Want to do legendary creative work? Follow these 8 stoic mantras.
To make it as a creator, you need a healthy relationship with reality. Reality is the only path to improvement. But reality doesn’t always feel good.
Meanwhile, you’re tempted to feel good for the mere sake of feeling good. The “good” feelings are a shield from the discomfort of reality.
The philosophy of stoicism acknowledges our natural temptation to seek pleasure and avoid pain. Stoicism aims to help you resist that temptation.
Here are some stoic mantras that I use to keep myself on the path to reality:
- Be skeptical of praise. False praise is deadly to the creator. Assume that all praise has an ulterior motive: A friend is trying to be nice, a follower is trying to ingratiate you, or an enemy is trying to disarm you. Sure, take praise as a drop in an ocean of feedback, but be skeptical. The goal here is to not let praise cloud your judgement.
- Be indifferent to admiration. On your way to finding your creative voice, you’ll go into uncharted territory. That scares others. They fear you’ll lead them astray. Friends will stop returning your emails, or they’ll be reluctant to give you support—lest your potential future failure wash off onto them. This behavior will tempt you to get back onto the beaten path, leading you away from your creative destiny. If you’re indifferent to admiration, you can stay the course.
- Be inviting of criticism. When your work is criticized, it stings. A creator’s work is personal, and criticism of the work feels like criticism of oneself. Even unnecessarily nasty criticism holds something useful. Sometimes there’s a kernel of truth. Other times, you discover how your work pushes someone’s buttons—and how powerful it truly is.
- Don’t bask in the accomplishments of others. Sometimes the accomplishments of others can fool you into thinking you, yourself, have accomplished something. Give the hearty “congratulations,” when it’s due, but put your head back down and get to work.
- Don’t deify your heroes. Never forget that your heroes are mortal humans who were once not that good at their crafts. We get pleasure from worshiping others, but it causes you to forget that—with enough work—you can be someone’s hero, too.
- Take ownership over your failures. Things will happen that are outside of your control, and they will cause you to fail. Energy wasted blaming others is energy that could have been used on the things you can control. Even if it’s not your fault, it’s your responsibility.
- Don’t let success cloud your judgement. Success feels good. But success can lead your head into the clouds. When success happens, take a moment to celebrate, but don’t forget what got you there in the first place.
- Do the work, even when you don’t feel like it. You got into creative work because you felt inspired. But to make your work real, inspiration isn’t enough. Action leads to inspiration.
There’s no limit to the number of ways you can shield yourself from reality. When you find yourself feeling good, ask yourself where it’s coming from, and ask yourself if it holds you back from improving your work. With enough restraint, you can focus your energy on doing great work that resonates with others. And that will feel good—just for a little while.
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