After spending the past few months listening (podcasts are awesome!) to many stories of actors, actresses, comedians, entrepreneurs and musicians, I have noticed a rather disturbing and recurring theme in the psychology of these creative professionals.
Being an entrepreneur and wanna-be comedian/prankster myself, I could relate to their psychological view of the world.
We Are Insecure
Creatives have a disturbing insecurity problem. It is almost exclusively what has driven many people not only to excel, but to ‘challenge’ the status quo by crafting something new, something ‘creative’.
Ironically, these insecurities need not always be driven by ‘bad upbringing’. They seem at many times to be brought up by a sense of drive to fix what’s wrong with the world around us. For actors/actresses/comedians, the sense of drive is more of the world of imagination and ‘make believe’; which tends to bring up the dynamic of ‘believability’, an extremely complex dynamic that brings up a lot of insecurities.
Entrepreneurs, like me, have to struggle with the dynamic of ‘convincing’ customers and investors that their work is worth some monetary value.
The entire process of ‘transferring’ belief, either through marketing techniques or through works of art, carries with it a lot of psychological weight.
This ‘weight’ then leads many creatives to being extremely insecure.
The Forgotten Religiosity of Creative Work
In ages past, creatives were extremely valuable members of society. They were (essentially) aristocrats. They were the priests, the Levites, the craftsman, the healers, the Nazarenes, the Samurai, the chefs, the architects, the painters, the harp-players, the readers of stars, the prophets, the narrators and the valiant warriors.
What that did, was not only to encourage select members of society to take risks and create / venture-into new frontiers of human achievement and knowledge, but also to ‘honour’ them regardless of result or output.
What that achieved, was to ‘lift’ the psychological weight off these creatives. They were ‘already affirmed’ in their pursuits. Societies that ‘punished’ creatives (for being ‘disruptors’ of the social order, etc), suffered in the long run. They were later either overtaken/enslaved either by stronger nations or impoverished by more ‘cunning’ (i.e. creative) nations that produced a lot more ‘creative works’ that were pleasant enough to be bought by the many… Either way, the incentives were there for creatives to keep ‘creating’; and religion/cultural-pride was always there to inspire and encourage the creatives.
The Current Psychology of Creative Work
At present, advertising, profits and sales run the world of creatives. Creative work is no longer measured on how ‘religiously true’ or ‘culturally inspiring’ it is. It is measured, almost purely, on the whims of a capitalist economy.
What that means, is that a ‘good’ creative, is by design a profitable creative. A ‘bad’ creative, is by design an unprofitable creative. (An odd side-effect of this, is observing how this totalitarian belief in profitability has affected arguably the most profitable creative work in history: that of engineering. Many engineering companies systematically cut their RnD budget as soon as they start having financial struggles. Which is in fact rather odd, considering that company ‘losses’ may not necessarily come from a negative loss/profit result of a corporate division but may in fact come from a company over-provisioning resources within positive loss/profit result divisions).
What this implies, is that creatives have to look at profitability alone, as the measure of success. That approach may very well have some terrible side-effects of creative-work ‘quality’… but that would be another discussion… Sadly, creatives, almost universally are seldom ‘in charge’ of the production and sales of their works. What this means is that, even if they ‘wanted to’, they cannot control the profitability of their works. This results in an even sadder side-effect, that of creatives relying on ‘production/sales’ experts (i.e. venture capitalists, art dealers or movie/music producers) on telling them whether their ‘work’ is profitable or not.
Current Creatives are thus at the mercy of BOTH the economic system of capitalism and the various ‘captains’ within that system that tell them 1) if their work is ‘profitable’ or not, 2) if their work is ‘good’ or not. This, more than the already existing problem of ‘insecurity’, is an even GREATER psychological weight to overcome.
Overcoming the Psychological Weight
The desires to ‘be great’ and to ‘please everyone’ are incredibly self-contradictory. For one to ‘be great’ (a demi-god in their chosen profession), one would have to not only step on a few toes, but also annoy a lot of people. No one wants to be made to feel small.
All actors/actresses/comedians/musicians/sports(wo)men and entrepreneurs worth their salt, want to be ‘great’! That desire is not going to be welcomed by others either competing for the same goal or those aiming for power and wealth.
The first step to overcoming both the insecurity and ‘credibility’ problem then, is realising that one is alone in their creative goals.
We have modern technology to thank for the second step! Arguably the most radical step: build your own system of sustainability. Build a crop and chickens farm. Build your own shed, table, etc… None of these will make you ‘profitable’, but it will sure provide a secure place to ‘put your money’ once you make it. It will also (perhaps, most importantly!) feed, shelter, protect and shield your creative genius from the sharks within the system of capitalism.
The third (and most difficult) step is that of a creative finding an independent platform that allows for full expression one’s creative abilities, unencumbered by ‘feedback’ from gate-keepers of the capitalist-creative market economy. The only feedback that is objective and meaningful for a creative, is that coming from consumers of creative-products. The idea that some expert will know 1) what consumers want, 2) what is ‘good’ creative work, 3) what will consumers buy at what price, 4) what platforms these consumers exist in, 5) how much money will be made, etc is extremely preposterous and unrealistic.
Nobody Knows Anything.
If anything, the creatives know a lot more! (As they tend to be in touch with both the ‘work’ and ‘the people’). They should allow themselves to create with confidence. They should be crazy. They should be insecure. They should believe that their work is credible, until an end-customer says otherwise.
The fourth step, (advocated by the likes of Peter Thiel, Elon Musk and Tim Ferriss) is that of aiming for a radical enough (and different!) but clear goal. A goal that is inspiring, self-nourishing and pushes one to be extremely productive. A goal that allows one to escape the clutches of competition and capitalism. A goal that feels like there is only one person in the universe who was born to achieve it.
The fifth step, (advocated by me), is that of having recursive targets. Prominent psychologists like Jordan Peterson and many others seem to advocate for some form of ‘low aiming’ as a way to build momentum towards progress and accruing psychological health. Apparently ‘big goals’ are extremely discouraging if not achieved! Even if this is true, THIS is a big mistake! Firstly, positive ‘progress’ is not an objective way to measure success. A product, for example, that makes a lot of sales, like Microsoft Windows, is not necessarily the best product (compared to its expensive counterparts, e.g. macOS, or free counterparts, e.g. Ubuntu OS). Secondly, negative ‘progress’ often contains a lot more insight that positive progress. A wealthy and technologically-savvy venture capitalist saying ‘no’ to a product proposal is worth a lot more than a high-school friend saying ‘yes’ to whether he likes the product or not.
The idea of ‘recursive’ targets is quite simple: it is about finding the least costly, and the least difficult way to build a useful concept that ‘demonstrates’ the higher (i.e. more radical) goal. This is decidedly NOT a prototype! It is a finished (and polished) concept. It is only smaller. Yet is it daring. It is different. To stay both profitable and productive, the creative would have to build a lot of these ‘products’. But these are merely means to an end: the higher goal. They are the means to collecting insights, cash-flow, feedback and sustainability from the ultimate ‘gate-keeper’: the customer!
Be like Elon, aim BIG. Don’t be like Elon, aim for the (recursed) SMALLer products. Don’t take J. Peterson’s advice of ‘aiming LOW’…
Those, are the tricks to lifting the psychological weight off being a creative.