Last week I attended an Arts and Letters Live presentation given by Jonah Lehrer at the Dallas Museum of Art. In his lecture, and in his new book, “Imagine: How Creativity Works,” he addresses some strikingly interesting ideas about creativity. Although his stature is diminutive, his ideas are not. He has degrees in neuroscience, literature and philosophy. One of the main themes he expanded on was the psychological trait called Grit. Lehrer said, “Great artists are great workers. They revise and re-do. They spend hours of merciless refinement on their projects. They are stubborn and single minded. They are persistent. They refuse to quit. They practice and practice, over and over. They are in it for the long haul.”
If you’ve ever read the book or seen either of the film adaptations of True Grit you’ll remember that young Mattie Ross selects Marshal Rooster Cogburn to help her track down the killer of her father. She chooses Cogburn even though he’s one-eyed, overweight and aging because she is convinced of his “grit” or fortitude. As the story unfolds, the audience witnesses Mattie’s tenacity as well, as she is bound and determined to accompany Cogburn to the bitter end.
It’s undetermined if Grit can be taught but by exposing yourself to a variety of different activities and notions you can assess if you have an interest in that thing or not. Be curious. Be brave and try new things. Don’t be afraid to fail. If you find something you love doing, then you won’t see doing it as work. Lehrer says, “Choose easy. Work hard.” What do you naturally like to do? What are you curious about?
Lehrer explained that there is new software being developed that can sift through your resume and determine levels of Grit. A big part of success is persistence but organization and plain, ‘ol simple table manners can go a long way too. My successful career in graphic design wasn’t, necessarily, because I was so terribly talented in design and typography. I believe the reason I was asked to work on big projects was ultimately because I was dependable and would not give up until I got it right. I set high goals for myself and found ways to problem solve. I had good manners. I respected my authority figures. I was punctual. Yeah, my design wasn’t bad, but the jobs kept coming my way mostly because I only promised what I knew I could deliver. My clients could trust me.
Becoming successful in any creative activity involves criticism and debate about what you’re thinking or what you’ve made. It is very important in the creative process to realize that the product you make is not you. You and the object are separate. Be grateful for any negative comments you receive so that you can make it better! Be thankful for critique! Seek honest critique and then be prepared to take it. In fact, ask for it. Lehrer reminded the audience, “If you’re at the cutting edge, you’re going to bleed.” It is best to fail as soon as possible so the problems can be fixed and you can be on your way to success sooner! Be willing to fail and even more importantly, like a former pastor of mine used to say, “Be willing to be willing.”
Where has your determination and Grit taken you? I look forward to your comments!