A few weeks ago, I was in the middle of a call with a client, an artist I’m coaching. When? Well, we talked about the project he was doing, which is a project, by the way, that he’d been dying to do for three or four years. We finally created the time we got some money involved. And he was able to put this project together. And what he said to me in the conversation, he said I know that it’s good. I just wished that it was great. So we dove into that. But what’s the difference between this being good and being great, and the more he talks, the more he self-identified with that tension. In fact, at some point, he said, I know that as an artist, I’m just good. But I wish I was great. Which then begs another series of questions. And it’s led to this reflection, and we’ve talked three or four times since then. So we’ve talked about these things. And this reflection comes from those conversations, that in every facet of his career, he will look at what he was looking at, what was in front of him, and what he was able to bring to the table, and he could identify that it was good. And he wanted more, that the songs are good. He just wishes they were better, and he thinks he’ll probably get this many streams. He wished that he would get more and that he would sell this many vinyls, but he wished that he could sell more. And in every facet of his professional life, he was happy that he had achieved what he achieved, that it was good. And he wished there was more. Now, I don’t disparage that kind of thinking, and I think I want to be better. And to grow is fantastic. The problem I started to identify was with the word greatness. I think it was in that conversation, and oftentimes, it is a kind of distraction that instead of saying this is where I am, and I want to take steps from here forward. greatness in the conversation I was having with him was this image somewhere out there, always just beyond his reach, that he was striving towards. He wasn’t working from what was true and good about him into a potentially joyful future. He was working away from what was true and good and established in him towards some other thing. Greatness oftentimes can be a terrible distraction from what is. And oftentimes, it’s actually rooted in the same system of metrics that steals the joy of our actual processes. In other words, instead of saying, This feels good, this is good. I’m taking joy in this. And I want there to be more of what I have because it is good. Greatness inserts itself as this mist, as this idea, this disembodied image four steps beyond where I am, and says, it’s not enough for you to be as you are. You shouldn’t be happy, you shouldn’t be satisfied, you shouldn’t take true joy, it isn’t actually good. And it won’t be until you get here. The problem with that, if you’ve been in the cycle before, is that you can work and get to that point, that next step that used to be four steps away. And then once you’re there, greatness, quote, unquote, greatness, this image, this misses out there somewhere, the idea will still reinsert itself and say, well, that’s fine that you’ve come this far, but you shouldn’t be happy. You shouldn’t take joy. It’s not good enough. You need to have more. Another way to talk about the way greatness steals joy is the way we enjoy our sports or our music, that you can say, hey, this is my favorite band. And then, as soon as we’ve talked about our favorite bands, we often move into this conversation about the greatest band in that genre, that it’s not enough for this person to be good at what they do. They’re not the greatest. And if they’re not the greatest in this genre, then you like what they do is a kind of compromise. It’s fine that you like this artist, but you really should like this artist. That’s what’s best: greatness as an idea steals the joy of what makes art, actually art. Greatness can steal the human joy of the process of creation. I think there’s something magical to the way of the very beginning of the Hebrew Scriptures. When God creates a thing, God will say that it’s good, and then at the end of this whole long process of creating, Shouldn’t what God doesn’t say is okay? Now we’ve done all this good, we’ve gotten to great what God says is instead, as the writer has said, this is very good, not great, very good, more of the goodness that was already. The way I read that is that the value of creation itself is rooted in God’s pleasure and joy rather than in what creation can or will achieve. It’s not about what comes next. It’s about how much pleasure and joy God takes God took in the act of the process of creation. The conversations we oftentimes have centered on the word greatness, steal the human joy, of the act of becoming, and the work of making the steal the joy of art and humanity. In athletics. It’s not enough, says greatness, to begin at six years old, and to achieve and to grow, and to get better and to get to college and to get that scholarship and then maybe even get drafted and play in the NBA and be a point guard in the NBA if you’re not the greatest. Again, I’ll go back to a few weeks ago when I talked about Stefan Curry. And this conversation that’s now happening, and I even played into it when I did the podcast, and maybe I’m experiencing a bit of regret that watching Stefan Curry play basketball is a joyous, incredible thing to do. He’s amazing what he’s so good at what he does. And because he’s as good as he is at what he does, his career gets entered into this media-driven conversation about who the greatest point guard in human history is. was that Isaiah Thomas, or was it Magic Johnson? Or is it Stefan Curry? And it’s almost as if, if we can’t solve that problem, we can’t really rightly enjoy this person’s career as he’s going about it. And that’s just so tragic. We do the same thing with musicians. We do the same thing with painters. We do the same thing with friends. Hell, we do it with authors, we do it with spiritual guides, we do it with churches, this disembodied mist of an idea that we call greatness, this kind of perfection of the thing steals the joy of having what we have in front of us, and knowing what it is and celebrating it as it is. Which is to say, learning to actually enjoy the goodness of my life might mean abandoning the pursuit or the idea of greatness. It might mean regularly dissociating myself from systems that want to always measure one thing against the other instead of simply enjoying the thing in front of us. This is why I regularly suggest, for artists specifically, a kind of combination of spiritual practices of rest. In the examination, rest provides space, space between things, but also space for my soul to catch up with itself. And in that space, practicing the examination, intentionally look back over the days that I just lived and asked my soul the question, Where was it good? As I have personally practiced this combination of rest and the examination, I have just had less of an association with an obsession with some disembodied, distant goal towards which I’m working. Instead, I’ve been able to look at the goodness of the life I’m living and just want more of what it is. I actually have already.
Links For Justin:
NEW Single – Let Go
NEW Music – Sliver of Hope
NEW Music – The Dood and The Bird