Posts Tagged ‘do the work’

Talent is great. Gifting is awesome. And they’re useless…

I know that gives you a question, then what is the point of this exercise.

Okay they’re not really useless, and that was a little bit of hyperbole, but here’s the point if you don’t use it, it is literally useless. Talent and gifting are important, but there is no substitute for doing the work. I know this seems obvious, but so many people talk about all they’d like to do, all they think they can do, but that’s as far as it goes.

There’s an old truism in the music world. “How do you get to Carnegie Hall?” And the answer, “practice, practice, practice.” In any creative discipline the same rules apply. There is no substitute for hard work.

So create, create, create. Seek out opportunities, and if no one will give you one, make your own. Think about what you would love to do and start working to that end. Be your own client. Look around your neighborhood and see who could use what you do, and create as if they were  your client. Build a portfolio, make samples, post your work to the net. Join online groups, find a mentor, whatever it takes, do the work.

Assignment: Find something to do, and do it to the best of your ability.

Well I know I’ve been a little quiet lately, but here’s what’s been happening. I have finished inktober and am now working on a video containing all the pieces I did for this month long challenge.

Here’s my favorite piece of the month, representing the word “JOLT”

I have the honor of designing a bunch of images for the flower show of our local retirement community. It’s a huge production, with lots of really cool art and the theme this year has to do with superheroes. Here are a few of the pieces I designed.

and finally I am designing stage sets and other graphics for a production of the musical Elf Jr. which my son Chris is directing. Here’s a sample graphic.

I’m also finishing up a series of new presentations for my series, …Like Jesus, which will be making it’s debut Sunday, and I’ll be finishing out the week doing a live painting for the Susquehanna Valley Ministry Center banquet, Lord willing.

I feel so blessed to be able to do what I do. There’s one thing I want to say about all this. All glory for everything goes to God. He gave me the ability to do what I do and He provides the opportunities. Beyond His work in my life there is nothing special about me. You need to ignore the internal voices that tell you you’re not enough, put yourself out there, make yourself available, submit your work and your life to the Lord and ask Him to work through you. Then do one more thing…

Prepare to be amazed.

Sometimes I feel like we live in an American Idol world. I guess I better break that down. American Idol was a show I really enjoyed for a while. I loved seeing all these talented people trying their luck before the judges, with the hopes of making their dreams come true. I enjoyed it because there were some really talented people, and indeed the show did produce a few superstars, but something didn’t sit right with me.

It seemed like everyone was sitting around waiting for their golden ticket. Waiting for someone to hear them, accept them and bestow on them the life of their dreams. Contrast this with my friend Morgan. One day last week she posted this video of her heading to New York City to perform with her band. She got to the club in time to play her set, and when it was over she shot a little video of herself getting home at 5:30 a.m. I saw another video from Boston this week. Now she ends up playing a fair amount of bars and clubs and given my history with alcohol, well that’s not my thing, but here’s the point. She’s not sitting around waiting for someone to make her dreams come true. She’s not sitting in her house waiting for someone to see her and how talented she is. She’s doing the work.

Her video reminded me of a clip from my all-time favorite band Rush. Just before they retired, they put out a documentary called Time Stand Still. I remember watching them live when I was in high and thinking about how cool their lives must be as they traveled all over playing music. The documentary gave a taste of their reality. Traveling from city to city in a station wagon, bartering with each other for the privilege of crawling in the back and sleeping on the equipment, and then graduating to a Dodge Fun Craft van with an actual bunk. Now of course today their lives are very different and they are quite wealthy and very famous but the reason they got there was because they didn’t sit around waiting for fame, they jumped in the “Fun Craft” and did the work.

That’s life in the arts. Natural talent is a great blessing from God, but the ones who succeed are the ones who will take that talent and roll up their sleeves and do the work. I see people all the time that seem to think they will go to school, get a degree in some art form and think that will guarantee them success. It won’t. I’m not belittling education, but the ones who succeed are the ones who go out and do the work. They practice. They perform. They write. They paint. They hustle. They realize they aren’t to big or important to take the small role or the small show. They get all the real world experience they can get. Don’t wait for the “cushy gig.” Find the opportunities and make the most of them. There’s no substitute for doing things the right way.

No matter what you want to do. You’ve got to do the work.

You know the old saying, “Do what you love and you’ll never work a day in your life.” That’s not exactly right. The fact of the matter is I do what I love, and I work really hard at it. To be truthful, I also end up doing stuff I never really loved that much. I was the kid who never did my homework, now I find myself reading and studying for hours nearly every day. It’s not all page turners and fun stuff either, but I love learning all this stuff because it helps me to do what I do and do it well. Then there is other stuff that I have always loved to do, that I get to do in different ways. I used to dream of being a professional artist, now I do more art than ever and I sell very little of it. I don’t have to sell it anymore. It helps me to communicate what I need to communicate. It helps me tell stories and make people understand. The challenge is no longer to sell the work, so much as it is to figure out how to communicate through it. It’s an awesome creative challenge. I use to struggle to write a 500 word essay, now I do that almost every day. I used to hate to write, but I’ve learned to love it to the point where I’ve written several books.

So doing what you love is great, but sometimes in doing things you learn to love it, and occasionally there are things that feel like drudgery, (like paperwork) but they allow you to keep doing what you love. I don’t know who coined the phrase “Do what you love and you’ll never work a day in your life.” but I don’t think they were right. Instead, I recommend you love what you do, enough to do the hard work it takes to keep doing it. God gave you your gift, do the work to His glory.

So last night I was watching Shark Tank on CNBC. After it ended there was this show called American Greed. The first episode was kind of interesting, but the second episode was about a rap promoter who it turns out was defrauding artists and investors alike to prop up his own lavish lifestyle. The guy was beyond a doubt immoral and unethical, but I don’t want to talk about him. I want to talk about the artists who allowed themselves to be victimized by him and more than that, I want to talk about us.

The promoter in question basically promised he could make anyone a star. The thing is, he can’t. There are only so many people who are the right combination of talented/lucky/blessed/driven enough to become “stars.” If everyone could do it, most everyone would. This guy was promising these people something they should have known was not possible. Here’s the thing, in the arts, there is no easy way and there is no substitute for a little thing called doing the work.

I used to watch American Idol with great interest, but there was always something that bothered me. Did that show produce some bankable stars? Yes absolutely, but it sure felt like skipping a lot of steps. What happened to slogging it out in the little venues, paying your dues and learning to be a performer? These shows seemed to circumvent the process, but they did something that was equally alarming. They seem to have convinced a whole generation that this path is the only way, waiting to be discovered and put on TV. No can I tell you there are a lot of ways to be an artist, that don’t involve making the cut on a TV show and it all comes down to what I preach here. You make the work you love to make and find the people who love it. You get up every day and you do the work. If it doesn’t pay the bills, you find something that does while you keep doing the work. There is no easy way, there is no magic bullet, and be very skeptical of anyone who tells you there is.

I remember the early days of MTV when bands were jettisoning talented people because they didn’t look good on camera. Ask yourself, how far would have Bob Dylan gotten on The Voice? I’m guessing not very far, but he made the music he loved and found a world full of people who loved it. I know one young lady who has auditioned for The Voice a couple of times, She didn’t get through. She is talented beyond belief and if I had the connections, I would sign her in a New York minute. The thing is she doesn’t need me and she doesn’t need The Voice. She’s gotten herself a gig singing in a working band and she is out there night after night singing her heart out and paying her dues. She will get there and she will appreciate it when she does, because she has done the work.

When it all comes down to it, no matter what kind of artist you are, there is no substitute for doing the work.

There is no easy way. Don’t wait to be picked. Hone your craft. Put your work out there. Find your tribe. Do the work!

We dread them so much… deadlines. We feel the pressure, we get anxious. They make us feel under the gun. We hate them, and we shouldn’t, deadlines are our friends. I was thinking about it this morning on my prayer walk. I was at a retreat for pastors who are new to their churches over the weekend and we were all asked the question, “What has been the biggest adjustment in your transition?” For me that answer was easy. I’ve been a pastor before, dealt with people before, none of that stuff is really new. No, for me the thing that is really new is this is the first time in my life that ministry has been my main source of income and the only thing I have to work on. Before this, ministry had to be fit in around the edges of my other job, now it is my “job.”

I was contemplating this answer this morning as I walked and started to think about the deadlines in my former life and how I don’t have them now. When I was editing a magazine, there were times of immense pressure around the release of the magazine. Over all I liked the job, but if I’m being honest, I don’t miss those days even a little bit. I started to think I don’t have deadlines anymore but then it hit me, I really do. Every Sunday at 10:00 a.m. is a deadline, so are special services and speaking engagements. I have to be done and ready to go by the time I step up to the pulpit. It’s the same, but it doesn’t feel that way. What’s changed? I now look forward the deadline. You should too. Deadlines are your friend.

Think about it. How often do you as a creative, endlessly tweak something trying to reach some self-imposed perfection? How often do you put things off because you’re stuck? How often do you procrastinate or struggle with creative block? Deadlines help with all those things. The deadline is the time when the dream must become reality. It’s the time when you take what you’re creating and bring it to it’s intended purpose: to be shared with the world. It forces you to do the work. It forces you to stop staring at the blank page or screen or whatever and to start the project. It forces you to stop thinking about what you don’t have and starting to work with what you do, while also securing the resources and help that you need. Deadlines make us work. Without deadlines we probably would never get anything done. So keep your deadlines and if there is no deadline on a project, you’d be wise to set one.

Remember the whole purpose of creating is to share our creations with the world. Set a deadline, get it done and ship it.

Deadlines are our friends!