offer what you have

some days, it feels like most of what i get paid for is simply keeping my temper in check. but today's advice column on how to live a creative life by cary tennis, cheered me up a bit.

"How do we reconcile creativity with the practical requirements of living?

To be blunt: Maybe we do and maybe we don't. But we start by being honest. We start with a self-correcting catechism of ego deflation: The world doesn't owe us a living. Instead, we owe the world. We have been entrusted with something.

This is not easy. We are beset with problems. We are grandiose and irritable. In certain ways, we are the worst of people. We do not make especially good members of the community. We do not put out fires or save babies from pneumonia. We spend our days messing with paint or digitizing sounds. We are often egotistical and secretive, inauthentic and emotionally starved. We are not particularly good friends because we think mainly of ourselves. We do not necessarily make great parents or teachers.

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And we get bored easily. We create artistic business ventures and have difficulties with them. We pay insufficient attention to the matter of revenue. In short, we act as if the world owes us a living. We say, "Come out and support the arts!" And then we sit on a Tuesday night in an empty club feeling betrayed and confused.

But the whole premise was wrong from the start.

The big picture is this: The debt is ours. We got a little extra soup. We found money on the beach.

Of course, we can deny this debt. We can avoid the situation altogether. Many people do this -- gifted with angelic voice or poetic storytelling ability or fine natural draftsmanship, they go into bond trading or auto repair. And why not? Nobody is offering them a job as a singer or storyteller or artist.

So welcome to the world. The world asks more of those in whom it has entrusted its gifts. It asks that we maintain a healthy standard of living plus devote many hours to music, practicing scales, and to art, drawing from life, working with color and meditating to keep the demons from revolt, and to writing nonsense that must be written, reading in search of wisdom or God, thinking, thinking, thinking -- and sometimes to more and stranger things: sleeping a lot to find peace, going on retreat, flirting with madness.

It is our responsibility to ourselves and to the world to do these things, to find ways to take care of ourselves, not to become a burden but to offer what we have. Toward that end, there is much to be said for scaling down our ambitions so that we can practice our art or our craft or our calling in a way that is regular and routine. We must work hard at it. We must work steadily. But we must not expect to be rewarded overmuch for this, any more than someone who works for 40 years in insurance should expect to gain worldwide fame for structuring annuities in original and brilliant ways. We work quietly and steadily on our craft."

are you offering what you have? or are you just draining everyone around you, financially and emotionally, as you take off in the pursuit of another dream you don't have the courage to follow through on? are you just taking whatever others offer?

are you writing? painting? taking photos? playing music? or are you telling yourself you'll get around to it later, when you have more time? later, when you have more money? later, when you've achieved success?

are you working hard at it? or are you just talking about how hard you work to prop up your ego's image of yourself? are you really putting in the time you need to devote to your calling to succeed? (i'm horrid at this, myself.)

this is hard work, people. this is important work. WAKE UP! you don't get a second chance here -- this life is all you've got. last week a friend of mine died, just after he'd finally made the decision to pursue his dream. don't wait!

you that are still here -- stop avoiding the thing you're here to do. don't just fall asleep because it's hard. don't drift along in life, waiting until you feel like the time is right -- it's never right -- it's always NOW when you're supposed to be doing this work. don't squander your opportunities. don't waste your life surfing the internet, watching television, or numbing yourself out.

offer what you have, no matter how bad you think it is. no matter how small you think your efforts are. go do the work.