I seriously wish I could do one-on-one sessions with everyone on Earth just so I could steal their script. Did you know you were performing a character? Can you recognise that we are all largely puppets performing in society’s play? It’s not an exaggeration. We act out what others have taught us is acceptable or desirable. That’s what hairstyles and fashion are: performances we engage in within society’s theatre because that’s what we’re supposed to do. That’s what our societal script claims.
But are you aware that you are ultimately the writer of the play? You are also the director and its star. You can do anything you want. Instead you do what everyone else is doing. Because that’s safe. Because people might compliment you on that, and that would be a connection. And after all, connection is the only thing you’re ever really looking for.
This is what I love about artists: they work four times as hard for a quarter of the money and they still like their jobs more than most people. That really tells you something. I have a long history in the arts and it’s almost without exception an extremely compassionate, supportive group. That’s why outcasts feel comfortable in the arts. That’s why people think artists are weird. They don’t get that we’re not really outcasts; we’re a collection of people that care a lot less about the play that everyone else is performing in.
You don’t really do what you want to do. You conform. You try to be liked. You make choices others have already made. You don’t want a boldly designed home that strongly represents your personality in case it would be ugly to someone. You want the banal showhome that isn’t even trying to be loved—it just wants not-to-be-disliked. It’s safe. It won’t be criticised. You wear the clothes that you think will make you look impressive. You listen to music you think will make you look cool. You try.
Artists pay in a different way. They may not care quite as much about what people think of them, but at the same time they have to put every single piece of work they’ll ever do up to be judged by the public. That requires serious bravery. Imagine if every single thing you did at work would get judged out in the open by everyone all the time. Artists live like that. And doing so involves risk.
When you put on a real play—you’re out there. If people don’t like it you will find that out clearly and personally. If your book doesn’t sell it doesn’t sell and you make no money. If people don’t watch your TV show they don’t and the ratings report it. If they don’t like your song they’ll say so and that stuff really hurts. Your income is dependent on people liking you. And more than that; your creations are like children to an artist. And yet despite all of these ways to suffer artists keep doing it anyway. Why?
If you’re inside the matrix of society you can’t comprehend what you’re missing. You’re like a two-dimensional person trying to understand the idea of over. You’re not familiar with the experience of freedom and expression. Instead you are filled with anxiety as you try to be beautiful, thin, sexy, rich, smart, capable, vulnerable, strong, classy blah blah blah. Why criticise yourself all day worrying about what co-workers think about your life? How about being yourself instead? Because that would be awesome. No one else is being you, so if you don’t do it your you-ness will never get lived and the world would lose something important.
Look, even artists are loaded with ego and we too lead lives with plenty of suffering. But artists put up with that too-often horrible work-to-pay ratio for one reason: it allows them to spend time with other people who can also see through some of the aspects of our social and economic systems. They’re the ones pushing on life’s borders looking for more room, maybe a way out. It’s brave work and more respect for it wouldn’t be misplaced. It’s also quite exciting. Like Neo in The Matrix exciting.
The next time you see someone you’re inclined to call silly or lazy or childish or irresponsible, try considering the fact that silly can be called creative, lazy can be called efficient, childish can be called confident, and irresponsible can be called free. It all depends on how you look at it.
Forget the rules. Forget what’s popular. Forget what’s in fashion. Forget what people think. Just take off the mask and breathe. We’ve been waiting for you.
Scott McPherson is an Edmonton-based writer, public speaker, and mindfulness facilitator who works with individuals, companies and non-profit organisations locally and around the world.