The Work

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“The more scared we are of a work or calling, the more sure we can be that we have to do it.” — Steven Pressfield

I’ve been traveling a lot lately for work, and though flying isn’t my favorite thing in the world, I have found that I now look forward to taking a flight. I look forward to settling into my seat and strapping in for what may or may not be a bumpy flight because, for those few hours, I am free. Yes, I am trapped on a plane, usually next to someone who hogs the armrest the whole time, but I am free nonetheless.

For those few hours my phone is either turned off or on airplane mode. For those few hours I have no email access, no social media. I could pay for wifi or plug into an on-air flight, or, I could read. So that’s what I do.

I am free to read, uninterrupted, no excuses. There’s nowhere to go, I’m already headed somewhere, there’s nothing to do except sit in a seat and decide how I want to spend the time. I can spend it watching TV, something I don’t have at home and am tempted to binge-watch, or I can read, which I am always saying I don’t have the time to do.

So this last trip, that’s what I did. It was a short flight, from Northern California to Las Vegas, Nevada, but I managed to finish two books, there and back. And though it can be fun to read something fluffy and mindless, I decided to take two books that would make me do a bit of work. Not work-work, but work. The kind of work that no one really wants to admit that they’re doing (and why is that?), but work that is also some of the most important we can do in our lives: work on ourselves. Whatever you want to call it: personal growth. Self help (admittedly not a very good term). Self improvement. Self motivation. Doesn’t really matter, as long as we continually work on becoming better. Both for ourselves and for others.

For the flights to and from Las Vegas I brought The War of Art, by writer Steven Pressfield, and No Mud, No Lotus: The Art of Suffering, by Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh, and their words were like an oasis in that crazy desert. Whether Vegas is your favorite city or your least favorite, I think we can all admit that it is a crazy place. Especially for a Northern California girl like me. It’s so crazy that it inspired me to write about my experience after going for the first time last year, which you can read here.

Amidst the flashing lights and overload of sounds and scents, I felt a reprieve when I thought about what I had read. Yes, I was sober in a city where most people were partying and gambling, but I didn’t have to feel uncomfortable. I could think about what I find important, which was bolstered by the words I had read on the plane. Words that had reenergized me in a moment when I needed it.

Both books were meaningful in different but interconnected ways, and I think both warrant their own examination, so I’ve decided to write a little bit about The War of Art today and save Hanh’s work for another post. Pressfield’s book encourages us to “break through the blocks and win [our] inner creative battles.” It’s inspiring for any creative person, which means all of us. All of us are creative in our own ways, and many of us can lose sight of our creativity, or it can take a back-burner when we’re working, parenting, living. But creativity is a part of living, an integral and necessary part, a part we shouldn’t be so quick to minimize or say we’ll get to later.

I know that I have been guilty of placing my creativity in the back of a drawer, saying I’ll get to it later, putting other things first. It can be hard to engage in our creative work, no matter what it may be, when we’re tired or stressed or even when we’re happy and living in the moment. There’s many excuses we can tell ourselves and countless activities we can prioritize over what, as Pressfield says, we were born to do. Our creativity isn’t a luxury, it’s a necessity.

It can seem like a luxury when we’re trying to put food on the table or help others, it can seem like a selfish endeavor when there’s so many chores to do or errands to run, but Pressfield frames creative work in a different way. He deems it as “a gift to the world and every being in it.” To neglect it would be to “cheat us of your contribution.” Pressfield demands: “Give us what you got.” When framed this way, it’s selfish not to focus on what our creativity could build. If what we have inside of us is a gift to the world, it’s detrimental to ignore it.

Pressfield views our creative work as a gift to the world, and also a gift that we have been given by a power greater than ourselves. Though he calls this power God and sees the ever-elusive creative muse as angels, he also takes care to say that no matter who or what we believe in, we have been given this creativity for a reason: to interpret and improve the world around us. When we paint, when we write, when we sing, we articulate what cannot be articulated otherwise. When we create, we: galvanize, inspire, design, organize, revolutionize. We have power.

In these times of upheaval, of change and uncertainty, I don’t know what could be more important than pursuing that which gives us power to create or add to the kind of world we wish to see for ourselves and for others. As one of my favorite poets, Emily Dickinson, says, “I work to drive the awe away, yet awe impels the work.” This life and this world is indeed brimming with awe, with wonder, yet the only way we can see or experience it is if we engage with it. It’s what we were intended to do when we were born. Whatever calls us, whatever it is that makes us lose track of time and feel a true, deep sense of fulfillment and happiness; that’s what we’re here for:

“In the end, we arrive at a kind of model of the artist’s world, and that model is that there exist other, higher planes of reality, about which we can prove nothing, but from which arise our lives, our work, and our art” (Pressfield, 163).

Not all of Pressfield’s book captured me and spoke to me, but that’s not the point. We take what is useful to us, from any work, and we use it. Whether we believe in angels or energy, we are all creative beings, and it is not only our purpose, but our birthright, to bring forth what we have inside. All we have to do is make the commitment to ourselves to create. We have to make time for it, nurture it. And some of it, as Pressfield acknowledges, will be trash. There will be failures. There will be mistakes. But there will also be moments of genius. Glimmers of truth, of beauty, of hope. But we won’t know if we never pick up the paintbrush or the pen, if we never start that nonprofit or open our mouths to sing.

I wish you a wild, free life.

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