Every year Jerry Seinfeld hangs a year calendar up somewhere prominent, and for every day that he writes new material he marks a big red X. It started out just being fun, but it was also pretty rewarding, so he carried on doing it. Then he liked the look of the red-X-chain he was creating, so he didn’t want to stop writing something new every day.
And that’s it, that’s his recipe for success. Make a year calendar, and for every day you do something of whatever you want success in, give yourself a big red X, see how long you can keep the chain going. Whether you feel like it or not, no matter how scary or daunting it is. Over time you refine what you’re doing, and you’re really focused on it, so your work has power.
I like his recipe, it makes sense to me. For myself I’m adding another couple of ingredients – pleasure, and obstinacy/protectiveness. If you’ve found something you enjoy doing, it’s a pleasure to do it most of the time anyway. You don’t have to discipline yourself. If you really let yourself feel that pleasure you want to come back to it, and it can help carry you through the rejections and hurdles. But you have to protect that pleasure.
Yesterday I spoke to Avril Kinsey, who runs a local music college, about taking jazz vocal lessons this year. I was telling her about how my fear – of being laughed at, mostly – shuts my voice down. She said she’s had to overcome a lot of fear in her career as a guitarist and vocalist, and she eventually got to a place where she said “nothing and nobody is going to take this away from me”. “This” being the prize of her music, her life. Her greatest pleasure.
The obstinate look on her face in that moment was gorgeous and inspiring. I felt the obstinate, sassy, even laughing part of me kick in and I realized that if I work at it, I can use it to create a fortress around the pleasure I have when I sing. The pleasure drives me wild, I just love it, so I need to do everything I can to protect it. It’s where all my power is. I signed up for those lessons.
I think the part of us that creates, is kind of like an innocent child, hugely powerful in its capacity, but also monumentally fragile. It needs a ferociously protective lioness-type parent to protect it from anything that inhibits it – criticism, challenges, rejection, being laughed at. Nobody else can give that to us, we have to find it in ourselves. And exercise it by putting ourselves at the coal face, risking – even experiencing – rejection.
Going back to Jerry Seinfeld, talent obviously has a lot to do with his success, but on its own I doubt it would have got him anywhere. He also had to put the hours into writing, being on stage, promoting himself, plowing through the challenges like a bull in a china shop. Carrying on when he got rejected, when he was told his material wasn’t any good. Developing that ferocious inner part of him, doing whatever he needed to do to protect his pleasure of creating.