Even though my last post was over a month ago, I'm still thinking about the ideas of Brene Brown. I wrote my last post after watching her TED talk. I have since read her book, The Gifts of Imperfection, and found it interesting, inspiring, and liberating. In particular, I want to write a bit on my reaction to the chapter "Cultivating Play and Rest - Letting go of exhaustion as a status symbol and productivity as self worth."
Lately I've been thinking a lot about the tricky phenomena of identity and the snags it can lead to. For example, when I first started playing bass (at the innocent age of 16), I spent many hours a week practicing and jamming, all relatively free from worries about how good I was or how I compared to others. Then in 2000 I started studying music full time, and I rapidly developed some intense anxieties around these subjects. I think some of this came from a shift in my identity - I started to think of myself not just as "someone who played music", but as a "real" musician. The attitude was "This is my profession. I have to be good at this. I can't just fool around anymore." Now, ten years later, I've experienced a similar shift in thinking of myself as a "real" composer. The problem is that "just fooling around" - i.e. playing - is essential to the creative process. Dr. Brown quotes another researcher, Dr. Stuart Brown, in her chapter:
"'The opposite of play is not work - the opposite of play is depression.' He explains, 'Respecting our biologically programmed need for play can transform work. It can bring back excitement and newness to our job. Play helps us deal with difficulties, provides a sense of expansiveness, promotes mastery of our craft, and is an essential part of the creative process. Most important, true play that comes from our own inner needs and desires is the only path to finding lasting joy and satisfaction in our work. In the long run, work does not work without play.'"Not every idea I think of when I'm trying to compose is going to seem like solid gold right away. But I've noticed that if I just allow myself to fool around with ideas, then often ideas I thought were bad will lead to good ones - although often in ways I didn't expect at first. If I insist that every idea that comes out of me holds up to my idea of a "professional composer", then I have a sure-fire recipe for writers block.
I now have a sticky-note on my computer monitor that says "PLAY" in large friendly letters, with a happy face underneath it. I think it is helping a bit!
Have you experienced anxieties related to your identity? How did that effect you? How did you deal with that? Can you think of other ways that rest and play can (paradoxically?) help us do more and better "work"? How do you balance your need for rest with your ambitions?
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