The answer to every question you never ask is “no”. You have to roll the dice. You have to put yourself in the game. Last night I finished a cross-disciplinary residency application in science, art, & technology here in New York City because it was time to fulfill a dream, to ask the question, “what more could I do?”
I’m thinking a lot about how stories we tell ourselves affect our paths. What we say are our strengths and weaknesses, gifts and shortcomings, triumphs and regrets. If we change our stories, we can change our minds. And if we change our minds, we change our hearts. And if we change our hearts, then we can change everything.
I went to a fantastic PEN America event on Sunday to close the PEN World Voices M Word series. These are my favorite words of wisdom from Hasan Minhaj and Wajahat Ali:
“Every artist needs to play offense. You’re not asking [gatekeepers] for permission. Ask for support. Decide that your work is happening with or without them.” ~Hasan Minhaj
“What advice do you have for artists?” ~Wajahat Ali
“1. Move to the city that has a community
2. Immerse yourself in the community
3. Rise and help others find their voice
4. When you succeed, don’t be an asshole” ~Hasan Minhaj
Here’s a lesson we should adopt from Olympic ice skaters: they receive more points for attempting a difficult jump and falling than they do from downgrading the jump to something easier and landing perfectly. Why isn’t that the norm in our entire society. Let’s reward and celebrate one another for daring greatly and failing rather than taking the easy path.
I saw this list over the weekend:
Know this: it is never too late to do what you love. We put a lot of pressure on ourselves to achieve all of our dreams at an increasingly younger age. We beat ourselves up because we aren’t a 30 Under 30 or a 40 Under 40. Here’s my advice: forget about your age. Stop tracking your life’s milestones against someone else’s.
Life is about the long game; it’s about being a little bit better version of yourself today than you were yesterday. That’s the greatest win of all. Your life could change at any moment, at any age. Do something you’re proud of doing. Celebrate your wins, learn from your losses, and most importantly, keep going. You’re going to find your way. You’re going to find what you’re meant to do, who you’re meant to be with, and where you’re meant to be. I can’t tell you when, but I can tell you that if you keep looking and trying new things, you will find your best life.
In Japan, “kintsugi” is an art form and method of mending. When a piece of pottery develops cracks, those cracks are filled with gold. The flaws aren’t hidden; they’re highlighted. We try so hard to give the illusion of perfection—in photos, in words, in life. What if we not only let our imperfections and flaws and mistakes and scars show, but we actually brought attention to them? What if we shouted them from the rooftops and claimed them as sources of strength and resilience and courage? What if we could celebrate them, in ourselves and in others? Imagine how much kinder and more productive we could be if we stopped being so afraid to try, and just decided to go for it without any concern of failure and success, only to embrace doing our best and learning every step of the way. What would you try first?
“The wait’s going to be at least an hour.”
That’s what one of the guides said to me at the Met when I inquired about the insanely long line to see the exhibit Michelangelo: Divine Draftsman and Designer. I almost left without seeing it. Almost. But then I remembered my commitment to say yes more often in 2018 (even though it was still 2017.)
So I wound my way through multiple gallery spaces and parked myself at the very end of the line. I knew it would be crowded; I doubted I would be able to get up close to the pieces. And that was okay with me. I just wanted to be in the presence of the work. So I waited. For about 10 minutes, not even close to an hour, and then I was there. The first part of the exhibit was crowded but I was able to get up close to the work in many of the galleries. Very close to it.
“Yes, I’ll stay in line” was the right answer.
Toward the end of the exhibit, I came to this placard. It’s short story hit me right in the gut. I audibly gasped. To give the illusion of perfection, to hide his process and his struggle in his work, Michelangelo burned many of his sketches. He wanted people to think his talent was effortless and god-given even though it was far from it.
Think of all that lost work. Think of everything we could have learned if he hadn’t been so concerned about the illusion of perfection.
I sat there in the middle of the exhibition and thought about how afraid we all are to show our stumbles and missteps, how we savor the performance and cringe at the endless practice it took to get there.
When I left the museum, I turned and looked back at the building in the cold, dark night. I was so glad and grateful to be able to come to this museum any time I want, to live in a city that build castles to creativity. And as I looked at the Met, I thought about how much art has changed my life. And how much effort, how much beautiful effort, it takes to be an artist of any kind.
What if we could all commit to being a little more authentic, to sharing when we’re lost and confused and unsure of how to proceed, to asking for help? What if we could be okay with admitting failure and defeat because accepting them while not being discouraged by their existence gives us resilience and confidence? Imagine what we could learn, what we could inspire, and what we could teach others in the process. I say, yes. Let’s.
Ask. For help. For a promotion. For a raise. For advice. For a date. The power of the ask can’t be underestimated. Hoping for better days and success is a fine thing to do though if we really want something to manifest, I only know one way to make it happen: we must put ourselves out there. Way out there. Pitch yourself to anyone and everyone whom you’d like to meet and know and work with. Find the win-win. Have confidence. Have faith that the more often you raise your voice, the more likely you are to find your tribe.
What if we could think about life from a place of abundance instead of a place of scarcity? What if we could see not getting what we want as a way of making room for something even better?
When I was first looking for a new apartment, I was approaching the process from a place of lack—time was running out on my existing lease, the vacancy rate in New York City is very low, and I was sad and disappointed about being priced out of my old neighborhood.
I was sulking around that old neighborhood on my trip there, feeling so at home and wishing that something there would work out with little hope of that happening. And then after a bit more searching, it materialized. From there, everything else fell into place as long as I kept working to make it so.
Working hard and having a positive mindset is a magical combination. We need both, not just one or the other. My luck turned around once I decided to not be discouraged. Instead I decided that whenever something difficult happened, I’d double down and figure out the next best plan.
As I make this next transition, I will try to hang onto that lesson. It’s tough to do in the moment, but I will make sure to post reminders around my new home so that every day I’ll be reminded to keep my head high, my eyes focused forward, and my sleeves rolled up.
Exactly two months ago, I decided to try to make ACanofCoke.com, my online college- and career-readiness service, a reality. This week I scheduled meetings with 3 NYC public high school principals to talk about doing a pilot with their students this summer and fall. It took emailing 398 principals to get this response. Hey if it’s a numbers game, then I’m ready to play.
The mission of this idea matters so much to me that I’m not bothered by the rejection. I could look at this as ~1% of the schools I emailed are interested or I could see it as ~99% aren’t. I’m going with the former.
Rejection is a part of business, art, and life. We will be rejected far more often than we are accepted – at least that’s been my experience and the experience of just about everyone I know. It’s not the amount of failure we endure, but the persistence and passion that matter most. As Babe Ruth once said, “It’s tough to beat someone who never gives up.” Keep going.