A few years back after one of my more impassioned lectures, a young buck in the back row raised his hand. “I understand what you’re saying about taking risks in your career, but I’ve got rent to pay.” he said.
I was shocked by his defeatist attitude, saddened at how the practicalities of life had already beaten this young creative soul down so that his biggest ambition in life was to pay rent.
Gone was adventurous youth. This kid was no longer the hero of his own life, willing to face his fears and slay the dragons that kept him from his reward. He was already sheepishly waving a white flag out the window of his mini van.
“What’s your name?” I asked. “Thomas,” he said.
“Thomas, here’s your tombstone: Here lies Thomas, he would have done great work, but he had to pay the rent.”
“Here lies Thomas, he would have done great work, but he had to pay the rent.”
Which brings us to my point: Everything you desire in life has a price and you have to be willing to accept that price. If you desire to do great work, it will cost you. Likewise, security and comfort will cost you. If you want a luxury apartment with a wrap-around sectional couch in leather with stainless steel legs, it will cost you.
But here’s the thing: I’d rather be exhausted striving for excellence than churning out work that succeeds merely because it offends the least amount of people. The cost? The fear of financial uncertainty. But I willingly accept this cost because it allows me to follow my path and craft the type of career and lifestyle that I want and need. There are things that I will not compromise on, including my sanity, happiness, time with my family, spontaneous travel with my son, and creative control in the work I choose to take on. If I fail, I will fail on my own terms, doing what I love.
Taking a creative risk and stepping off the status quo treadmill requires bravery. It demands embracing risk, and fighting the good fight to face your fears of financial doom without bailing at the first sign of discomfort. The discomfort is just a test. It’s a test of your commitment and enthusiasm—a test of your endurance and how much you want it.
If I fail, I will fail on my own terms.
It takes creative courage to make these hard decisions about your life and career, and to do what is in your heart. It takes gigantic cojones to serve your vision of a creative life, not blindly following the practical advice of your parents or friends.
Creative courage means not being content to let your Gift rot while pursuing a path that others have prescribed for you, creeping along in the safety of a status quo life. It means refusing to join the ranks of those around you bragging about their lack of commitment to their lives. It means having the bravery to leave a job that chafes or saying “No” to a high-dollar marketing client that you don’t actually believe in.
There are times when you need to re-tailor an ill-fitting life. These are the times that will define you—the moments you seek out your dragons and slay them when they rise. This is the courage to be creative.