If you've read this blog before, you know that articulating my purpose as an artist occupies a lot of my energy. What do I actually do? Why? How?
Recently, my rabbi gave me a reason to revisit this TED Talk ("Start With Why"). It's a good thing I did because I sometimes get stuck with explaining why it matters that I do the work that I do. I find that, when talking about what we do and why, it's not enough to talk about excellence, quality, or professional. I don't know any artist who wants to make work that is boring, shitty, or unprofessional. Even the most frivolous-seeming stuff has a certain rigor to it.
"Start With Why" tells us not to start with what we do and then try to work our way to why. That's a recipe for making your work seem dull and meaningless. Instead, we should start with the belief that drives us to do the work (the Why).
Here's an example: my own sweet self. First, let me show you the way we usually do it.
WHAT: I wrote stories.Uninspiring, isn't it? Maybe if you're looking for what I've got to offer, you'd be excited about it, and maybe you'd intuit the why hidden between those parentheses. Then again, your eyes might just glaze over. You might have been on board with me, but that up there might just make you nod off to sleep. If that What and How don't matter to you? Pffft! I've lost you at the first three words.
HOW: I offer representation for women, people of color, LGBT people, and other minorities in my work.
(WHY: So you can buy my stuff.)
Now, let's try it a different way. Pardon me for shamelessly ripping off Sinek's summation of Apple, Inc.
WHY: Everything I create, I believe in challenging the status quo. I believe in thinking differently.This is not the final form, but wow! That's a lot better, isn't it?
HOW: Challenging stereotypes about women, racial and ethnic minorities, LGBT people, and religious minorities.
WHAT: I just happen to do it by writing stories.
Now, I'm not just pulling in people who like to read stories and/or challenge stereotypes about marginalized groups. I'm pulling in people who see themselves as rebels, outcasts, and innovators. People who see themselves going against the grain and bucking conventional wisdom. And you know the fun part? These are the people I want in my audience!
Try it for yourself. See what you get.