Primed by November’s effort, I continue to pluck along with daily effort. I’ve been encouraged by Elizabeth Hyde Stevens’s book Make Art Make Money: Lessons from Jim Henson on Fueling Your Creative Career which shows how Henson’s brilliant creativity started with intense daily effort. Just days after telling my husband about this, he brought his phone to the dinner table and said, “You’ve got to listen to this,” and there’s Macklemore singing about 10,000 hours.
In studying Henson’s life for tips about how to be an artist, Stevens suggests we look at our past and consider that we may have already completed some of our 10,000 hours. I used to ask my students after having them read “What It Takes to Be Great” what they already practice daily, maybe without realizing it. For example, you know if you practice the piano daily, it’s deliberate and intentional. But, what about habits? Habits of thought? Actions? Food choices? Etc.
So, I was encouraged by Stevens to think that maybe I’ve already completed a good portion of the 10,000 hours needed to become “great.” Of course, I also have “Debunking the Myth of the 10,000-Hours Rule: What It Actually Takes to Reach Genius-Level Excellence” queued up to read in case I feel I’m nowhere near the 10,000 mark.
All this is to say, when it comes to art, to creativity, to living our lives: what we do daily matters.
It matters as much as The Big Stuff. In fact, I think it matters more. Daily actions and attitudes shape us over the long haul, maybe determine how well we handle The Big Stuff.
Which leads me to an insight I wanted to share with you, something I’ve thought about for a long time, but a second part came to me recently, and it all ties to daily effort and how we craft our lives.
One day, about ten years ago, I finally got utterly sick of worrying about how I looked. I’d had decades of daily, even minute-by-minute, practice fretting about my shape, size, weight, and appearance. I thought–what if I could have all of that wasted time AND energy back? I might be both an accomplished artist and an astrophysicist by now.
Then, this week, I sent a friend from high school a picture I have of her when we were fifteen. She’s an accomplished journalist living an exciting life today, and I’m often admiring the dresses she wears to red-carpet events. At fifteen, her sense of style is evident, but not quite red-carpet. As she said, “What a style icon I was even then: a black silk tie with a sweatshirt! A wacky tropical hat! Pink hightop Reeboks!” (And giant sunglasses.)
But it’s what she wrote next that led me to the second part of my insight: “But seriously, the first thing I thought when I saw this picture was that I spent all these years of my life convinced I looked fat and hideous and awkward…and looking at it now I think I look pretty damn cute.”
Just a week prior to this, I visited with a friend from college, and she and I said the same thing about coming across old photos of ourselves, thinking how cute or fit or lovely we looked then, but remembering how dreadful we felt about ourselves most of the time.
So, we can’t get that wasted time back; however, we can let our past guide what we do next.
If all goes well, I still have at least half of my life left to live. What if my new daily, minute-by-minute, practice is of acceptance and appreciation? What if for every second of the past I spent fretting about not looking good enough, I balance with every second of my present and future accepting and appreciating exactly who I am right now?
What might I accomplish in the next decades?
Unencumbered and seeking out my strengths and talents rather than perceived weak spots, who might I become? How might I handle The Big Stuff as it comes along?
It can’t hurt to try, right? We’ll simply have to figure out what we’ll do with all of that restored time and energy.