Happiness and the Muse

465px-ThemuseI have a creative problem, and I am not alone in it. It’s the kind of problem that can make or break your life. It can help you realize your ambitions, or drag you down for years.

I become infatuated with good ideas.

I think “Someone should make a website showing off babies wearing temporary tattoos. That would be hilarious!” And I pursue the idea. If at all feasible I launch the project on my own. I work hard to make it a success. And in my rush to bring the idea to life I never once ask “Is this what I want to do? Is this good for me?

You find yourself running a successful website full of babies with barbed-wire tribal tattoos, and this isn’t what you want to do. Somewhere along the line you’ve become resentful of this project, no matter how good the idea is, or how well you have executed it. You find yourself caught up in a dream that doesn’t really feel like yours, and all the little details that make up the project seem like unreasonable demands on your time. You feel trapped, your temper grows short, and you become unhappy.

I have been there. Some of you have too. We become infatuated with ideas, and we become trapped by them.

I like to blame my muse, that petulant creature. He seduces me into these ideas that he would like to see come to fruition with no regard for my well-being or happiness. He’s impatient, and prefers results yesterday. He also gives me inspiration for a thousand things dear to my heart, but I have had to learn to separate the dross from the gold in his gifts. Some of his ideas have given me valuable experience, honing my skills, and giving me bittersweet wisdom.

One of the things about muses, is that the first and most valuable lesson they truly teach you is how to tell them No.

I’ve been telling my muse No a lot lately. Or Wait. Not now. Just because I have a good idea, and have the ability to execute it, doesn’t mean I should. Giving my talents and energy to something that does not serve me well at best robs me of time, and at worst can put my soul in peril. I can lose myself, and what good am I if I am not myself?

I know some of my friends are learning to push back against their muses. To set boundaries. To evaluate an idea, no matter how good, in terms of their own well-being. It is not easy, especially when the idea involves other people.

One of the hardest things about balancing happiness and the muse is when you have to make decisions that deny other people your talents and creativity. Sometimes an organization or group projects sounds like such a good idea, but when it isn’t in your best interest to create or maintain or revamp that organization, you become tired, resentful, and unhappy. For some people that is ok. They would rather you be unhappy and present, than fulfilled and absent. Just because you have what an organization needs, doesn’t mean the organization has what you need, even when you created the organization. People will make you feel shame over this (which is not the same as guilt) and that makes it harder to keep healthy boundaries intact.

The truth is that you are an extraordinary person of talent and vision, but you are only one person. You could do many, many things. The possibilities are endless. The things you could do for yourself, for others, for the pure joy of accomplishing a new idea, but you cannot do them all. You have to make choices.

I’m still figuring out how to limit my muse myself, and how to avoid feelings of shame when I can’t give others the things they want, or think they need, from me. But an effective strategy so far has been to think smaller. I cannot give myself to an organization or community, but I can split wood with a friend. I can help someone move. I can have lunch and drink beer with someone. I’ve stopped thinking in terms of community, and started thinking in terms of people. Community often wants big things from you, huge commitments, and grand gestures. People often need human-sized things from you. A hug. A helping hand. A chance to chat. A laugh.

What I have discovered is that I get more joy from the small things than from the grandiose things. This blog is a good example of that. Just a nook where I can think out loud, it isn’t traffic-driven or in anyway popular. It serves no readership, and isn’t marketed towards anyone. I ignore it for days, even weeks, at a time. I am surprised when anyone notices it. But it honestly gives me more joy than when I had 12,000 people reading my blog every month. 12,000 is too much. This blog is human-sized, and while my muse isn’t entirely pleased with it, this is a good compromise.

May you find a good compromise with your muse, and may you create things which serve you well.

About these ads