How To Murder Your Creative Spirit and Stop Growing as a Person

“This business is built on repeating yourself.”

That’s what Marc Maron said to Louis CK as the two comedians wrapped up episode 700, part 2 of Maron’s wildly popular WTF Podcast — that show business is built upon repetition.

And who do we have to blame but ourselves?

Don’t we all want to see Jerry, George, Elaine, and Kramer meet at Monk’s forever? Don’t we all want to feel the tension as Ross and Rachel fall in and out of love, eternally? Don’t we always want Harrison Ford to arrive just in time to save the day?

“You created the space to allow yourself to grow creatively. You did what an artist does. This business is built on repeating yourself…Structurally it [the TV series, Louie] became not predictable, but it had a stylistic predictability to it, and that’s what made people kind of like ‘it’s Louie.’ And to disengage from that, you had to disengage from that.” — Marc Maron

For those unfamiliar with the story, Louis CK took an indefinite hiatus from his successful (and fairly mainstream) FX TV series, Louie, to create Horace and Pete — a comic-tragedy, ten episode (super not mainstream) digital mini-series.

From the podcast conversation, it sounds like Louis CK made the right choice. His experiment reinvigorated his creative spirit, and commercially, the project has proven successful. A lot of that has to do with Louie’s talent as a writer. Some of it has to do with the fact that we’ve come to trust Louie — we’ll always given him the benefit of the doubt, no matter what he creates.

But if you’re not Louis CK, if you’re just you, you don’t always get the benefit of the doubt.

From an early age, we’re divided into two camps — left-brained or right-brained. We’re the kids who are good at math and science, or we’re the kids who are good at writing and drawing. We go to college, where we’re encourage to quickly choose a major. We’re asked at 18 to guess what we’d like to be doing until we turn 81. It’s a race to see how quickly we can come up with an answer to the question, “so what do you do?”

I’m a doctor. I’m a lawyer. I’m a teacher.

Simple answers. A single word will suffice. Actually, a single word is ideal. It makes the sorting easier. Never mind the fact that you might hold multiple job titles, that you occupy different roles at work and at home, that you want to explore the world around you.

By nature, we are a curious species.

We want to challenge ourselves. We want to develop new skills. It’s how we grow creatively and as individuals.

And the minute we stop learning is the minute we start dying.

Has anyone ever stopped to ask if we’ve gotten carried away with the concept of mastery? With the whole idea of expertise? If we’ve become slaves to the 10,000 hours theory?

Has anyone thought to consider if, along the way, we’ve turned curiosity into a competitive disadvantage?

After investing 10,000 hours into any one activity, after achieving some level of proficiency, we become terrified of trying anything new. After all, a great stock trader who tries his hand at painting will ultimately fail. He will not create a great masterpiece on the first, second, or third try. So why bother?

Better to stick to what you know than risk disappointing yourself or be outed as nothing more than an amateur.

Once upon a time, “amateur” meant something different. It comes from the French word for lover — it used to describe an admirable individual who practiced their craft out of love, without the goal of money or fame.

Now amateur is synonymous with hack, with n00b, with a nobody.

When you stick to the path you chose at 18, you’re rewarded with promotions, praise, and more money. When you step outside the lines and take off in a new direction, you’re kicked down the corporate ladder. You become the crazy person who gave up a cushy job for some fleeting feeling, some transitory dream.

Then again, no one ever made a difference following the path of least resistance.

My dear, here we must run as fast as we can, just to stay in place. And if you wish to go anywhere you must run twice as fast as that.” — The Red Queen, Through the Looking Glass

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