Sunday, November 2, 2008

Learning how to know what you want

I find myself wondering if Barack Obama and John McCain are feeling a little bit the same as I am today. Here it is, two days before election day, and no matter what the outcome, both of them will find their lives very different than they are today. Are they finding this home stretch exhausting? Are they wishing, in some ways, that they'd never embarked on such a monumental task? Or do they find it energizing to be on the brink of such a large job.

I'm not saying getting my degree in Graphic Design is the same as running for president, but anytime someone commits their life to a project for an extended period of time, I think there comes a time when you wonder if you've made the right decision. Maybe this is fleeting, a moment of doubt or fear during a quiet time, or maybe it persists and causes you to quit, to walk away from this very big task. Moments like these are different for all of us, but I believe we all feel it. As I'm feeling it today.

I know that I'm not going to quit. That's not what this is about. It's about how we work through that. How we get up in the morning and find that energy to keep working on our project, whatever it is. How we keep going back to it, working on it, refining it, shaping it, maybe in spite of odds to the contrary.

One of my instructors brought in an article from a recent New Yorker, about late bloomers. Those of us who are late bloomers understand better than most, the energy it takes to continue working on something with very little in the way of reward. We keep working on our art or our book or our whatever, and it comes out of a place that is completely separate from financial or social reward. There is always the hope that reward will come, but it's by no means a guarantee. And yet we give up much to keep at it.

People who are successful at the arts often say that they feel the same way. That achieving the "prize" isn't really the point. They feel as compelled to do the work as anyone else. The difference, the reason they achieve more, may just be luck, or a better network of acquaintances, or just more persistence.

Talent does not necessarily equal success, and success doesn't necessarily equal talent, but we do, as a culture, seem to think that's true. It seems to me that a major component of success, whether you know early on or it comes to you later in life, is knowing what you want. Sometimes the only way to learn that is to keep trying different things until you get the one that works for you.