Elizabeth Gilbert, author of the literary phenomenon Eat, Pray, Love, provided some insight in her presentation at TED on “the pressure that’s been killing off our artists for the past 500 years” (and threatening her mental well being as well), summed up in the question… “My greatest work is behind me. How do I continue?”
As is well known in the music industry and carried over in many other genres, creatives hit their peak in their younger years, rarely being able to match the euphoria of the success they’ve achieved since. As a result, many take to artificial means to recapture that high. Gilbert states, “Creative people across all genres have this reputation for being enormously mentally unstable. All you have to do is look at the very grim death count in the 20th century alone of magnificent creative minds who died young and often at their own hands… and even the ones who didn’t literally commit suicide seem to be really undone by their gifts. We’ve completely internalized and accepted collectively this notion that creativity and suffering are somehow inherently linked, and artistry in the end, ultimately will always lead to anguish.”
She acknowledges this and asks, “Are we creatives OK with this?” Her answer… In ancient Greece and Rome, people were known to have creative geniuses that resided anywhere from inside the walls of buildings to the ethereal, that decided to provide artists with the stroke of brilliance that led to their success at their own whim and leisure. All a person could do was consistently work on their part, nothing more, nothing less. As Gilbert put it in dealing with the pressure of topping her best-selling book, “In my pits of despair, I would talk to the open air, and say, ‘Listen you, thing, you and I both know, that if this book isn’t brilliant, it isn’t my fault, then you need to show up and do your part of the deal. I showed up for my part of the job.'”
Here’s the lesson as far as I see it. If you’ve already been blessed with a visit by a creative genius, don’t spend the rest of your life trying to top yourself. Get yourself out there and be a creative genius for others (crowdsourcing environments are ideal for this) and you won’t have to relive those highs artificially.