This Is Why People With Big Egos Can’t Create Art
“Are you vulnerable?” I heard someone ask me behind my back.
At first, I thought I misheard the question. But then I looked around and realized what was going on: I was standing in a line at Tesco to buy groceries. It’s Monday — first Monday after lockdown — and at this time, they usually allow the elderly and otherwise ‘vulnerable’ people ahead of the queue.
“No. Not really,” I replied.
Being 22, healthy, and (as I like to think) good-looking, I didn’t seem vulnerable at all.
But it made me think.
What does it mean to be vulnerable?
Art in general and writing, in particular, is a connection.
You don’t connect with people by saying what’s safe. You connect by opening yourself up, being naked in front of your audience, by taking the risk.
This is vulnerability.
It’s the feeling you get when you try something new. It’s the same feeling when you meet someone smarter than you, and can’t contribute to the conversation about the United Nations.
In such moments, it’s easy to let the ego out. It’s tempting to let it take control. You might even want to try to hide that feeling of discomfort.
But if we sit with it, acknowledge it, accept it, and even — gasp! — say that we feel nervous to the person next to us, maybe it can make all the difference.
What Creating Art Feels Like
The enemy of creativity is fear. The enemy of fear is creativity. — Seth Godin
I get nervous every time I write something new.
My heart starts beating fast, I get chills down my spine, and my throat becomes dry.
I get even more nervous whenever I do a podcast interview for a startup I work with. I might start saying cheesy things I usually regret later or look like a moron. (Not because I am a moron, but because I feel nervous at the moment.)
But whenever I notice such feelings, I try to remind myself: this is good.
This is how creating art is supposed to feel.
It’s my job — as an artist — to sit with that feeling.
It’s my job to nurture it, accept it, and to work through it.
It’s the price I pay for being allowed to do the work I do.
Entrepreneurs pay that price by taking on massive risk, while artists pay it by conquering their fear.
Recklessness is the absence of fear. Courage is the presence of fear by acting in the presence of it. In this way, art is a verb. It’s an act of courage.
On the contrary, whenever I don’t get palpitations, I am disappointed.
It means I am not taking enough risk.
And so I start over and do something new. Something that scares me to death.
First Fucking Times
People with big egos can’t afford to be vulnerable. And thus, they can’t create art.
The ego doesn’t want fear; it doesn’t want connection. It wants to be right and wants to blame others for its mistakes. It wants to be the boss.
We tend to glorify people with big egos — for example, Steve Jobs. But I am willing to bet that he became a successful artist (which he was) not because of his ego, but despite it.
To grow, learn, create art, and connect, you need to be willing to be in awkward situations. Again — it’s the price we pay for doing creative work.
The most awkward moments usually come in the beginning, when we start anything new.
The best advice I heard on conquering those first moments of fear was from Brene Brown.
She calls it First Fucking Times, or FFTs.
The goal is to not run away from fear — as most people do, masking it with false confidence — but to acknowledge it.
You should stop and tell yourself,
“Yes. This sucks. I am afraid. But then — it’s normal. It’s my first fucking time doing this, isn’t it?”.
And then remind yourself that everybody goes through this process.
Creating art, learning how to write, being vulnerable is like learning to walk. You learn to walk by walking, falling down, walking longer, falling down, then finally walking. Everybody falls in the beginning.
And yet, ambitious people (and I am one of them) have crazy expectations. We are terrible at it: we expect to start something new and become instantly successful.
We start Medium blogs and expect to have a $1,000 paycheck the next month. We launch a podcast and expect it to go viral.
Someone with a big ego wants it all and wants it now. All or nothing. And that’s how we set ourselves up for failure.
Because once our expectations aren’t met — and they can’t be — we quit.
People with big egos can’t afford to be vulnerable and just plain bad. They don’t have their FFTs, and so they don’t learn or create a connection.
I stepped out of the line to let the elderly pass and buy groceries before me. They are the vulnerable ones; they have to go first.
But when I am creating art, when I am writing or recording the podcast, it’s me who is the vulnerable one.
Sometimes it’s good not to wait for people to ask you, but say it upfront, “Hey guys, I am afraid this is going to go bad. I am vulnerable.”
Immediately, a connection occurs.
Because vulnerability is not just necessary for connection, it is a connection.
People with big egos can’t afford to look stupid, wrong, or bad at something. It’s important to keep that ego in check.
Unless you are vulnerable, you’re probably not creating anything worthwhile.