Working for yourself

I was fortunate to meet uber-blogger Stowe Boyd a few days ago, with whom I enjoyed good food, better wine and lots of excellent conversation about almost everything except "work".

Reading Stowe's blog afterwards, my attention was drawn to this post about working as a "creative". The feeling that work is an expression of your personality (which all too few people seem to feel), is intractably linked to the feeling that it's really important to be good at it. If you're bad at your work, and your work is an expression of yourself, then it's almost as if you're a bad person. In the areas where I associate my identity with your work, I am also invariably far more upset when I get it wrong, or sense my personal limitations. In many ways, it would be a lot easier to be indifferent to the whole thing and live a "quiet life".

Mastering the fear of failure (oh dear, what an appallingly self-helpy phrase) seems to be vital if you want to pursue your passions to any professional level. And that doesn't always just mean mastering your own self-doubt, but those of others too. Stowe puts it very eloquently here:

Paderewski, the physicist, once said, "Before I was a genius, I was a drudge." There is a lot of slogging involved. And others, generally, will not understand: especially before you have invested the full ten years. "You'll never sell a book!" "You call that music?" "That's the dumbest design I have ever seen!" "Keep your day job."

Another good reason to work apart from others, so you don't have to hear all that negativity. Close the door, and sharpen your pencil.

Hmmm, so have I discovered my first tension between the title and subtitle of my blog? In order to have the courage to do things badly, is it necessary to isolate yourself in the pursuit of your passion? Well, possibly. I'm not sure if I want to close the door and pursue my solipsistic pleasures alone, I'd rather use my drudgery to bring me closer to the people around me. That, it seems to me, is surely the point of creativity? Hence my plea to my friends, to my society, is for us to celebrate the doing of things badly, so that we don't need to be bad at things in secret any more.

Because no-one, no matter how brilliant, has ever learnt anything without first being bad at it.

I had a good chat with Stowe about my attempts to learn the piano, and he has a great theory about learning a craft which he calls the "10,000 hour rule". It seems that if you want to truly master a skill, your chances are geometrically enhanced if you practice for more than 10,000 hours. Or, to put it another way, mastering a craft is basically the process of doing it badly a hell of a lot. So if you don't take pleasure in doing it badly, it's not really your passion. And if you don't like it when other people do things badly, you're probably missing something important.

I'm off to play the piano now. And I'm leaving the door open.