If you do creative work of any kind you've approached the moment of truth many times.

Performance day. 

Months of work across multiple departments compress into a single shiny point, a captured spark inside a gleaming stone.

It's always the same, and it's always different. By the time something is finally ready to leave the workbench, creators knows every single pixel, every sound, every explanation and justification and reason and inspiration behind every molecular detail in what's about to be revealed. On small projects the coalesced energy presses gently, urging enthusiasm. But on big projects, the potential energy grows exponentially. The coming kinetic release threatens to break on the shore of the event like a tidal wave, like the San Andreas fault growling to tip Los Angeles into the hungry sea.

Oh, Sweet Experience! There's no better teacher for managing the rolling deck of the boat than having brought many, many of them in to shore before. But that doesn't mitigate the buzz. And make no mistake:  there's always a buzz.

Everything can go wrong. It's vastly challenging to predict every single eventuality you're likely to encounter on the day of a big show. No matter how much you like to think you leave nothing to chance, variables have a way of creeping in. Generally big performances do not happen in locations of your own choosing, or your own control. That's the biggest source of unexpected drama. You're also likely showing your work, whatever format it may be, to people who are not specialists in your field.  You're not showing to other painters, nor dancers, nor even caring school guidance counselors who will clap enthusiastically for every single kid who gets up at the spring talent show to belt out a song. In the real world, your audiences demand something that wows 'em (clip from Chicago?), that moves 'em, that makes 'em think their money was worth spending with you.  But caution: if you're thinking you might get away with a Music Man moment, think again. You're not going to engender warmth simply because your clients will see themselves immediately reflected in their so-very-wise commissions. You're going to need much more than that, and flim-flam gets you nowhere. You have to deliver the goods, and you know it.

The great pianist Vladimir Horowitz once said, "If I don't practice for a day, I know it. If I don't practice for two days, my wife knows it. If I don't practice for three days, the world knows it." I've always regarded this as a cautionary tale from a performance master. Coasting on talent and experience is never enough. Preparation and practice makes all the difference in the world, and there's no getting around it. And if…IF…you should be so lucky as to have generated a good idea to work with along the way, well, that never hurts either.

Assuming you're serious about your craft, there always comes a day when what you're working on needs to get seen. Whether you've been commissioned by a big corporate client or you're working on your magnum opus of a novel, there always comes a time. Practice and preparation will get you far; they're essential, and deadly serious. Yet real life is not a practice run. Like Han Solo said, "Going against the living? That's something else." Expect to be scrutinized, expect to be cross examined, expect to be dissected in a million different ways. You may have been working on this thing, whatever it is, for months, but to your audience, it only lives for the few minutes they get to experience it, and they don't really care about how hard it was to create. 

Everything can go wrong, perhaps. But everything can go right, too. Walk carefully but confidently. Answer questions, but don't defend positions. Own your creations, but be generous is sharing them. Because if you've been honest about the work all along, and it really is something of value, then you're big performance--and that's what it always is: a performance--will be the vehicle that helps convey your vision to eyes that do not know what to expect. It's through those eyes that you have a chance to reach someone else meaningfully. 

That's why this moment matters, because, as you know, the eyes are the gateway to the soul.


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    a weekly blog about creativity

    Faster than Light presents regular commentary about creativity, the world of ideas, and travels beyond the edge of known space. And yes, it gets cross posted on my production company's web site, too!


    December 2012

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