Nov 4, 2021

3 min read

Getting Prolific, Day 24: Creative Grief

What mistake have you still not forgiven yourself for?

Think about how many movies are centered around excessive grief.

It’s a common narrative. A character suffers the loss of a relationship, the death of a dream, or the end of a career, and they mourn all eternity. To the total neglect of all their other responsibilities.

And to such grand scale, that they become toxic to all those who surround them.

Now, this story will often open the door to powerful performances and emotive cinema. It sets up the character’s redemption arc in the third act.

The only trouble is, real life is not a movie. Our culture may normalize and romanticize the narrative of excessive mourning, but that doesn’t make it a healthy way to process our suffering.

Just because films depict all these brooding, unforgiving characters who make one mistake and then pay for it for the rest of their lives, doesn’t mean that we should do the same.

If we really want to be heroic, then we should learn how to accept fault, let go, forgive ourselves and move on. Feel our feelings, of course. But not allow one momentary lapse in judgment to create a lifetime of despair.

Usher, the award winning singer who has sold over a hundred million records and performed around the world for thirty years, had a brilliant insight about this issue from a musician’s perceptive. In his masterclass on the art of creative performance, he said this:

Don’t get into the habit of stopping your performance when you make a mistake. Even when your voice cracks, power your way through it. Forgive yourself. Because you don’t want to pay for that mistake every time you sing.

Isn’t that exactly what many of us do? We lose perspective and proportion for our actions. We demonize our mistakes and choices, giving them energy, creating unnecessary psychological fuel around these things we don’t even want in the first place.

Continuing the music illustration for a moment, think about one hit wonders. These artists discover lightning in a bottle. They compose a single piece of work that earns them a lifetime of mainstream popularity, financial reward and industry validation, solely based on that one momentary success.

Excessive grief is an inverted version of that. It’s like we’ve written this one shitty song, but then convince ourselves that we’re scarred for life because of it. Like it’s this badge of shame we have to wear until we die. But that’s not the case at all.

Look, when life hands us a steaming pile of shit, it’s important to grieve our losses. There are as many ways to deal with setbacks as there are people to have them. We just don’t want to take too long. We’ve got to get back up on our feet and focus on an alternate plan.

One tool that helps me keep perspective and proportion is to build a multiple choice test question for my experiences. It goes like this:

Is what just happened to me a minor inconvenience, temporary obstacle, major impediment, or outright catastrophe?

This labeling ritual allows me to give my experience its proper response, while not disproportionately grieving it into the ground. You might consider creating a tool like that for yourself. That way you’re not creating a lifetime of despair off of some momentary lapse in judgment.

What mistake have you still not forgiven yourself for?

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