It will take the pressure off.
Have you ever spent time and effort creating something, only to be terrified of its reception?
What if people hate it?
What if people think it’s stupid?
What if they don’t get it?
What if the world receives your masterpiece with a resounding “meh”.
Questions like these can make us wonder whether what we’ve created has any value at all. They can cause us to doubt whether it’s ready. They can cause us to doubt whether it’s good enough.
Questions like these can also wreak havoc on our minds. At best, they torment us. At worst, they cause us to stop, they cause us to give up.
Given all this, you might wonder how anyone puts anything out into the world. How could they? It’s like the worthiness of their very soul is on the line.
This is why it’s better to realize that what you create isn’t really “yours”. I’m not speaking in an economic sense but a spiritual or intellectual one.
It’s better to see things this way because it lessens the impact of an endeavor that’s gone wrong. It takes the sting out of a poor reception. It helps us to keep going despite failure.
But, why would we think this way? If we create it, it’s ours, isn’t it?
Sit in Silence and You Will See
Do you doubt that what you create is not yours? Then allow me to show you. I’ll just need one minute of your time.
Sit in a chair. Set your timer for 60 seconds. Close your eyes. Try to only pay attention to your breathing. Go!
So? What happened?
Did you get lost in thought?
Did you start thinking about work? Your plans for the weekend? A crush?
Did you start thinking this whole exercise was stupid?
When you sit and focus on your breathing, you are also observing your mind. If you do this often enough, what you will notice is that the mind is not yours to command. You cannot silence it, not even for 60 seconds. It will think thoughts, feel emotions, and get lost in daydreams.
This is a very odd thing, isn’t it? But, it’s no trick. You have just observed something that most people miss about their minds. In a meaningful sense, it does its own thing. We are not it’s master like we typically believe.
If that’s the case, how can what it creates truly be called “yours”?
I am hardly the first person to ask this question. In the past, the miraculousness of the mind and what it creates was explained in other ways.
In today’s world, a “muse” is often considered to be a person who inspires someone else. In popular culture, this is often represented by a living woman who has a profound impact on another’s work.
In Greek mythology, the Muses are goddesses that offer inspiration to those pursuing endeavors in literature, the sciences, and the arts. The ancient Greeks believed that sparks of insight and creativity resulted from being touched by these Muses. They didn’t believe people created masterpieces — they believed the Muses created them through us.
In Steven Pressfield’s Turning Pro and The War of Art, he frequently refers to the Muse, which has clearly had a powerful impact on his life. My take away from his perspective is that the Muse is like a force of nature. It’s not something that we can control, but if we give ourselves over to it, open ourselves up to it, we will be able to take advantage of its power when it does arrive. This is why Pressfield begs us to do the work — because although we cannot control when we will be touched by the Muse, the only time we can ever be touched is when we’re doing our work. In other words, insight and inspiration come to those who do, not to those who wait for it.
Where does this concept of the “muse” come from? Why has it existed for so many thousands of years?
I think the idea of the muse comes from the recognition that there is something uncontrollable to the process of creativity. Sometimes we create brilliance, sometimes we create crap. And let’s be honest, we create more crap than brilliance! But it’s still a mystery when and where we create either.
The concept of the Muse takes the responsibility of creating brilliance off of our shoulders and instead asks that we simply create. It is what sports psychologists would tell athletes — focus on the process, not the outcome.
But, there is another similarity to sports.
When you’re lost in writing or painting or playing a sport, isn’t that when you do your best work? Isn’t it when you relax and allow your mind to just be that words, brush strokes, and actions emerge with precision and creativity?
If you are familiar with psychology, you may be familiar with the concept of flow, which can be used to describe such states of mind. It is when in flow that we can put the full resources of our minds to a task, free of pesky nuisances, like self-consciousness. This is particularly evident in sports, where athletes frequently note that time and ego seem to fall away, and all that is left is action.
Could the state of flow have inspired the ancient Greeks to create the Muses? Could it be this inexplicable state of mind, where action supersedes conscious thought, that has caused so many before us to place our creative output in the hands of the gods?
And, for that matter, doesn’t it make sense to hand over that responsibility? It’s not as if we can consciously control when we enter into a flow state. No, instead, we must do the work and the flow state will come, when and where it wills.
Trust in the Process
The Muses of Greek mythology paint a poignant picture of how our minds work. There is a tragedy to it all because, in a sense, we are helpless to control our strokes of genius and inspiration.
What we do know is, given enough time and effort, genius and inspiration will come. Once you have earned the respect of the Muse, it will reach out its hand and you will feel the grace of its touch. At that moment you will realize the process is all that matters. At that moment you will realize you must give yourself over to something you can’t control or understand.
At that moment you will see first-hand that what you create is not yours, and this will lift a mighty weight off your shoulders.
Thanks for reading! Many of the ideas presented here are from Stephen Pressfield’s Turning Pro and The War of Art.