Desperation is a strong driver. I sometimes think about J.K. Rowling when she was a single-mother, working in that coffee shop writing Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone with baby Jessica sleeping in the carry cot beside her. Divorced, Rowling slaved away on a children’s book for five years that she had no idea if anyone would like or even ever read. I often wonder, what must have that been like?
It’s a well-studied phenomenon that only when we are backed into a corner with our backs up against the wall that we fulfill our true potential. Only in our most desperate and hopeless hour, when all appears lost and that there’s no way forward, do we realize our true mettle.
While having a safety net may feel sane and reasonable, and is sane and reasonable, it also holds us back. It makes sense, right? If you’re operating with the knowledge that there is limited or no consequences for failure, then you can never quite hit that highest gear. In fact, one reason –when you have the safety net– that you don’t hit that highest gear is because you don’t even reach for that highest gear. To be clear, the highest gear, beyond the redline, is safely ensconced inside the “break-glass-if-emergency-box.” There’s a reason that the shifter doesn’t normally go there and is behind lock and key. It’s a level of performance, a flow state, that is holy. It’s also one that’s driven by a certain amount of determination that can be only fueled by anxiety and a genuine sense of danger.
Sometimes, I think of the act of writing –especially, long form– as a Faustian trade. You’re putting all of your heart and soul into a work which may never see the light of day. And yet, you continue with the project, day after day, driven only by an unproven faith and delusions of grandeur. Only a (very-potentially-tragic) misguided confidence keeps the entire enterprise afloat. You literally won’t know, and can’t know, until the deed is done when the final word is written. It’s legitimately a kind of insanity.