We’re often told: Do what you love.
Our friends, teachers and whoever else cares about us says it. Self-help authors say it. On good days, we say it to ourselves.
It’s a truth nugget. But it’s triply booby-trapped to explode in our hands.
Trap #1: We with low self-esteem often have “wantorexia”: a belief that we don’t desire (much less love) anything at all. This mental myth springs from depression and from being told too often that our stated desires are absurd, untrue and/or unmerited. How, now, to find what we love, much less embrace it, when we can barely summon enough self-belief to just like anything?
Trap #2: If we can someday reach that clear pure life-affirming place of knowing what we love, then how much courage, confidence and luck must we muster to seize it, be it, do it?
Trap #3: What if we find what we love, then do it—double miracle!—only to find that certain aspects of it trigger our self-loathing all over again? For instance, what if you realized that you love learning—but a classroom setting spurs you to compare yourself compulsively to others and always deem yourself worse?
I’m wrestling with the triple booby trap right now, myself. Here’s how:
Few states of mind are farther apart than pure art and self-promotion.
Art is a heart-and-soul immersion, seeking truth while plumbing the unconscious in a diving bell—whether it manifests as Birdman, flowerbeds, a birthday cake or Guernica.
By contrast, self-promotion equals salesmanship: a skill requiring knowledge of unconscious impulses—who will buy what?—but played out on the surface, typically evading truth.
Matters get complicated if the merchandise in question is ourselves. What if we love creating art, and love our artworks, but don’t love ourselves? Hollering “Look at meeee!” is standard for the selfie crowd, but makes us feel like rude boors, prancing oafs, PR shills, used-car salesmen. Self-promotion devours precious energy and time. We wish our works would find fans based on their sheer merit. To us, tweeting feels like cheating.
But: Gone are the days of industry-financed book tours, billboards and ad campaigns once standard for personae less famous than Lena Dunham. Writers, actors, musicians and all other creative types are now expected to find their own audiences , generally via social media. Having something to sell and never tweeting it is career-suicide insanity.
Recently, while depressed, I remembered that I once loved cartooning. As if emerging from a nightmare, I cartooned again . Some of my strips appeared online. But without self-promotion, I knew hardly anyone would see them. The trouble with art, for artists with low self-esteem, is that art exists not in a vacuum but for an audience—to move, thrill, entertain.
I tweet-tweet-tweeted. Emailed almost everyone I’d ever met. This process nauseated me. Few responded. Humiliation Station. I pictured recipients reacting as did a coworker, long ago, when I said Today’s my birthday : Shrugging, she muttered: “So?”
You might say I’m self-promoting here, hijacking one platform to hype another. I know! And it nauseates me.
We can’t let nausea win and plunge us back into wantorexia.
Once you find what you love, rejoice. Then accept that it might be booby-trapped. Identify its traps. Then handle (or, if you’re able, dismantle) these with care and self-compassion. Recognize them as somewhat required evils, mere means to an end. Engage them only as much as you can bear.
It’s OK to hate them.