Whatever inspiration is, it’s born from a continuous ‘I don’t know.’
Once upon a time she was writing and working and working and writing and she still couldn't figure out where she was going.
Her chest was tight with panic that wouldn't subside because knowing where you’re going and how you’re going to get there is both a superior and comforting way to feel.
The Tiny Terrorist inside of her head told her that until she knew exactly what it was going to be and how it was going to turn out, she would never have a chance at being good and it would really be a much better idea to quit right now, and, REALISTICALLY speaking, if she can’t do this, then she can’t do anything.
The deadline loomed; her stomach flipped.
Wanting anything other than to feel this way, she began searching the internet, traversing pages and feeds for answers to distract her from the devastating truth that she still didn't have all the answers.
She admired others’ confidence through perfect crops and filters and unblemished happy moments and impressive amounts of likes.
"What do they know that I don’t?" She wondered.
She kept scrolling-searching-scrolling until she came upon an article with E-Z and foolproof ways to solve all of her problems.
Finally! THIS will give me the super secret knowledge that everybody else seems to know already.
She read - voraciously - for it's a good and exciting feeling to know that all she had to do was follow these steps and become The Person She'd Always Wanted To Be.
But when she got to the end - the foolproof ways had not made her head clearer or her stand any taller. It had seemed so clear and perfect while she was reading them but maybe they were not so foolproof and she was definitely the fool - and she felt aware of how far away she was from such clarity, and she was still the same person she was before only now she had lost an hour and she was behind her deadline and that is proof that she's not supposed to be -
SUDDENLY! A whisper - (her artist? her soul?):
"Come back. COME HOME! You are okay. It’s OKAY. Trust me, and I will take you there."
Okay so the she is me sometimes and is it also you sometimes?
I’ve been thinking recently about how much bravery in takes to surrender to saying: I don't know.
John Keats call this negative capability - when one is “capable of being in uncertainties, mysteries, doubts, without any irritable reaching after fact & reason” - and advocates that it is one of the most important qualities for someone to achieve great things.
Like Keats, I sometimes think that the ability to truly be in the 'I don't know' is more important than pretty much all of the other abilities.
Because the thing I keep learning and (re)learning about making things and making a good life is:
The quality of your work (and life) is directly proportional to your willingness to dive headfirst into the unknown.
This takes replacing right with being curious, and replacing coming in looking like you have all the answers with a lot of what would happen ifs...?
This takes being brave enough going to go bed not knowing, and maybe even wake up not knowing, and lead a team of people, still not knowing.
And if I am smart enough to gift myself that dive, my next step is to rigorously cultivate my ability to listen to and then act on my instincts, so that I can find an honest ticket out of the land of confusion.
Because it’s not murky forever. But having the bravery to go through the uncertainty and mystery and doubt fertilizes your instincts. We have to go through it before we get to the inspired flashes of ahas and I do knows.
And the paradox is that surrendering to this state of unknowing results in the best kind of knowing. Best, because when we allow the answers to arrive instead of forcing them, we make things and do things that are less contaminated by what we think other people want from us.
We stop trying to be like everybody else and we start making and acting and being like who we really are.
The most effective way to get the answers you need is to give up pretending you know them already.
Loosen the grip, and things start to get good.
So maybe there are only 4 rules to making and living:
1. Show up (with as few distractions as possible)
2. Let go (into the 'I don’t know,' doubt, and mystery)
3. Listen* (to your instincts)
4. Act (before you feel ready)
(*or, like, maybe worship at the altar of them)
So often our Tiny Terrorist - getting jacked up by our fast paced digital world - wants to reverse the order. The Tiny Terrorist says she is only willing to let you show up if and only if you have a 100% guarantee that you will succeed and every single person will like what you're doing and also like you.
She’s just doing her outdated job, trying to protect you from lions and tigers and bears. If only she knew that a whole host of brilliant thinkers and scientists are telling us that from a biological and evolutionary perspective, it’s now imperative that as a species, we need to evolve out of letting the Tiny Terrorist run the show. (Watch neurobiologist James Doty say smart things about this)
So what would happen if I were able to lift - for one minute - the Tiny T’s pressure of needing to know all of the answers about your life/art/project/path right now?
What would your body feel like?
And what would it be like to hang out there for a few minutes longer, having faith and surrendering to what wants to emerge?
Totally unnerving? I know. I know. For me, too. I'm about to start a creative project that is, right now, only a bunch of questions.
So we need to make a dive but your artist/soul is ready to catch you. Usually only with an idea or a flash or one tiny little next step, but that is all you need to keep going.
And, today, if you cannot hear that artist/soul voice that says come back and keep going then hear my voice that says keep going. It is only going through the uncomfortable 'I don’t know's that we arrive at the authentic creative DNA for our next project, path, or journey.
What don't you know right now?
(and what would it take for you to be okay with it?)
Stay there a moment (or an hour or a day)
May you summon the bravery to loosen your grip, hang out in the land of confusion, and worship at the altar of your instincts.
I believe in you, dear ones.
A little book of inspiration, frameworks, and guidance for your next creative project.