1. I Am Not the Creator — I Am the Beam Catcher.
Where do ideas come from?
To anyone who’s ever worked in the creative arts, this is the question that haunts us most. Falling in love with the beauty of artistic creation, is like following a shimmering gold tinkerbell down a luring path. You try to catch it with your fingers and make it your own. But when you are led into a garden full of such sparkling fairies and blossoms, you realise that it is possible for you to plant your own seed. You can have your own creation. Your own dream and imagination.
And so, I found my calling in writing in this way, before my age was even in double digits. There was still time, before the pressure and anxiety set in with later years. I remember filling pages upon pages with blue-black scribbles, expressing a carefree abandon that deserted me as I grew older. My enthusiasm was still endless, but I realised that the quality of my work needed progression. I had miles to go before I could compare it with any of my author idols. In fact, right now, it was an imitation of my idols.
What is it then, that changes for an artist with the passing of time?
You discover that you need an original idea. You need your own voice, your own creative way of showing the world how it appears through your eyes. You need a rainfall of inspiration to descend upon you, or that story you want to write, that mural you want to paint, will cease to ever exist in the world. Ideas need to run throughout your career like a lifeblood of art flowing in a stream.
How do we keep it flowing? Where is our muse?
The pressure of producing bountiful work, and good work at that, can be immense for any artist. No one can freeze themselves into an anxiety-funk like we can.
Thus, my dread grew when I faced the enormity of the novel project I had to undertake. A whole fictional world to construct, lives and characters to intertwine, messages to imbue and on top of that — make sure all its innumerable pages were worthy of being read. I was fifteen, and quivering under the weight of my expectations; under the fear that I wouldn’t live up to the potential I had been gifted.
Then one night, home from school and lying under a warm blanket, I opened the first pages of a poetry book. And the very first poem, contained a verse that changed the way I thought about art forever:
‘This little flute of reed you have carried over hills and dales, and have breathed through it melodies eternally new.
Your infinite gifts come only on these very small hands of mine.
Ages pass, and still you pour, and still, there is room to fill.’
— From ‘Gitanjali’ by Rabindranath Tagore.
These words fell like raindrops upon the parched earth of my mind; as though I had unlocked an epiphany. As if I was standing and looking up to the universe, with all its beams and endless starlight. Its multitudes worth of glittering galaxies.
As those beams of starlight begin to hit me, what should I do next?
What can you do?
You catch them. You are a beam catcher. You catch those beams. You’re not creating them, you’re just catching them. Like a medium, like an illuminated bulb, you drawing in and reflecting that light.
The weight would lift off my shoulder, if I give up the responsibility of coming up with the ideas to someone else. I’m not the creator, I’m just the medium.
If I tell myself that my inspiration was coming from something greater than myself — I am freed from the anxiety of creation. Imagine an infinite source, like a fountain of inspiration. It could be God, the universe, divine serendipity, the genius of human creativity — or any force that you can genuinely believe in, that is outside of yourself.
Once I did this, I felt liberated. It worked. I was writing with less consciousness and insecurity than ever before. My ideas flowed through me, and they weren’t outlandish, insanely original, or impossible to imagine. But they were mine.
I realised I could only shine originally, when I expressed my truth. A truth that was above all, true to me.
These stories were linked inextricably, to the life-truths I had discovered for myself. To the memories that moved me, to the people and stories I found wonder in. Someone once said that there isn’t anything new under the sun; nothing you can say that hasn’t already been said before.
But you can see with a lens no one else ever has.
Haven’t all our best inventions ever been brought about this way? When someone noticed something that no one else ever has before?
A fresh perspective that can transform what is seen by the power of its outlook. That is the source of creativity.
2. Purpose > Talent
To understand our concept, allow me to play a make-believe game. Let us imagine that two versions of me have gathered around a warm campfire, and we are sitting down to chat:
Young Me: ‘I imagine that life is going quite well for you?’
Old Me: ‘In what way do you mean?’
Young Me: ‘Wait — is it going terribly?’ *stricken* ‘Are our stories long forgotten? Is it so worse that even we don’t remember how to tell them?’
Old Me: ‘Take a breath, already! I still adore words, just the same as you always have.’
Young Me: ‘Heh’ *sighs audibly* ‘ Then, is your writing loads better now?’
Old Me: *smiles slightly* ‘I hope so. Yes, I think.’
Young Me: ‘That’s a relief. All the grown ups around me tell me I ought to pursue writing, but I feel like I need to get much better. Apparently I have some kind of knack for it.’
Old Me: ‘But do you want to do it?’
Young Me: ‘Of course I do. Sometimes, it’s the only way I have to express these strong, uncontainable emotions I feel inside of me.’
Old Me: ‘Uncontainable emotions? At your little age?’
Young Me: ‘You know, old lady, there are times. Times when I feel like I didn’t choose writing as much as it chose me. Before I could comprehend how to even properly do it, I was already telling stories. It’s like writing chose me before I chose it.’
Old Me: ‘Talent is a good sign, little one. But remember, it is not strong enough to turn the whole tide of life’s direction. We can’t just pursue something because we’re good at it — we should love it. Or soon, we’d grow tired of it.’
Young Me: ‘Really — is that true?’
Old Me: ‘It really is. Even if we succeed enormously, even if everyone applauds us— won’t the whole thing feel empty if there is no real heart in our work? No purpose or love that we have for it?’
Young Me: ‘This is feeling sad to me.’
Old Me: ‘Little one, everyone is born with a talent in this world. People can choose to develop it; some can even shine brilliantly. But there are few, who actually discover something to say through it — something true to express with their art.’
Young Me: ‘Find a purpose. Is that what you’re saying?’
Old Me: ‘Indeed. It goes beyond just having talent. It’s something you give to the world that leaves it better than how you found it. Maybe it heals or inspires, maybe it amazes people. Maybe it could be something, that shows someone a mirror to their own heart, and makes them feel less alone. Maybe it can even get them to laugh, on a day when their world feels completely blue.’
Young Me: ‘I feel like if I could believe that, I would always keep writing.’
Old Me: ‘Exactly. Writing is like your real home; it won’t desert you in the shifting sandcastles of fame and fortune.’
Young Me: ‘That means….purpose is above talent.’
Old Me: ‘Aha, that’s the secret. Purpose over talent.’
3. The Keys of Life
Perfect productivity is a mirage. Ask anyone who has ever accomplished anything; it’s never a smooth journey made up of doing everything right, at the right time, and all at once. The true pattern is more of a funky zig-zag from start to finish.
But we still chase that mirage, and when it doesn’t materialise, we allow ourselves to be frozen into procrastination. For over half my life, I’ve been trying to chase away my absolutely dumb belief that I wasn’t a hardworking kid, despite all evidence to the contrary.
I would fix my whole self worth on my ability to work hard and progress in my career. If I couldn’t get anything done or if I felt sad, I let my self esteem plummet.
It is a treacherous betrayal to someone who created something as beautiful as life, if we ignore everything lovely about it just because we cannot add something to it.
There’s always something worthy of being observed in the universe. A smile. A star studded sky, a dawn, rose blossoms. The shimmering rainfall in your garden. That chocolate ice-cream you ate with your family on that hot summer’s day. A great tv show, or a good movie you love. Your favourite song. An irresistible pizza. That goofy, nonsensical one hour conversation you had with your best friend.
These golden-silver linings are scattered throughout life, always there to be noticed, reminding you that your worth is not your work.
Your life centre cannot be your work, because then you will mould everything in your world to revolve around it. You will hold your self esteem hostage to the results, making yourself miserable in the process. A toxic work-centred identity.
Sometimes, feeling sad or lazy is not our fault. Sometimes, it’s a season that just needs to pass. Many times, life is not meant to be that list of achievements or tale of legends, that we imagine it should be.
Your self worth should be in your soul, in the person you are.
In that you are kind, intelligent, or sweet or gracious. Humble. Funny. Light hearted and strong. That you can notice the rainbow after the rain diminishes. That you love your family. That you are doing the best you can right now, even if things are not going your way. It should reside eternally within you; your self esteem that shimmers and shines— oblivious to the constant change we call life. Something permanent that grounds you in a constantly transforming world.
So far, the best practical solution to healthy productivity and balance that I have found for myself is this:
Keep it simple, but crucial.
If I told myself I have to clean my room, and it was a big, messy room that I’d put off for days — the list of things to do would daunt me. Mop the floor, dust the shelves, arrange the books, wipe the windows, fold and sort clothes — and then there’s still my long suffering study table left to organize. That’s one fearsome list.
How then, do I overcome the urge in my head to abandon the work and come back tomorrow? If I break it down.
If I tell myself that I could just clean my bed and dust the desk today, and then I could do two other things tomorrow. And then two other, the day after that. That’s a much better solution than trying to get it all done in one day, only to abandon it midway.
Similarly, if I constructed an airtight schedule to adhere to from sunrise to sunset, with about ten steps to burn through everyday— chances are high that I’d feel too overwhelmed to even begin it.
So I tell myself, you’re not obliged to do ten. You just have to do two.
Just pick two key things. But those two keys are crucial, non negotiables. You do them everyday, unless you have good reason not to.
So I chose to workout, and write — in that order. And it wasn’t even confined to a particular exercise or a word count; the only rule was that I had to show up everyday and do it. Everything seemed much more reachable, if I felt confident it was something I could actually do.
And it worked. I did these two things, which were most important to me, and the most direct way to obtain meaningful results in my life. And then I was at peace for the rest of the day.
It fact, these keys worked like literal keys — they unlocked a better future for the rest of my day. I found myself going out to unexpected places and doing cool new things, and I’d never even planned them. The positive energy from those two keys was creating a ripple effect. It was snowballing my life into being a happier experience.
4. ‘Making It’
Fame and money are usually what people imagine success to be like. But then again, many of these motivation gurus are usually telling us all to ‘find your own definition of success.’
So what did I discover about my own version? Allow me to tell you a story.
Once in the spring of 2018, I was given the biggest break of my writing career yet.
The Associated Press asked me to write an article documenting my elder brother’s journey to reaching the Masters Golf Tournament. He was only the fourth Indian in history to do so.
I met with my editor, the awesome Mr. Doug, and then stayed up half the night scribbling feverishly, just managing to meet my deadline. But I was really proud of it.
They sent it away into the world, mass publishing it into esteemed papers like the New York Times, Times of India, Washington Post, Hindustan Times, and about 50+ more publications worldwide. I was stunned by this, being someone who had eked out writing credits one by one, in smaller publications over long years. Gracious praise from experienced journalists and brilliant people suddenly enveloped me, and spectators on the golf course were walking up to me to tell me they had read my work. It was all a blur of surprised happiness.
A while has passed since then, and if you ask me what I remember most from the outcome of that experience — I would mention all the people I met. About the older writers who took me under their wing. The people whose face lit up as they spoke to me. Don’t mistake me, I’m most certainly grateful for the enormous publishings and all the snazzy new credits I could suddenly type into my resume — but in that blur of ‘success’ and those all important ‘views’ that the armchair blogger geniuses of the internet always endorse— I discovered to my surprise that they weren’t even the thing that felt most important.
That’s because it was a computer metric, just a number on a screen. But those human interactions, they were real and invaluable.
‘Making it’ is a narrative that you tell your mind.
In your life or career, there are many comparisons you could create. Your greatest achievement can appear dwarfish before some others, but to someone much further down below, the height you have already soared to would seem incredible and utterly magical. In a playground full of children climbing the highest swing-sets to see who can stand tallest — wouldn’t it be much more fun to just jump into the sandpit and play around with seashells?
If I ask you to imagine life in our universe to be an endless, beautiful tapestry with billions of threads — we realise that your life is a single silver thread in that colourful tapestry. You decide its value. You decide the pattern you want to create with it, because it is you who will be affected, turned and twisted into every direction to create that pattern.
Before anyone else in your life, your work should bring you meaning and happiness. Everyone deserves that; in fact everyone has the freedom to make that choice. Regardless of the influences or unfair circumstances life may give us, we still have the power to choose what to feel and do about it — thus changing the outcome with our karma.
Thus, I believe that my life is a silver thread; a gift first and foremost to myself. And so should yours be to you, given by yourself.