Creativity needs selfishness and selflessness. 

Most people are familiar with Malcolm Gladwell’s rule for success discussed in his book, Outliers: ten thousand hours of work spread over ten years (the work of late Professor Anders Ericsson).  Although evidence is mixed about the holy grail of ten thousand hours – even Ericsson cautions about the role of other factors than practice in gaining expertise, like the presence of good teachers. But there is no denying that developing expertise takes time. 

For example, David Lynch talks about how four hours spent on a creative project may result in one hour of good work if one is lucky. But we tend to be fooled by the glitz and glamour of successful artists. Take film stars, for example. If you take an acting class you realize how much work it takes to memorize one page of dialogue, and will appreciate that glamor is just the outer sheen of their otherwise arduous work. Unfortunately, social media influencers do not talk about the blood and sweat behind the scenes of so-called glamorous professions, and why would they? Hard work does not get eyeballs; only results do. Many first-timers pursuing an art form soon give up when they realize it takes hard work.      

Former PepsiCo CEO Indra Nooyi came under fire when she spoke about her failings as a mother when her children were young. Seinfeld now says having kids is the best thing to happen to him, but check out some old interviews, and you realize he barely saw his kids when they were young. Similarly, I was surprised when one of my favorite Malayalam screenwriters, Srinivasan, in his sixties during the interview, revealed it was the first time he was home for Onam. Onam is the most important holiday in Kerala, India, akin to Christmas or Thanksgiving in the US.

More successful people should come forward and discuss these behind-the-scenes sacrifices of both the artist and those who allow them the creative space. Everyone has only twenty-four hours in their day, so something must give. The Indian actor Murali Gopy once quipped that an artist’s support system is most underrated. Famous Indian superstar Amitabh Bachchan’s wife Jaya says she realized early in their marriage that he belonged to the people and not her. Roger Federer’s wife, Mirka, once told her time would come after Federer retired. It is reasonable that spouses claim 50% of their creative other’s assets during a divorce. They carry the weight of their homes, making it possible for their spouse to engage in their creative pursuits.  

Is the much-touted adage that no one ever regrets working more at their death beds true? I bet countless people die regretting not giving their passions and talents the time they deserved. Creativity can arise from turmoil but not constantly, so it requires a happy space to flourish. David Lynch says artists must be selfish with their time because creativity is so elusive. He also adds that selfishness is relative, and lies in the eyes of the beholder, aka the people in your life.

So, if you are on a creative path, you will need to selfishly carve out your creative time and hope that you can surround yourself with selfless people who understand your gift.  

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