“All children are artists. The problem is how to remain an artist once he grows up.” -Pablo Picasso
Here’s why—for me—this is the truth (and I know, sometimes it is in the eye of the beholder, it’s how you see it from your own perspective):
I spent more than three decades, from the time I was 18 years old, burying the child-artist in me. Pushing something I had shown a talent for (writing) deep under a uniform (Navy) or businessman’s suit (as manager and executive working for others and then as owner of my own manufacturing, trucking, logistics, and operations management consulting businesses). It was who I thought I must be to provide for my family. My brain told me so.
I had success… and failure (adding seasoning to life) along the way. Enough to rationalize that what I did was what I should do and to continue doing it even though it was sucking the life out of me. But, all that I lived and learned made me who I am today. [Undoubtedly, a better writer than I would be otherwise and one who can draw upon deep and varied experience.]
I would not choose to erase the past. But back in 2008, it was the future that concerned me. At the time—then—the present pressed hard because I felt my future, the vision I had for it, was fading. Finally, I was so dissatisfied, so terribly mad at my business and professional life living me instead of me living it, I made a decision to change from what I thought I had to do… to do what I wanted.
And that was tough because I wasn’t rich or independently wealthy—my wife and I’ve done well, but I also had to work and earn a living—just like most people. But if you want something bad enough you can tough it out. You can take what is meaningful and significant and fit into your life or make it the purpose of your life.
This, too, became a truth I can personally attest to.
But I had to plan and execute a transition.
A bit of backstory for you:
I could read at five and have been an avid reader all my life. I enjoyed writing, but I was not one of those people who labored for years, scribbling and typing away, with unsold manuscripts or the next great American novel in their drawer or sitting on a dusty shelf. Over the years in my correspondence, in observations on life and even mundane business letters, staff reports, etc., many had commented how well I wrote. [My 12th grade English teacher, Mrs. Goodwin, bless her soul, was the only teacher I had who saw something in me that I wouldn’t discover in myself until 30 years later.] So, I enjoyed writing and the praise, but that did not trigger me to commit to writing as a pursuit or passion.
The summer of 1978, right after freshmen orientation at the University of Arkansas, I made a life-changing decision and joined the US Navy instead of going to college. And for four years I had many great (and some not so pleasant) experiences and traveled far. [I’ve written on some of those adventures.]
Then for fourteen years, I was an employee/junior manager, then a manager/corporate-executive type.
Then a full-time investor, owner, and manager in tough, often capital-intensive, stressful, businesses.
From 18 to 48 I was all the above. Until I had had enough of doing what I had done for so many years; enduring crushing stress, and very little real joy in what I did day-in-day-out. I decided to replace what I was doing with what I wanted to do.
I was late to the game. And to the realization that writing was my vocation. When I did have my epiphany, I took some advice from Kipling (excerpt follows from his poem If):
If you can make one heap of all your winnings
And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,
And lose, and start again at your beginnings
And never breathe a word about your loss;
If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
To serve your turn long after they are gone,
And so hold on when there is nothing in you
Except the Will which says to them: ‘Hold on!’
If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,
Or walk with Kings – nor lose the common touch,
if neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you,
If all men count with you, but none too much;
If you can fill the unforgiving minute
With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run,
Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it,
And – which is more – you’ll be a Man, my son!
And that’s what I did. I decided writing was where my heart and soul was. And who can live long separate from the two? I couldn’t so I became who I am. A writer.
It was not easy. It took more than a year. I filled all those unforgiving minutes with effort and wrote and published my first book when I was 48 years old.
Since 2008, I’ve written and ghostwritten over a dozen nonfiction and fiction books, dozens of short stories and vignettes, hundreds of essays, posts, and articles and since 2010 (through my company Adducent), I’ve helped publish 40+authors and 67 titles (as of this writing). It’s been hard work because I had to figure things out and learn along the way. In all I’ve done, I’m self-taught like Steve Jobs just not near as rich. And I’m still learning and getting better as both a writer and a publisher; that will never stop. My business life still has its stress—if you’re self-employed as I have been for 22+ years you can’t avoid or eliminate that—but I have control of and care about my work and what I create (or help clients create).
So, here’s the thing. The above is about me but now, what follows is for you.
Believe in your heart of hearts and work at what you want to do even if it’s while everyone else is sleeping or playing.
Stand quietly resolute before those that doubt you (whether they say it to your face or if you know they are probably thinking it).
Deal with self-doubts by doing the work, whatever it may be. Action can and will handle self-doubts. Make it happen.
Deal with criticism because it will surely come. When it happens, take anything you can learn to improve or get better, and discard the rest—let it, the valueless husk, pass.
If you aren’t willing to do the work, put in the time and deal with the grind, then don’t whine, worry or complain about your life and your future. Just surrender your life and take the easy way out, ceding control to others… to circumstances.
But if you want to control your destiny…
Do the work. Hone your craft. Learn what you need to, to take your life in the direction you want. If it’s important enough to you… you’ll find a way.
You can find that child in you, the one you thought was long gone. They’re there. Inside. Just sleeping… waiting for you to wake them. So, they can paint, draw, sing, write, capture beauty with a camera… or just dance.
The child inside you can’t, and won’t, come out unless you are brave enough to let it.
I hope you are. I hope you do.