Story behind the Passage
I am learning so much these days about seeing yourself from the perspective of others and then not giving a shit about it. As a founder in a talk this afternoon said:
“Other people’s feedback tells you more about them than about you.”
This is so totally true, I know this. The point is, we also depend on this feedback by others. Not even because we are planning to do something with that feedback, even just to learn how they see us and our work. The trick then is to really not do too much with this. What they say is a code which we can read to find out about their universe — about their “orbit.”
The thing for creative people, however, is that we are constantly in flux. It has taken me my entire life to actually understand that. Well, I guess, I am just starting to understand the full scope of this. As soon as you start being yourself and allowing yourself to actually show this to the outside, people will start reflecting that they do not see any connecting dots in what you do — because you are doing new things constantly. Obviously, I do not have to repeat myself here how this then takes over and you start forcing yourself to connect the dots in some way which simply is not your way — not in the conventional sense.
So, since I always fall back into this trap, I start wondering how many more times I will go through this loop of forcing myself to do stuff that I did or thought of in the past, even though, I am in a new place now. Every morning when I get up, I have new ideas and some of them I can implement immediately. I am only happy if I actually let that happen. If I force myself to do something I thought about doing yesterday, this usually kills all my creativity and positive energy. Then, nothing ends up on paper.
“The other terror that scares us from self-trust is our consistency; a reverence for our past act or word, because the eyes of others have no other data for computing our orbit than our past acts, and we are loath to disappoint them.” You know that Emerson is one of my — if not the — most favorite writers. You take one sentence and you can spend a book talking about it (no worries, I am not going to do so now…). What I mean is that there are so many words in one single sentence that have meaning way beyond what they literally connote. “Quoting without quotation marks,” is what my professor once said about Emerson’s style (that was a quote by another Emerson scholar, by the way.)
The “terror that scares us from self-trust” is really tangible for artists, I think, even for all creative people. Again, I have no idea about the clear definition of the word “creative” (no matter how many dictionaries I check). What I associate with the term are people who know that they have to express themselves in some “creative” way — people who have no other language to express themselves, at least, no language that feels right. So, I guess, the lack of self trust is also something that is kind of immanently part of artists because we try to be perfect all the time. This might look funny again to outsiders because “creatives” are supposedly messy but that is just the outside. When it comes to our art, we are usually very picky about everything — even obsessed with perfection.
Consequently, we are continuously tempted to mess up — according to our own expectations. Terror is a really disturbing factor in all this — and so is consistency. Even without considering other people’s views, consistency itself is simply failure. Being consistent would actually be the death of the artist, I think. You are stuck and it would probably show in your paintings, texts, photographs, songs or whatever your are “creating.” This “reverence to our past act or word” would lead to us to building our own prison — of thought and action. We would be looking backward, not forward. And if you get into this mode, you start dying inside. The problem is that this can be a slow death and you do not realize the signs early enough — especially if you are listening to others.
What others are seeing, the “data” which Emerson is describing, is simply what they see or hear. It is all the explicit stuff. I do think that the “curse of knowledge” plays a role here too in causing much confusion. What I mean is that we sometimes suppose that others — non-creatives — see as much as we do because we see with more than our eyes and we hear with more than our ears. We are sensing the world and sometimes we might think others do so too — this is the flaw. This is when we suppose that others are seeing more in what we do and create than they actually see. We think they see progress when there is no progress visible to them. We think they see “consistency” in our work but they only see new things and chaos.
Emerson is so right in using this technical vocabulary when explaining how humans rely on the past to calculate or “compute” the meaning of the present moment and of the future. It is all they really ‘know’ about us; it is all they can ‘study’ with their conventional means of understanding data. And, for sure, by the time they look at what we have produced in the present moment, they are totally confused because we are violating their results, the insights they thought they gained about us. This is why we disappoint them. It is not even a disappointment that is related to the quality or theme of our work. It is simply the disappointment that results from violating their calculations. We prove their thinking and expectation capability wrong — without intending to do so, or course.
Usually, I hardly ever arrive at a definite conclusion in my posts. Today, however, I do have one, which is quite “logical” to use this word — at least from my perspective. The real logical thinkers might call it completely illogical. For me, however, the only conclusion to go about living a happy and creative life is by disappointing your audience. Only if you fulfill whatever computations your audience made, you are very likely in trouble already. Maybe this is not correct for every artist but for me it feels just right. It is the only way how you can achieve what is the most important thing to move on, embrace life, and live your creativity: self-worth and self-love — without any terror imposed on you by the look of others.
1) Do you embrace consistency? Why/not?
2) How important is other people’s feedback to you?
3) When did you ever surprise people with something unexpected at work?