I just picked up my new passport at the embassy (who knows, maybe traveling will be a thing again one day). The gentleman behind glass assured me, after I had expressed indignation about my own picture, that it was better to have a nice face but a horrible passport photo than to have a nice passport photo but a horrible face. He must have seen it all.
While walking back home along a leaf-covered boulevard, I pull my new and old papers out of my bag and compare horrible photos. 2020-me looks a liiiiittle tired and needs to get back home asap to feed offspring. The moment the picture was taken she didn’t know yet how weird 2020 would actually turn.
10 years younger 2010-me looks pretty fresh in comparison. She has barely arrived in Paris and tries to find her way. She works hard on learning French and behaving Parisian (both is equally exhausting and, trust me, only one even desirable). She writes short stories and works on a novel, but will soon think they aren’t original, special and spectacular enough, and quit writing. She’ll get herself a real job. In advertisement. (I know.)
If there was one thing you could tell your 2010-you, what would it be?
If there was one thing I could tell mine who sits there in a tiny apartment without view, trying to be original despite the fact that everything has already been said, it would probably be:
“Quit, sweetheart, quit. Not writing. Quit trying to be original. Take a break from wanting to be special. Be unafraid of repeating what others have said a million times before you. After all, don’t make your art so much about you.”
In 2010 I thought art was about coming up with stuff and about being smarter, faster, greater than others. But I think differently today. I think art isn’t meant to be about competing – only the art industry is. Art itself is about caring and cultivating – the true, the good and the beautiful. And caring and cultivating doesn’t come so much from being original, but from repeating what is of value.
Art itself is about caring.
We don’t brush our teeth just once because it has been done already and it’s too bad we can’t come up with it anymore. We brush them every single day because that’s how we care for our teeth. We don’t say “I love you” to the person we love only once and then it’s done. We say it an infinite number of times because that’s how we keep that love alive. Repeating the true, the good and the beautiful over and over again is how we care for healthy teeth, healthy relationships, and it’s also how we care for a healthy world.
Perhaps 2010-me wouldn’t have been convinced by that. She looked for outside-approval and believed that higher, faster, smarter, more original is how we ‘make’ it and justify our place in the world. She needed to feel the emptiness of that endeavor first, and then find her way into a more meaningful definition of success.
Don’t be afraid to repeat the truth.
2020-me knows that our place in the world is justified from the moment we take our first breath. It’s justified before we have achieved a single thing. 2020-me is much less about outside approval and much more about inside approval. What do I declare the motivation for my every contribution? Guess what: It’s not about higher, faster, smarter, more original. It’s about contributing to the world I want to live in.
If you are struggling to come up with new stuff that the world hasn’t seen, I dare you to keep trying. But never ever stop speaking, painting, playing singing, dancing, breathing your truth and sharing it because it has already been done in similar ways. Don’t make your art too much about you. Make it about us. We need to feel love, see beauty, have compassion, hear wisdom, lose ourselves in music, smile about silly jokes, be inspired by the tiniest acts of care again and again and again. Don’t be afraid to repeat the truth. We need to hear it over and over again.
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Image: Maria Orlova // Unsplash