You ever heard of Rollo May?
He was better known in the 20th century, when he was alive and also working as a psychotherapist.
He wrote quite a few books at the intersection of modern psychology -- clinical psych dealing with actual people and problems, not goof-off lab experiments -- and existential philosophy.
Look, if you can work Heidegger and Nietzsche and Kierkegaard into a conversation about psychology, you've got my attention. That is my Netflix.
One of my favorite Rollo May books is The Courage to Create.
Being a frustrated creative for most of my adult life (big-time stress on the "frustrated"), the ideas in this book hit it home.
The key idea is simple enough:
Creativity is an exercise in frustration.
That statement means more than the obvious.
If you build things and make things and bring things into existence, in art, in science, in business, wherever, you are going to feel a force pushing you away.
All the anxiety, doubt, fear, what-if second-guessing, the hesitation, the "I'll go clean up the kitchen while I think about this" sand-bagging, it's all part of the process.
Steve Pressfield has a handy word for this force. He calls it Resistance.
You might think that the goal is to get rid of these feelings, and THEN begin working.
EVERYONE who tries to do anything over-and-beyond the ordinary hum-drum of life goes through these anxieties.
You can't get rid of it... and not only that, you wouldn't want to.
What separates a productive, working, genius-tier creator is the courage to show up and get the work done while you're experiencing all this mental head-trash.
We humans are a confused and often contradictory mish-mash of motives. There's the animal parts, which wants to eat and sleep and flee from fear. There's the conscious part, which can see a little further and higher.
We're the only animals that know we are going to die.
The anxiety of creating comes from that endless inner conflict. We're driven to create because we can see the past and imagine the future.
This same gift also perversely curses us with knowledge that it's all absolutely pointless. Why bother with any of this if I'm going to die... if nobody will remember my name in 200 years... if the human species itself might be less than dust in a billion years... and even the sun is going to die and scatter our ashes to the cosmic void?
That's an existential ouchie, right there.
That's THE existential ouch, says Rollo May, and we're all staring it down every time we pick up a pen or paint-brush.
What does this mean?
Firstly, the courage needed to create is no mere battle with a lazy brain's gluttonous appetites.
You're in a contest within yourself to create, even knowing that everything we are and do has a use-by date.
But here's the thing.
Without this inner conflict, there is no creative tension.
All those negative feelings that you want to run from, they're part of the same energies that motivate us to creative action.
Kill the struggle and you kill the creative process.
Gives a whole new meaning to today's Independence Day celebration, too.
Freedom isn't easy because it's always pushing us away.
Happy 4th to the Americans and to red-blooded freedom-lovers world-wide.
Be uncomfy & take it easy.
PS - There's a good chance you're reading this on July 3rd, since I've scheduled this email to go out on July 4th in the GMT +12 time zone.
I'm from the future. That gives you extra reason to heed my warnings.
Either way, enjoy Independence Day and have a happy & profitable 4th no matter where you are. Tell a friend: