The tree bark bit roughly through my thin blouse into my back, and I had to shift to avoid a particularly hard ridge against my spine. But I could not and would not move. On that summer day, more than 12 years ago, I sat on the ground beneath a tree at the park, while my then six-year-old son played in the sandbox, my mind absorbed in the book I had been writing. It seemed, at that moment, that my dreams of being published would never be realized.
Then, a sudden gust drew my attention upwards to the branches bending and soughing in the wind -- the most beautiful ballet I could imagine. As I marveled, I realized this cottonwood was doing nothing more than being a tree. It could "do" nothing else, any more than I could be anything but what I was ... what I am. A writer.
The hope I received that day inspired me and became my purpose. From then on, I vowed not only to write, but to use my gift to give hope to others.
Having a purpose does not mean that you will automatically get published, be cast in the starring role, or view your work on stage or in a gallery. As I always say in the workshops I teach, "Writers write. Nowhere in that sentence is the verb 'publish.'" When creativity is rooted in purpose, however, the experience becomes so much richer and more satisfying, regardless of the outcome.
That is not to say that you won't have recognition or success in your creative pursuit. But that cannot be your purpose, as I learned that day under the cottonwood, when it seemed that my first book was never going to be accepted. (Six weeks later it was, and in time was followed by two more and a fourth now in the works.) Had I not had that moment of disappointment and fear of never realizing my goal, however, I would not have let go of the outcome and grasped the greater purpose behind my writing.
A deeper, more authentic purpose will sustain you, lasting long after the thrill of the byline fades. Then you're not just painting; you're sharing a vision. You're not just singing; you're conveying joy. It's not so much about you, which also helps in those moments when you feel about as creative as a bar of soap.
Yes, I believe in "L'art pour l'art" particularly when it comes to the masters. But for the rest of us mortals it's hard to commit to our dreams -- and spend the time, effort, and even money necessary to explore and express them -- when the return on that investment simply isn't there. Once you add purpose to the mix, however, there is no longer a question of how and where you should spend your time. How can you not engage in a creative pursuit when your desire is to present possibilities?
With purpose you can and you must.
Finding your purpose involves a little introspective sleuthing, going deeper into your experience of creativity. Ask yourself: Beyond the final product, no matter the outcome, what is the bigger "why" behind what you do? Just as I experienced that day under the cottonwood, from what you receive, you will be able to give.