A Simple Act of Courage (it’s not what you think)
The Courage to be Imperfect
If you’ve read anything I’ve written in the past for this site, it will probably come as no surprise to you that I often misuse (some say abuse) the English language. So I frequently find myself scurrying about the internet searching for a definition or origin of a particular word until eventually I find myself lost down some linguistic rabbit hole.
This happened to me just recently as I was (once again) wrestling with this idea of why some artwork/articles/images online resonate so powerfully with their audiences while others don’t. What separates these works from the others? Is it really a matter of talent and skill, or is it just plain old random luck?
You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means. ~Inigo Montoya
Why is it that videos of frolicking kittens continue to rule the internet while so many other, let’s say more culturally significant, pieces of art, music, and literature often get lost in the cyber ether?
More than anything, it seems to be a matter of emotional connection.
These days, we really don’t need any more information, what we need is connection. We need to find someone we can relate to — someone or something that is a reflection of ourselves. We don’t need more celebrity tweets, cute kittens, or fake Facebook promotions. What we really need is to be able to connect with someone else and understand that we’re not alone.
This is not something new. In fact long before the internet was around, the author C.S. Lewis wrote that “Friendship is born at that moment when one man says to another: ‘What! You too? I thought that no one but myself…’ ” I think this especially holds true for those of us who work in the creative arts where loneliness and isolation are so common.
But what if I’m not worth it?
Okay that’s great, but what if you feel like you really don’t have anything to offer?
What if I write a blog post and nobody reads it? What if I post my artwork and nobody comments?
In other words — What if I threw a party and nobody comes?
Why would I risk embarrassing myself?
Why would anyone be interested in connecting with me?
Who am I to offer advice to anyone?
What have I done that anyone else would care about?
These are questions that I ask myself everyday.
It’s true, nobody cares.
Nobody cares what you’ve done. All they really care about is how you make them feel.
In fact, the more you have accomplished, the less other people will be able to relate to you. Human nature tells us that if you are considered “successful” other people are far more likely to feel jealous of you than feel any type of real emotional connection with you.
These days you can pretty much open up any magazine and read an interview with some celebrity where they talk about all of the loneliness and isolation that they feel (I know boo-hoo, right?).
Although most of them have more Twitter followers and money than they know what to do with, they also have very few emotional connections. After all, nobody really cares about what Miley Cyrus is feeling, all we want to know what she’s doing, what she’s wearing (or not wearing), and what kind of crazy things she has said this week.
Success turns a lot of people off. ~Dave Matthews
Celebrities in our culture have become spectacles to be watched, envied, and ridiculed — they are no longer individuals with feelings like the rest of us, they have become objects to be worshiped or despised.
Sharing one’s heart.
Being able to connect with someone else means having the courage to share what so many others try to hide.
It’s interesting because the root of the word “courage” comes from the Latin word “cor” which means the “heart”.
“One of the morphemes of the Latin word cor, cordis is the modified by French cour, which gives us such words as courage (one must have a great deal of “heart” to be courageous), encourage (to give someone “heart” to carry out an act)” [ source: http://wordempire.blogspot.com/2009/02/cor-cordisheart.html ]
So in essence to have courage is to be willing to share what is in your heart.
This is true not only when it comes to making connections and developing relationships with other people, but also when it comes to creating our art.
However just as powerful is our ability to “encourage” someone else to share what is in their own heart.
The author Brené Brown talks about this emotional connection to courage in her book “The Gifts of Imperfection”
“Courage originally meant ‘To speak one’s mind by telling all one’s heart.’ . . . today courage is more synonymous with being heroic. Heroics is important… but I think we’ve lost touch with the idea that speaking honestly and openly about who we are, about what we’re feeling, and about our experiences (good and bad) is the definition of courage.”
Being a hero means that you are willing to take a risk.
Whether that risk is physical or emotional in nature is irrelevant because either way, it means that person is willing to do something even though they may have no idea how it’s going to turn out.
It’s about allowing yourself to be vulnerable and share your weaknesses and doubts with others.
Being vulnerable sucks (but it’s necessary)
Let’s face it, being vulnerable has nothing to do with being comfortable. In fact, they are not even distant cousins. You don’t see many creative artists who are hard at work baring their emotional soul while still feeling completely at ease and confident with what they are trying to do.
Being vulnerable and opening yourself up to criticism and potential failure is not easy.
After all, it’s one thing when everyone else is nodding their head and saying “Yeah, I feel that way too“, but it’s a different story when they start looking at you strangely and say “I don’t know, that just sounds kind of weird”
It’s that willingness to take the first step — to offer up your insecurities to the tribe — to risk alienating yourself and looking like the fool that you often feel you are.
It’s about having the courage to be unfinished, imperfect, and a continual work in progress…
Are you feeling courageous?
About the Author
Writer, teacher, and head custodian of the Skinny Artist community. His book "Getting Creative: Developing Creative Habits that Work" is all about finding the time (and energy) to live a more creative life.