“Be yourself; everyone else is already taken.” —Oscar Wilde
I try to please others, to be liked. And I wind up resentful, stifled, frustrated.
I try to do what I think others want and find myself annoyed or bored or the whole thing going awry.
As human beings, we have a strong urge to belong, to be accepted by the tribe. Sometimes this can be a matter of survival, especially when we are children.
But trying please others in our heart’s work, the expression of our gifts and of who we are, can be deadly to that expression and to us.
I try please my readers, my editors, the current tastes, and wind up confused. So many competing opinions and desires. I end up with a bland, unsatisfying mess of half-baked things that no one responds to deeply.
If I try to please everyone in my teaching, I wind up diluting the teachings, losing my strong clear purpose and my joy.
Don’t Be Afraid to Be You
I sat with a friend a few weeks ago and listened as she talked about how she longs for a wide following for her poetry. So do I.
She finds herself afraid to share her authentic passions, to be too esoteric. She finds herself confused and conflicted by comments from others. I get it.
I can be so easily thrown by such comments, doubting myself, my gifts, my unique voice, my path.
But I cautioned her that this road of seeking to please the audience, trying to figure out what they want, not offend or lose anyone—that is the road to artistic death.
In trying to please audiences, critics, lovers, mentors, friends, family, we lose ourselves. And everyone loses in the end.
In trying to please others, we tie ourselves in knots. We stifle our flow, cut off what makes us unique. And our art becomes uninteresting, if we can create at all.
Worst of all, we lose the joy of creating and of living. And others lose the benefit of our unique gifts.
Shine In Your Uniqueness
Creating is divine play, even when it is also hard work. We need to retain the joy in it.
Yes, we work to hone our skills, our craft, to not be sloppy, lazy, inexact, overly precious, cliché. In short, to learn our art.
That is our job as artists.
We work to polish our gems, to make things of true beauty, authenticity and rightness.
To gleam in the brightness of who we are. Which means your weirdness, your flaws, your strange obsessions, your pain, your silliness, your wonder, your talents, your brilliance.
Art is often provocative, uncomfortable, edgy, showing and evoking strong emotions and hard truths, or revealing things that are new and unfamiliar. That is part of its job.
We give our gifts to the world to do with as they please. That is the nature of a gift.
We make the best work we can. And then we let it go.
Go For the Dance You Want To Have
Go for the dance that you want to have, I used to tell my Contact Improvisation dance students.
Instead of trying to second guess what your partner wants, have the dance you want to have.
If you aren’t enjoying the dance, your partner will feel that. If you are having a good time, your partner is way more likely to also enjoy the dance.
Or they will choose a new partner, and that is good too.
The dance will be way richer and more interesting, way more alive, if you go for the dance that you want to have, and let your partner take care of herself.
You don’t ignore her feelings and needs. You trust her to express them. You can also ask, if you are uncertain, rather than guessing. So you can both have a great dance, whether together or with someone else.
The dance is a metaphor for life.
Do What You Do Best
You can only please yourself. I keep having to relearn this.
Because when I lose it, I lose the joy in what I do. I lose the clarity and passion, my connection to my true self.
Do what you do best and do your best at it.
This doesn’t mean you don’t listen to feedback, learn from teachers and peers, be open to constructive criticism. That’s how we grow as artists.
But we have to uncover who we uniquely are, our preoccupations, style, voice. Our yearnings, needs, strangeness, and give that.
Give it boldly, wildly. Give it true.
Do what you love. Go for your dreams. Be who you are. Uphold your values and aims as an artist.
Cherish the journey, the whole messy process of creation. Enjoy the ride.
In the end, you can only please yourself. So, why not start now?