Against the odds, beautiful trees and flowers can flourish in the desert. Life finds a way, even in the harshest circumstances. So can you.
What drives you? Beneath it all, what is the fundamental driving force that you feel is most responsible for getting you to where you are right now? What keeps you going on this path?
If you are entirely honest with yourself, the answer may not be a pleasant one. Not everyone is driven by something that they view with fondness. Circumstance, upbringing and experience can teach harsh lessons. What drives you might be something that you can’t stand about yourself, something you want to get away from.
You might not have any choice about your circumstances (whether these are to do with the world within you, the outside world, or a mix of both). But you do have a choice as to whether and how you try to make your peace with them, how you learn to live with them.
Hand in hand
I’ve been thinking a lot about this after listening to Katey Sagal’s recent appearance on Marc Maron’s WTF podcast. This conversation – ostensibly part of the publicity round for Sagal’s new show Rebel – takes a wonderful and unexpected turn almost immediately. Within moments, Maron and Sagal seem to recognise one another as kindred spirits, twin souls whose outlook on life chimes on all levels. This includes their clear-eyed awareness and bold acceptance of the demons that drive them, shaping their thoughts and dictating their path. For me, this is podcasting at its most magical. The medium of podcasting seems unrivalled for creating a space to enable and to share this kind of profoundly honest dialogue.
These two souls are both frank about their demons. They look back on the decades that have brought each of them to this moment. It is remarkable to hear Sagal and Maron talk with such brutal honesty about their mutual experiences of alcoholism, body dysmorphia and self-loathing. Each of them has had to find a way to live with these demons. There is a cruel paradox at play here. Each feels that they thrive in spite of but also because of these demons.
I love their exchange on how creativity and achievement can be tightly bound in with the negative forces that drive you:
KS: It all kind of goes hand in hand.
MM: It’s something I can’t understand. The self-loathing thing, and how that becomes an engine. I don’t quite understand. And I don’t like when people think that you do it on purpose. ‘Cos it’s like – why would anyone do that? Why would anyone nurture that? Believe me, I do not want to be like this.
KS: No. I mean, it’s like trying to turn your head off. It’s like… I don’t want to think this much.
“Believe me, I do not want to be like this.” These words are simple and powerful. They say so much about how a person’s path through their life and career might be shaped and propelled by forces they personally find tormenting and destructive. The mind that is always on might help you garner some measure of success in this world. But just sometimes it might also be nice if it would give it a rest – especially in the wee small hours when sleep is a longed-for luxury. “I don’t want to think this much.”
This reminds me of a moment from Stephen Fry’s The Secret Life of the Manic Depressive documentary. Fry feels that his creativity and much of his character is so closely intertwined with his manic depression that he would not rid himself of the condition if he had the choice.
You can learn to live with your demons. It is not guaranteed that this will happen. But it is possible. You might find ways to contain them, harness them or learn from them. You might find ways to turn that negative energy into a more positive fuel for life. You might even be able to make peace with those demons. You can still grow things – unexpected, miraculous things – from the most unlikely ground.
Against the odds, beautiful trees and flowers can flourish in the desert. Life finds a way, even in the harshest circumstances.
What drives you?