The only thing

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I’m regularly surprised at how creatives believe their lives are supposed to work.

The artist who is stressed that none of her work is selling in galleries across the globe, even though the only pieces she’s made have been for family or very close friends. Or the musician who wants to “make it big” but doesn’t want to produce as an independent. Or the writer who figures his novel will write itself, one day.

Even those who are doing the work consistently, who are putting in the time and energy to make good work and get it seen, they have this weird belief that someday they won’t have to work any more.

In both cases the thing that matters is still the work. There will always be work to do. Yet we so easily lose sight of this powerful and important fact.

In the instance of those who fall into the first group – where success will hopefully fall into their lap, if they’re lucky – their beliefs are often what holds them back from happiness and creative fulfillment.

For this group, the wisdom I want to share can’t be any simpler: the only thing standing between you and where you want to be, is the work.

There really is nothing more to it than that. I promise.

You want to write a best-selling novel but are afraid that you can’t get a publisher to give you a contract? Sell the book yourself. It won’t be easy, there’s going to be a huge learning curve and seemingly endless hours of work, but you can do it. I did years ago.

Or what about the musician who does shows and makes CDs and has a lot of quirky music videos on YouTube who just can’t seem to get a record deal? Say “screw it” and do that little bit of extra work to become a top artist yourself. It’s been done.

Then there’s the artist who doesn’t know how to make a website or online shop. A quick Google search shows it’s not that hard. The same for the artist who doesn’t have the “right” supplies. Use what you’ve got, or find a way to get what you need.

A friend of mine recently did just that: she wanted to purchase a cello, an instrument she hadn’t played since her youth. In order to afford a brand new cello she took up painting, then learned how to legally sell as a street vendor, and within three months she had saved up enough money to buy a very, very nice cello. Just like that.

In nearly every instance where you aren’t creatively where you want to be, the only thing standing in your way is work.

This insight is fortunate, because no matter what the type of work is – learning to do something new, actually producing art, hitting the streets to spread the word, creating a fan base, etc. – all it takes is time and a little sweat.

But then there’s another group of thinkers, the ones that come after they’ve put in the work and maybe found some level of success.

For this second group the belief is that just a little more work and that will be it, then they can retire to a beach somewhere south of the equator and sip mimosas with little umbrellas all day.

But this is a fallacy too, because the work never stops. That’s not to say it doesn’t have to, however, for creatives the work isn’t some means to an end. The work is the end itself!

You can look to retired artists who still paint, or sculpt, or perform, to see exactly why this is: the work isn’t done for monetary or some other livelihood gain. The creative work is the livelihood. Doing the work is fulfillment.

Even when it gets stressful, or intimidating, or burdensome. The work still has to be done because there’s simply nothing else worth doing.

In this instance: there’s something to be said about the passionate creative who strives to write part-time after a very long and intense day of work elsewhere. Or the musician who spends years recording on her own just to get a hit single out, just the one. Or what about the teacher who dedicates the bulk of his life to instill a sense of curiosity and wonder in his students?

In all of these events, what creativity comes down to is the work itself. Again, it’s about putting in the time, exploring, learning and trying new things, and occasionally working up a little sweat, in order to simply do the work. The work is all that matters professionally!

Why? Maybe it’s for some hard-to-define purpose, some deep longing to learn and grow. Maybe it’s to see exactly how much of an impact one individual can have on culture, society, the world. Perhaps it’s simply how a creative’s brain is innately drawn to new and unique things.

Whatever the reason may be, creativity always, always comes down to the work.

Do the work.