The voices swirl around.
“Say this! They’ll like it.”
“Do this! It’s what you’re supposed to say. And gosh, you don’t want to stop what’s supposed to be from being do you?”
“You want to say that?! No, man, no. They’re all gonna laugh at you or hate you or ignore you. Gosh, no.”
Voices, voices, voices.
Rushing, flying around my head like those birds in cartoons that fly around a character after he’s been bonked in the head.
And that’s how I feel when they fly around. Bonked on the head. Dazed, confused, looking around for something that makes sense. Grasping around for something real, something that isn’t distracting me, that isn’t an illusion.
Every artist I know is distracted at least some of the time by the voices. Some of them have accepted the voices as part of their work (which is okay, I think, depending on how they look at art, I think, I think, I think), but most I know want those voices gone, only want to care about the voices when they’re going back to edit what they wrote when their mind was clear.
But there’s a problem a lot of the time. A few problems, actually. A lot of problems, really.
There’s the problem of distinguishing the voices, plural, from The Voice, the one that is pure and clear and from deep inside. From our gut to our heart to our brain. That voice.
The other voices? Those are just head voices, and the head is a messed up, confused, stupid place. The gut? He’s got it figured out, at least when it comes to making something from nothing.
The mind is stupid because he has to learn everything. He is worthless without knowledge, just a big mushy mess. And so everything he “creates” isn’t really created at all. It’s more like he just regurgitated a meal he was given and tried to sell it to the highest bidder.
That’s where the voices come from, the head. They’re just memories. Memories of our parents or our teachers or our mentors or our leaders or bullies or critics. Anyone but us, really.
See, then, what the brain does, and he’s good at this because he needs this in order to make his vomit valuable, is that he dresses it up and makes it look like a meal to the outside observer. Have you ever noticed how some artists are more interested in selling their art, more interested in how many followers they have than in how true they are to their inner reality?
Of course, there’s nothing wrong with having lots of followers, or even wanting them, of course. But the prioritizing, that’s the issue, you understand.
And so the artist makes their vomit fancy, they dress it up and make it look cool and new and interesting and fresh. They read all about how to make their vomit look tasty, how to make it easy to digest so once people consume it they don’t realize it’s vomit.
Some of these folks even manage to make their vomit taste smart. The world stands up and applauds at people that are just regurgitating the vomit they ate from someone else.
We have a culture of vomit-worship in the arts, you know. In the world itself, really. A culture of, “Has this done before? What are the returns going to be? Can you show me past success?”
Resumes, experience, data, metrics, shares, hits, followers, “engagement”, proof.
All these, they have one thing in common: the past. They assume the future will be as the past was, and so they assume if you’ve had past success, you’ll continue to succeed (even when they don’t look deeply enough into why you succeeded, how you succeeded).
Data is valued over gut even when it comes to creativity, even when it comes to mission.
The past is a safe place for the brain because that’s where all its voices come from, that’s where it wants you to stay, because that’s all it knows. The future? The brain has no concept of it, it’s something it’s never experienced and so will never understand.
That’s why those voices are always so afraid of the future. Everything they tell you to do is based on recreating past success, whether your own or someone else’s, or avoiding your actual past “mistakes”. Failure is disastrous because it is a waste, because it is inefficient to a brain that is only focused on past success.
What if we reversed it? What if we tried a little… well, not a thought experiment exactly. A gut experiment.
If someone asked you, “Did this come from your gut? Is this real to you, true to you, is this what your mission in life is?” when they spoke to you about what you created or what you want to create, where it’s going, whether it will succeed, what do you think your reaction would be?
I think first you’d be confused, because no one ever says that. You might find it to be hokey, maybe even a bit new-agey and weird.
But what if they kept asking you that? What if they refused to fund you or follow you or share you or listen to you or partner with you if you didn’t answer that question satisfactorily?
What if we lived in a world where the brain didn’t rule every single thing we do, and especially any creative endeavor we undertake, from art to entrepreneurship to community creation to activism?
What if the gut, the heart, were taken seriously, weren’t seen as hocus-pokus hokum, but the complements to the brain? The believers in the future, meant to unite with the studier of the past?
What then? How would you live? What ventures would you choose to undertake? How would you approach creativity and business and just about any project?
Only you know the answer to this question for yourself. I think it’s a good meditation, because so much of what we choose to undertake is chosen based on what the world tells us is valuable, and their definition is in the brain, not the heart, and certainly not the gut.
But I think I can give you an answer for how the world would change if this would happen:
1. There’d be a lot more failures. A lot.
2. But failure wouldn’t be seen as the end of the world. Rather, a step towards success.
3. People would focus more on how they do things than on what they do and/or its results.
4. Business wouldn’t be approached as a way to make money, but as a mission, an opportunity to bring ultimate value to customers and maybe even change the world, if only in our image.
5. Creativity would be weird. And out there. And different. An unique. And the unique art that wasn’t just being unique for unique’s sake (another brain vomit) would be respected.
We can actually see a bit of a model for this sort of thinking in Silicon Valley. It’s not the perfect example, because the funders, the VCs, in that world are still basically sheep looking for big payouts from a few successes. Their ultimate goal is externality, is money, is success.
But there’s an interesting stage that’s slightly different: what’s referred to as the “seed stage” of funding, where startups are given anywhere from $50,000 to $2,000,000 to start their venture. Often, the funding in this stage has absolutely nothing to do with “revenue” or whatever. It’s more about the funders’ passion and mission, their belief in what they’re trying to accomplish.
True, in the back of the funders’ minds is the question of whether this could one day be huge, but they’re also aware that in this new world of technological innovation, it’s hard to know exactly what will make money. So they are forced, in a way, to be guided by something a bit more… gutsy.
Their stories are all very similar. The founder had something in their gut that told them to make something (which is why it’s not a surprise that many of these founders weren’t businesspeople but programmers), and they just made it. Then they rose to prominence, got funding from people who saw their passion as well as their potential (but with virtually no proof that their technology could make money), and they invested their money.
There’s nowhere more creative than Silicon Valley these days, and my feeling is that it has to do a lot with the willingness of a bunch of dudes (and not enough dudettes) coming to the area with a feeling in their gut that they believe with all their hearts, and they do everything and anything to make it happen.
It’s not just the fact that we have a technological explosion that’s changing the world. It’s that we have a creative explosion happening among some of the world’s brightest people.
Of course, Silicon Valley is just a glimmer of what I’m talking about above. Most people don’t have feelings in their guts, and are just looking to be the next Steve Jobs (ie adored and rich). But I don’t really see that as any different than an artist coming to New York or LA just for the fame. And most funders don’t care about the gut feeling as much as they claim they do.
But that’s the beauty of it. Silicon Valley is like a small glimmer of reality that we could be living, all of us, no matter what we wish we could do.
Even more beautiful? The people who created the culture of creativity in the Valley are people like Mark Zuckerberg and (oy, I have to say it) Steve Jobs. Guys that showed people what a gut can achieve, and how the brain is great for some things but not others.
People who saw something no one else could see (Mark Zuckerberg’s obsession quickly went from connecting college kids to creating a way for every person on earth to connect) and who did everything they could to create that reality no matter how stubborn or stupid they seemed to the outside world (think Steve Jobs being ousted from his own company then coming back and changing the world).
These are the people so many entrepreneurs and artists love, and yet don’t follow the cardinal rule that will allow them to become like those “visionaries”: to trust their guts, and to see beyond their own brains and into their hearts and imaginations.
It doesn’t take a special person to do this, nor a smart or heroic one. It simply takes trust in ourselves (and if you’re truly smart, in something beyond yourself). And our society has created a mythology out of not trusting ourselves.
But as Mark and Steve have shown us, we don’t need society to reclaim this part of ourselves. We don’t need society to prove to us that our guts matter. In fact, that would go against the whole idea of what it means to follow our guts.
Rather, they’ve shown us, as have countless artists from Dylan to Picasso, that while it might be tough at first, society, in the end, really wants… no needs… us to live out our guts. Because in the guts is where we move beyond the stupid brain. It’s where the newness of the world is churned and churned and churned until we give it a chance to shine by spitting it out.
In other words… it’s up to us. Up to me. Up to you.
Each one, individually. We aren’t supposed to wait for a revolution, we aren’t supposed to hope that somehow someone will (ugh) inspire us to reach into our guts.
No. Each of us is a potential revolution waiting to happen. Just like if we unlocked the physical energy hidden in the body, we could power all of the US for 16 years, if we unlocked the energy hidden in our spirit and in our gut, we could create more power than we can imagine.
It’s nice to have reminders. People like Steve Jobs. People like Bob Dylan. Like Picasso. Like the Romantics. Like anyone who’s done anything nutty and somehow succeeded. Or our uncle Johnny who is mad, absolutely mad, and always trying to come up with new inventions or ideas or projects and failing constantly, but never stopping.
Those reminders are great.
But in the end… there’s no better reminder than our very own gut. Listening to it. Loving it. Trusting it. Learning how to bring it out and let it play. It’s in there that you’ll find your own prophet, your own true artist, your own world-changer. It’s in there that the stupid brain will finally find its usefulness, where its memories will be able to be applied to something rather than thinking like an idiot that it is the be-all and end-all of where value comes from.