Georgia O’Keeffe on Daily Work, Happiness & Success

Certain people come along

Portrait of Georgia O’Keeffe taken in 1932 by Alfred Stieglitz obtained from Wikimedia Commons

Certain people come our way that reinforce our inherent thoughts and ideas. Georgia O’Keeffe is one of those

I once believed that there was someone out there with the answers — somebody somewhere who knew what I didn’t. All I needed to do to find them and extract their knowledge was to be persistent.

I was sure I would discover the secret in a mentor’s words, in the lines of an old book, at a conference, or a business networking event.

Whatever the magic ingredient, I didn’t have it. Instead, it was out there, and I was going to find it.

I didn’t find it.

Not for a moment did I consider that my pursuit would come to nought, that I would lose all material gain made over the previous fifteen years. I was swallowed by my own insatiable appetite for external validity.

In some respects, you could say that I wasted fifteen years chasing ghosts. Perhaps, but I learned something valuable that the right course would never have taught me.

“Whether you succeed or not is irrelevant, there is no such thing. Making your unknown known is the important thing, and keeping the unknown always beyond you.”

―Georgia O’Keeffe, Artist

I learned that the first and maybe the only reason to work is for the inherent enjoyment we get from it. What other reason is there ever to do anything? Have we not learned that working this 9-to-5 thing, or whatever variation of it you want, is a waste of a life?

I think we all individually need to come to this realisation on our own. Eventually, we get it that there is nobody to please, no extrinsic reward that can ever make us happy. There are no short-cuts, no hacks, no quick fixes.

It’s simply about the work.

In the meantime, this is one of our most significant challenges because many of us work for what we can get out of it. We need to make a living, pay bills, fulfil commitments, and subsequently work becomes a chore. Happiness eludes us.

Success, or the lack thereof, becomes our dominant focus, and daily work suffers. Writer’s block, creative block, or simply a downright funk kicks in and momentum keeps it going.

Until we can snap out of it, we can’t.

“I think it’s so foolish for people to want to be happy. Happy is so momentary — you’re happy for an instant and then you start thinking again. Interest is the most important thing in life; happiness is temporary, but interest is continuous.”

―Georgia O’Keeffe, Artist

When I write or draw, I get lost — I care for little else. I seem to disappear. It’s afterwards when I finish what I’ve been doing that thought about it comes in. I begin to wonder how the thing I just made will be received. I worry and practice self-criticism.

But that’s the stuff of the ego, and in reality, it has nothing to do with what I made.

How others react is no concern of mine, unless that is, I invite feedback from people I trust to evaluate it critically. I realise that my work may not be great, that I perhaps need a lot more practice to reach an objective standard of quality, however, for now, it’s the best I can do.

“I have already settled it for myself so flattery and criticism go down the same drain and I am quite free.” ―Georgia O’Keeffe, Artist

To improve what I do, my only job is to immerse myself in it for as long as possible today. When today is over, I need to immerse myself in my work tomorrow. So on and so forth until something pops. If and when it does is none of my concern.

However, if it does, I get to enjoy the fruits of the time spent working. That’s where the surprise is.

But just like you, I doubt my motivation at times.

I think that for this thing I’m doing to be worthwhile I must make money or at least get a positive response. Then words from artists and writers like Georgia O’Keefe come from somewhere to keep me on track. She said once, “I decided to accept as true my own thinking.” I can relate to this; these are my thoughts too.

“Someone else’s vision will never be as good as your own vision of your self. Live and die with it ’cause in the end, it’s all you have. Lose it and you lose yourself and everything else. I should have listened to myself.”― Georgia O’Keeffe, Artist

She and others tell me that what I do and what I think has integrity and validity. External measures don’t matter.

Words like her’s give me faith that I’m on the right track, the only track that’s even possible. Marina Abramovic in an interview once said, “Because in the end, you are really alone, whatever you do.” If you can get to the heart of this, it is a profound statement.

These creative people save me from the inevitable doom that comes from being sucked into other people’s opinions of value.

Those fuckers know nothing about me, or you. How could they! They know only what they want to see, but what they see and desire is polluted. What they want is none of my business. My business is to write.

So I write.

And when my days are gone, I’ll have something.

“The days you work are the best days” — Georgia O’Keeffe

Thanks for taking the time to read my stuff. Every morning you’ll find me sharing a new thought on life, art, work, creativity, the self and the nature of reality on The Reflectionist. I also write on The Creative Mind. If you like what I’m creating, join my email list to receive the weekly Sunday Letters

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