My husband emailed a link to a Ted talk. I grabbed my tea, folded my legs in my chair and clicked the link. Reshma Saujani, founder of Girls Who Code, spoke about teaching our girls bravery, not perfection.
Towards the end of the talk she said something oddly powerful. I suddenly realized she was talking about me.
“When the guys are struggling with an assignment they’ll come in and say, “Professor, there’s something wrong with my code.” The girls will come in and say, “Professor, there’s something wrong with me.””
My husband is a Computer Scientist. He spends his days developing programs and writing code. I’ve seen him sail along, keys clicking as he smoothly creates the inner workings of a program. And I’ve seen, and heard, him struggle through broken code and bug fixes, occasionally cursing the code as he works and reworks, trying different approaches and pushing his technical expertise.
I thought about my work, the programs that I offer. They are health-related, mostly meditation and yoga-based. I thought about how personally I take my work, about how, when I can’t help a client or when a program isn’t well-received, something must be wrong with me. I’ve even, on occasion, thought I should stop offering programs altogether.
Likewise, with my writing. After multiple rejections – from agents, publishers, magazines – it’s easy to think “There’s something wrong with me” and stop writing.
And I thought again about my husband. He doesn’t fix himself when his program isn’t working. He doesn’t consider himself a failure and stop writing code. He fixes the code. He adjusts the program; often over and over and over again. He taps his resources and fixes the code.
One of my teachers, Dr. Jean Houston, speaks about the muse. In ancient Greece good art wasn’t about the artist but about the muse. If your art was mediocre, you were thought to have a mediocre muse.
It wasn’t about fixing you as the artist, you had little to do with your art, it was about finding a more inspiring muse. Likewise, a great artist wasn’t considered a greater person. They simply enjoyed a great muse. You see, you get neither credit for the success nor fault for the failure. Your art, your work, has little to do with you as a person.
And then the narcissism is removed and we just get to work: creating, serving, painting, writing, coding, tapping resources, pushing boundaries, relaxing into inspiration.
Today we consider the person either artistic or not, successful or not, talented or not, creative or not. “What’s wrong with me?” And the narcissist replaces the muse, unable to distinguish the work or the art from the person.
And that’s too heavy of a burden to be teaching our children or carrying ourselves. If it’s not popular or well-received, it must not be good.
This is not right-thinking. Often great art was not fully appreciated until after the death of the artist. Even some of Einstein’s theories are only gaining full recognition and application today.
And our children grow up wanting their own YouTube channels so they can collect views, as if this number has anything to do with who they are as people.
I began to look at my work and my writing like my husband’s code. If they aren’t working, I need to fix them. I need to consider available resources along with new perspectives, new approaches and fresh inspiration.
I need a better muse.
I also need to consider the muse I have. When my work and my writing feel gratifying and satisfying, perhaps it doesn’t matter how well-received they are. Maybe the muse plays only for me.
Sometimes the muse you have is the one you need. Sometimes you need to invite a new one. And sometimes you have to bang away at the keys and fail a few more times until you break through.
But it’s not about you. It’s not about fixing you. There’s nothing wrong with you.