the future, you will gradually, without even noticing it, live your way into the answer.”

After listening to Bill and me wrestle with this on the last episode of On Taking Pictures, a listener posted this to the OTP G+ Community, writing “If you ever get the feeling that you’re not good enough or your career isn’t moving along as quickly as you would like, you need to give this a watch.” It’s all about the Long Game and how the payoff is in the doing and doing and doing. The effort becomes its own reward.