Has your teacher appeared?

I have a dear friend who found his spiritual teacher and path very early in life. One day, after a number of years of study, he asked his teacher if he should teach the dharma. His teacher replied, “Not yet. You need to go out in the world first.”

My friend took his teacher’s advice and built a very successful business before finally taking his seat as a spiritual teacher many years later.

When my friend told me his story, I remember thinking ‘What a bummer. You love this path, these teachings, and you wanted to spread the word.’ But the more mature me thought, ‘Damn that was wise advice. Lucky guy: he listened.’

It’s so human to want to skip stages. Forgo apprenticeship. Cut to the chase and win the big prize ASAP. To forgo even having teachers because we don’t have time.

But everyone I know who has skipped ahead, who has tried to take shortcuts to learning, or have “gone big or gone home” right out of the gate? They paid a price. It mostly wasn’t nearly as good as it looked on the inside. Sometimes way worse.

A couple of colleagues spent years after their initial big success searching in vain for short cuts to attain similar success versus digging into the work that would make them proud no matter what. Other people told me they felt like imposters because they didn’t feel they had earned that initial success. And then there are the stories of friends who got big fast and then feel trapped and bored but have no idea what else to do.

It’s so tempting to love stories of overnight success, tales of creative ease and fast payoffs. But I’ve learned: beware. Even if they are rarely (ever?) true stories or strategies that work, fast and easy is often selling a reality TV show version of the world. One that would be completely awful to actually live.

What I wish 20 something me could have known about building a satisfying creative career and life?

  • Find the work that pulls you forward with an incessant delicious thrum even as it makes you curse and wish you could find that damn shortcut. Do that work as best you can. Try to keep the faith.
  • Find the teachers you need and then be patient enough to actually do what they suggest instead of dismissing them for the new bright shiny voice on the block – who happens to be selling exactly what you want to hear.
  • Forgo jumping to the big dream, the big writing project, and instead start small. Set your sights for smaller incremental milestones: an essay finished, a TV spec script workshopped, a screenplay submitted to a contest, a networking event attended every month.
  • Break your skills down and practice, practice, practice. Those skills can be used in so many ways and they build your confidence. Find teachers for those skills – that is a true time saver and magic bullet.
  • For god’s sake, live your life full out in the meantime. Do not wait for success to make your life worth living. Because while it might be fun, it is always fleeting.

It took me long enough but I’m grateful I learned these insights later rather than never. May we all celebrate the slow, the incremental, the unfurling and unfolding. May we all celebrate finding the teachers we need, and do that far more than we do crossing the occasional and often empty finish line.

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