John Cleese: Nobody Has Any Idea at First

We shy away from creative thinking or endeavors for a few possible reasons, a common one of which is fear; fear of failing, of being ridiculed, or of wasting time and money.

We don’t pursue writing a New York Times best selling book because we wouldn’t even know where to start. We don’t attempt to pick-up painting or music because that’s simply not who we are. Or we don’t try a new way to do what we do every day because, well, what we’ve done before has always worked so why change that now?

Who knows what would happen if we allowed ourselves a bit more creative freedom and courage. If we tried new things for the sake of trying them, or if we diligently chased after our passions or dreams with the same gusto we chase after easy entertainment and familiar settings.

In-fact: a common saying in creative circles is that what makes the creative greats in history so great wasn’t their talents or their fortune, but rather their ability to simply take action.

As one example: If you want to write a best seller, the theory goes, you first need to start writing. Easy as that, right? Of course, what comes after the writing matters too, and will be faced with equally frightening uncertainty. But in those instances you must take action yet again: keep writing, contact publishers, make friends with editors and book cover designers. Before you know it you might just have a best selling novel on your hands. Maybe not, but maybe you will, who can ever really say?

In his superb book, So, Anyway…, writer, director, and actor John Cleese gives us some assurance:

“Very very few people have any idea what they’re talking about.”

John goes on to explain that, for anything in life, you and I are just as uncertain about what we’re doing as those we idolize or otherwise look up-to. He writes: “Every now and again you learn another rule until eventually you know enough to play properly.”

How true! The fear of doing something wrong, of failing, of sheer uncertainty about how to go about it, should not prevent us from doing it. Nobody knows how to do anything the first time (not Einstein and his first paper, nor Picasso and his first masterpiece, certainly not me the first time I sat down to write a blog post).

We should not pursue the ideal result or the complete fantasy package when we first pursue any endeavor. Instead: we should embrace our uncertainty and take a first step towards what we dream, whatever first step that may be for us as individuals.

Uncertainty and fear don’t need to prevent you from pursuing your creative self, because everyone encounters those obstacles. It’s what the successful do in those moments that can inspire us to do the same: take action.

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