Friday, April 23, 2010

John Adams and the Curse of Non-Enoughness

Anyone who knows me fairly well will be unsurprised to find out that I have a historical crush on John Adams. It started when I first saw 1776 in middle school, but my general philosophy is "anyone who can keep the love of someone as amazing as Abigail Adams had to be a pretty neat guy."

One of the things that I like about Adams is that he comes across so incredibly human and vulnerable in his journals. When he was in his mid-twenties, he wrote about how inadequate he felt because he hadn't done enough. This is a man who would go on to be a leader in the American Revolution and our second president. At the time, he was an accomplished lawyer. And he felt that he hadn't done enough.

And here I am, over two-hundred years later, at age twenty-seven, feeling that I haven't accomplished enough. I've only written two full length plays. I haven't been professionally produced. I wasn't able to promote positive change at my former congregation. I'm not spiritually mature enough. I've never had a long term relationship. Peers of mine are going off to the Yale School of Drama or to become Unitarian Universalist Ministers or have become ensemble members at the Steppenwolf Theatre Company.

The negative tape in my head can go on and on and on.

The big question I keep coming back to is "what to do with all this fear?" Because that's what the negative tape really is: fear of not being enough, not accomplishing enough.

I can combat the negative tape with rational thoughts, such as "Self, you've done a lot for a person your age - like run a non-profit" or "What is the measurement of enoughness of spiritual maturity?"

However, that sort of snap-out-of-it thinking doesn't permanently stop the tape. John Adams carried this feeling of not-enoughness his whole entire life -- and I think we can all agree that he accomplished a lot. I have yet to meet a fellow playwright who doesn't have that look of fear in his or her eyes after a reading, the fear that the play will never be good enough.

This fear is the curse of the artistic soul. Our work falls short of the imagination, and likewise, our lives fall short of what we imagine them to be. Because we can imagine a better world, a better life, a better play -- we create. And the dark side of that coin is that we carry that fear.

A wise woman once blogged, "Failing at something is not the same thing at all as being a failure. The only failure in life, as far as I am concerned, is not risking your own life to extend the circle of inclusion, to care more than you imagined possible, to love more deeply than you’re comfortable, to make the world a better and more just place through your particular gifts and talents."

John Adams failed at many things in his long life, but he wasn't a failure. He carried that sense of not accomplishing enough and not being enough. And as I travel along that path, I look for the fellow travelers, the Ben Franklins and Abigail Adamses, to keep me grounded. Oddly enough, the sense of not being enough, not accomplishing enough is a part of being whole.

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