The power of persistence: Part 1
A Wickedly Wild Women of Wednesday Guest post by Jan Dyer
Everyone is creative. But not everyone feels that creative pursuits are time-worthy. They may feel being creative is fun but not productive. Enjoyable but not meaningful. And, thus, they don’t fulfill their creative potential, which is a shame.
I believe that creativity in and of itself is meaningful because it enhances your life in so many ways, and is very productive–of pleasure, pride, and good energy that you pass on to the world.
Here’s how I would quickly characterize qualities of meaningful creativity. Notice, I don’t say “successful” creativity, because I believe creativity is a success when it makes you happy, and that is enough.
Conveniently, they all start with the letter P (for Power!).
Persistence, I think, is one of the most important factors. You may have tons of talent and are being paid a fortune to spend all your time doing what you love—in which case, a heartfelt mazel tov, but this essay isn’t for you. This is for anyone who ever got sidetracked: by family responsibilities, personal challenges, lack of energy, lack of confidence. For the person who has shrugged and said, I don’t have time to do [this thing I love]. For you, if you have put projects aside again and again until, finally, you lost interest in them.
Persistence can help get you through the times when you lose faith or momentum. Sometimes simply pursuing a loved activity by rote is enough to kick you back into remembering why you love it. I’m nuts about swimming, for instance. When other people say “No thanks, I don’t think I’d enjoy swimming in 50-degree water”… I’m in the pool (usually alone). Now, in part I’m there because I love to swim outdoors and the outdoor swimming season is short and I’ll grab any opportunity to have the pool to myself. (I also channel Katharine Hepburn a little bit. She swam every day that she could in the Long Island Sound, even in winter, even in her 80s.) But when the water feels like someone has dumped a thousand ice cubes into it, it’s more about persistence than pleasure. Or, perhaps, it’s that the pleasure is about the persistence, the challenge of sticking with something even when it isn’t all that easy. One researcher has found that the ability to keep trying despite setbacks is associated with a more optimistic outlook.
Pursuing a creative path is a lot like that. Pushing on. Just doing it. Hurdles may crop up, of course. Sometimes they’re built by others, often without their intending it. When I was younger, and trying to start a career as an illustrator, I was also working as a writer and editor. I brought my brochure of illustrations to work one day and showed them to someone whose opinion I respected. She said, “You’re a good illustrator, but you’re a brilliant editor.” Did I bask in the compliment of someone calling me brilliant at something? No, I was a little taken aback and, to be honest, a little angry because editing was not my goal. Art was my goal.
Her opinion didn’t dissuade me from art, though. In fact, it acted as a spur. I was determined to prove her wrong (even though she was not aware of it).
Then there are the hurdles you build. I always find it sad when someone says to me: “I used to love to do X. I wish I could get back to it.” Sometimes we fall into a trap of thinking that we need a certain amount of time to satisfactorily do our thing. But research has shown that even short periods of enjoying something cue your brain to produce endorphins. Endorphins are neurotransmitters that reduce pain but, very simply put, they also generate happy feelings. The beauty is, while the actual enjoyable experience may have been short-lived, the effects can be long-lasting.
People have said to me on occasion, You’re so patient. I always say, no, I’m dogged. There’s a difference. Sometimes doggedly pursuing an activity seems obsessive but doggedly carving out time for your creative self may be the only way you can get it. Maybe that’s why we rank the pursuit of happiness so highly.
When something makes you happy, it’s important to you. And because it makes you happy and it’s important to you, you need to give it a chance, like caring for a tender seedling. John Lennon wrote: “Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.” I’d like to paraphrase that. Art is what can happen when Life is busy making other plans. You have to make a space for your art, however big or small that space might be. William Carlos Williams, for instance, was a physician and a Pulitzer-prize–winning poet. He practiced medicine by day and wrote at night.
Yes, I hear you. That was before cable TV, and he probably didn’t have back-to-back activities to chauffeur children to. Come on. Are you telling me you can’t squeeze 15 minutes a day to let your creative self come out to play?
Go out and play with your creative self for a few minutes… and check back tomorrow for the exciting conclusion of The Power of Persistence.