Don’t put your identity in what you create
I believe in a Creator. A lot of people of various faiths and backgrounds do. I am of the Judeo-Christian tradition in that I believe that humans were created in the image of the Creator.
That doesn’t mean that God has a body with 10 fingers and 10 toes, but this “image” can be thought of as one of make-up or overarching disposition. Specifically, one way we bear God’s image is we yearn to create.
Humans create. We build things. We develop tools. We construct buildings. We write music. We write poetry. We knit. We cook. We run races. We create and give awards. We celebrate accomplishments—creating memorials and days of remembrance.
And this is all well and wonderful. But you will notice a subtle change when actually examining artists, musicians and artisans as they create. Human creators, when speaking about their work, are often tortured souls. There is a tension and sense of sacrifice when an artist gives birth to a creation—and even that analogy—giving birth—brings up images of pain and blood in the ushering in of new life into the world.
Sometimes, when listening to artists as they describe their projects, I’ll hear phrases like, “I poured my soul into it” or “I gave it everything I had.”
Is this healthy? Should we creators feel so connected to what we create?
I’m not saying there should be no connection, but perhaps less? Naturally, God feels some connection to his creation—he gave his son at great sacrifice to reconcile it and loves us immeasurably. That’s another topic entirely. But have you ever considered that God is not defined by his creation? Love it as he may (and does), God’s identity is not bound to creation. When creation succeeds or fails in terms of expressing the larger good, God is still God, regardless. Our acceptance or rejection of him doesn’t make him lose sleep. Our failure to treat others with justice and compassion doesn’t make him less just or compassionate.
So, as amateur creators (amateur in compared to the Almighty), should we, as we create, feel as connected to our work as we often do? As I write this blog, or work on a novel, or pen an essay…should I allow myself to feel such elation or utter defeat when it is praised or denounced in public reception?
Because, let me tell you, one of the hardest things I had to do as a teacher of journalism was to instill in my students the idea that my rejection of their stories was not a rejection of their person. I can’t tell you how many times I saw students deflated and beaten down when I had to tear apart their work. I did it out of love—an editor who needed to correct the grammar and structure of a burgeoning writer’s first steps. Correcting spelling and grammar was necessary for success in their careers. However, it was very surprising how personally most of my students took my criticism.
They put too much of their identity in their work. They lived and died by the praise or criticism of their teacher. And I don’t think that’s healthy. That’s my point. I don’t think it’s good that we “pour our soul” into things or “lose ourselves” in things. It’s too much. What we make doesn’t define who we are.
As a journalist, I had to develop thick skin. Editors hated my work. Readers hated my work. Hell, I was called and cursed out by dozens of parents of high-school athletes, commanders of misquoted units, organizers of misrepresented events. On and on, there seems no end to the vitriol in responses to stories I’ve written. At a certain point, I had to distance myself from the things I created. So much so, that now when I run into rejection, be it romantic, social or professional, I’m much faster in my recovery, because I try to cultivate a distance between what I make and who I am.
I think that creation is sacred. I believe that when we create, be it a love letter for our significant other, a house as a part of our job, or a blog post—I believe any of those things are ways we express our being made in the image of God. I believe it’s really awesome when we make stuff and when we can join together in celebrating others when they make stuff.
But, I think we should be careful to not tie ourselves to our creations overmuch. What we create shouldn’t define our identity. And in keeping that distance, we actually liberate ourselves to create more freely, more naturally, more consistently.
And it’s a good thing, because if this first book I’m writing ends up terrible, I need to feel good about myself, afterwards!