There are moments in life that expressly illuminate what you willfully ignored. Moments that catch the gaudy gleam on every too-slick edge you carved out with your wit when the truth was a jagged, rust-crusted bar of iron that you’d be cautious to touch with your bare hands.
Forgive me, Art.
I am a millennial. Hungry, ambitious, spoiled. Cocksure and underprepared. Hopeful. Mission-driven. Entrepreneurial. Smart.
For years now, I’ve filled my mind with marketing tips. The good kind, mind you. The kind of tactics that focus on bringing the customer value, with words like tribe and revolution thrown in for good measure. There is a distinction, sure. But, never-the-less, marketing tactics. I’ve spent thousands of hours of my life devouring e-books and blog posts and podcasts – spent thousands of dollars on information products and courses. Hell, I even developed a few of these marketing courses in my day jobs and wrote the damn sales pages too.
And I thought I was smart. I thought I was ahead of the curve. “Pish-posh to all those artists who scorn, or worse, just ‘don’t get’ business and marketing.” I was going to beat them because I had good sense as well as honest words.
But twinges of jealousy pricked my ego every time I heard a singer devoted singularly to her craft, her creativity. Every time I saw or heard the results of someone working on a project simply for the love of it, with only secondary (if any) thought to marketing strategies – I was drawn in. I’ve even been jealous of my former self now that I’m no longer spending time in the rehearsal room developing my one-woman show. The two weeks before performing The Only Thing You’ll Lose for the first time were some of the happiest in recent memory because I was so focused. When it came down to the wire, I either had a good show or I didn’t and I knew that no marketing tactics could save a bad performance. So I honed in, released all pressure on myself to do anything but make the performance the best it could possibly be. I envy the girl who was genuinely happy for those two weeks of artistic fortitude.
If I’ve been quiet, it’s because I’ve been plotting. To start a movement. To build a brand. To make a difference. And yet…
Somehow, last week, in a “If I hate the internet so much why am I basing a large part of my career plan around it?” jolt of illumination, I also realized something else. No matter how many marketing tactics I understand or customer perspective maps I dive into, they won’t help me get where I want to go. They won’t move me into the magic of creating something no one could articulate they needed, but when the curtain comes down and the final note is sung, the work feels inevitable, as if it were writ in the soil of the first Greek theatron, covered by thousands of stamping, parading, performing feet until my psyche dug it up in that brief moment that merges breath, thought, and action.
As I squint into focus the final corner rounding out of Gone With the Wind and it’s gumption-filled heroine Scarlett O’Hara, I’ve come to understand something about gumption that I had always tried to ignore. The word shrewd. Whenever possible, I left it out of my definitions, preferring to keep just it’s second adjective, “spirited initiative and resourcefulness.” Though the current definition of shrewd insists it to be “having or showing an ability to understand things and make good judgments, mentally sharp or clever,” it’s former definitions illuminate it’s uneasy connotations. Mischievous, abusive, ominous, dangerous, and given to wily and artful ways or dealing.
I know all too well the private joys of appraising oneself as very clever. I also know the outside validation that appearing smart, shrewd, and sensible invokes within me. But whenever an idea of mine is laced with designs of making a lot of money or bringing in a lot of attention, my passion fades and my conscience must be quieted. Scarlett’s mechanism, “I’ll think of it tomorrow,” whenever her conscience starts to ping annoyingly at her, is a pattern I do not want to repeat.
I still believe that a good heap of gumption is necessary for a person to move past an obstacle and make tangible a vision in their hearts. But I also think it takes Devotion, Curiosity, Regard, and Delight.
Forgive me, Art – for my shrewd schemes and mental gymnastics. Learn me your unassuming beacon of success, unknown to the world of business, that I may aspire to it wholeheartedly.
With sincerity, devotion, and delight,