Thursday, December 10, 2015

Audacity and Integrity

Have you ever thought about what makes the difference between talented people who find fame and/or fortune and those whose talents go unnoticed by everyone except their closest friends and family? I have. As a writer and quasi-visual artist, there have been many times when I’ve seen someone else’s work and thought ‘I could do that,” or ‘That’s really not very good writing, how did it get published?’ As I’ve thought about this over the years, I’ve identified a few things that may make the difference. As you read through these, please keep in mind that though I refer to artists and writers, I am also thinking of anyone in any field where they find their happiness and purpose.

Right Place, Right Time

Of course, one of the situations that can make one person or group famous or even rich is that they are in the right place at the right time. Sometimes, this happens by birth, right? Born into fortune, in a time when they are able to take advantage of it. It could be that they create something and reveal it to the world in just the right place and time that it is discovered by someone who can help the artist take it to the top. I don’t think this actually happens as often as we’d like to think, though it is a sort of American fairy tale.

It’s Who You Know

This is another kind of American fairy tale. If a person is lucky, they can emerge from their education and move into their dream job because their dad, mom, uncle, aunt, sister, cousin, or family friend is in the business. Or, they networked and met the right connection to take them into the field without the struggle most people go through. This kind of thing can happen in the arts and even sports as well. For instance, a talented skateboarder could gain fame and an advertising contract because they have a relative in a band that plays festivals.  It’s not a bad way to get started, but not all of us are lucky enough to be born into a family of moguls.

Audacity

Personally, I think the main difference between those talented people who “hit it big” and those who quietly go through life creating, wishing they could make a living doing what they love, is audacity. It’s audacious to take a creation of one’s own, put it out into the world, and call it art. It’s audacious to choose the struggle for success that artists undergo while trying to make a living. It’s audacious to create something from the heart and expose it to the critique of experts and the public. Of course, audacity alone isn’t enough. While audacity can overcome lack of connections, education, and even talent, audacity by itself can often create pretentiousness and pridefulness. Audacity with connections and wealth can create monsters. One need only look at current political “hopefuls” to see what audacity and wealth can do. So, audacity alone may be enough to bring an artist fame and fortune. Audacity and wealth might bring fame or it might bring notoriety. It all depends, I think, upon another quality, one that I believe is integral to being a true artist. Integrity.

Integrity

According to Merriam Webster, the first definition of integrity is “firm adherence to a code of especially moral or artistic values -- incorruptibility.” My off-the-cuff definition is that a person of integrity is honest and compassionate. Integrity alone is a wonderful quality, in my opinion. I’ve been fortunate to know a lot of good people of integrity. I wish I could say that I’ve always been a person of integrity myself, but I know better. I suspect that there are few of us who have been. Integrity can be cultivated, however. I’ve been working on this for awhile. I hope that when people remember me one day, they think of me as a person of integrity. One cannot erase past errors, of course. All one can do is move forward, and learn to be the kind of person they really want to be.

A person of integrity is honest on the job, with others in their field, and at home. They are considerate of others, because a person of integrity is also kind. A person of integrity is the kind of person that others can count on to support them in some way, if possible. A person of integrity will also be honest when they cannot do something for others. In this way, they don’t let others down by not showing up when they’re expected. 

Integrity is a quality that I think everyone should develop. However, for the artist, integrity alone is unlikely to bring success, at least during their lifetime. Emily Dickinson seems to have been a person of integrity and was certainly one of talent. Yet her works were not published in their intended form until after her death. Most were found in notebooks kept away from the eyes of others. It’s difficult to say if things could have been different. Perhaps if she had insisted on publication without the editorial changes, if she had been part of the community rather than shut-in caring for her mother, she might have gained more attention during her lifetime. It takes some audacity to bring the one’s works to the attention of others.

Integrity and Audacity

When people of integrity are both talented and audacious, the world is given a gift. I love it when good people get the attention they deserve. I remember back in my rock-n-roll days, my friend and partner in the pursuit of the dream were ecstatic when a band whose members were nice got a crack at fame. You see, there were always those who acted as though they were special, who expected to be treated like gods, and insisted that they were going to be the next big thing at the expense of others. They were audacious. They did not have integrity. Some of them did make the big stage. Their audacity got them noticed by the right person, at the right time. Then, there were those who worked hard, played well, were nice to others, and never got a contract.

Neither pridefulness nor false humility brings positive attention to the artist; nor does audacity or integrity by themselves. However, if the talented, creative person also has the combination of audacity and integrity, the attention their work garners can only bring good into the world. The works, whether they be visual art, spoken word, film, crafts, or even the kind of work everyone does on a day to day basis, are gifts in themselves. However, when these gifts are shared with the world with integrity, the gift is of a value much greater than it is alone.

Bring It!

The lesson in this for the artist, for the retail or food service worker, for the secretary, for the manager, or even for the pastor, is that our work will be noticed in a positive way if we have the audacity to be different while maintaining our integrity. It is not to be prideful – humility, which is an important value in itself – need not be lost when we become more audacious in our dealings in the world. There is no need to fear being different, being a little bit loud and proud of what we give the world. To be proud of who we are and what we have to share is not the same as being prideful, either. To be prideful is to assume that we are the unique creator of our gifts, to take credit for who we are without acknowledging the true giver or others who help us become who we are, and to insist that we are the only one who can do what we do. To be proud of the talents we have been given is to honor the Giver of the gifts and those who have been with us throughout our journey.

To have audacity is have the “guts” to bring our talents to the attention of the world in our own unique way. Amanda Palmer is a great example of how audacity can bring our art to the attention of those we want to reach. In her book, The Art of Asking, she reveals her secrets to self-made success without fear. You can hear a bit about it in her TED talk with the same title. To do what we love with integrity is to listen to the guidance of the Spirit that leads us, to give thanks for our talents, to give thanks for those who notice and share the gifts we have brought to them, and to be honest in all our dealings with those others.

What’s That? You’re an Introvert? Don’t Let That Stop You!

Just as integrity can be cultivated, so can audacity. It’s difficult to change, but it can be done with a bit of self-reflection and a little help from your friends. We’re lucky. We live in an age when we can do a lot of things online without ever getting face-to-face with other people. However, it’s better if we do interact with others once in awhile. Writers and artists should get together once in awhile to support each other and find places to share their works with the public

Of course, this means getting involved in public readings, art festivals and shows, events of that sort. Writers and artists should find or start groups to share, critique, and support one another. These can be gatherings of friends or people you meet on Facebook. Groups can be found through websites like Meetup.com. People in business should get together in service groups that do good in the world but also bring them together for networking, like Kiwanis or Rotary. They can even have small interpersonal support groups, such as a Master-Mind group (My friends and I call ours a "Divine Mind" group, and have adjusted the liturgy to accommodate the change). It can also mean learning ways to shore oneself up for the actual event. I recently saw another excellent TED talk by Amy Cuddy about how our body language can actually help us change ourselves. Even if we don’t believe we are “Super,” we can “fake it ‘til we make it.”

Whatever we do, be it art, music, customer service, architecture, design, cooking, food service, crocheting, modeling…whatever we love…we can do it better if we do it with both audacity and integrity. If we live it with pride and purpose, we can do what we love, and let others know about it.

It’s your life. Create it. Live it. Love it.

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