But in order to live this way—free to create, free to explore—you must possess a fierce sense of personal entitlement, which I hope you will learn to cultivate.
I recognize that the word entitlement has dreadfully negative connotations, but I’d like to appropriate it here and put it to good use, because you will never be able to create anything interesting out of your life if you don’t believe that you’re entitled to at least try. Creative entitlement doesn’t mean behaving like a princess, or acting as though the world owes you anything whatsoever. No, creative entitlement simply means believing that you are allowed to be here, and that—merely by being here—you are allowed to have a voice and a vision of your own.
The poet David Whyte calls this sense of creative entitlement “the arrogance of belonging,” and claims that it is an absolutely vital privilege to cultivate if you wish to interact more vividly with life. Without this arrogance of belonging, you will never be able to take any creative risks whatsoever. Without it, you will never push yourself out of the suffocating insulation of personal safety and into the frontiers of the beautiful and the unexpected.
The arrogance of belonging is not about egotism or self-absorption. In a strange way, it’s the opposite; it is a divine force that will actually take you out of yourself and allow you to engage more fully with life. Because often what keeps you from creative living is your self-absorption (your self-doubt, your self-disgust, your self-judgment, your crushing sense of self-protection). The arrogance of belonging pulls you out of the darkest depths of self-hatred—not by saying “I am the greatest!” but merely by saying “I am here!”
I believe that this good kind of arrogance—this simple entitlement to exist, and therefore to express yourself—is the only weapon with which to combat the nasty dialogue that may automatically arise within your head whenever you get an artistic impulse. You know the nasty dialogue I mean, right? I’m talking about the nasty dialogue that goes like this: “Who the hell do you think you are, trying to be creative? You suck, you’re stupid, you have no talent, and you serve no purpose. Get back in your hole.”
To which you may have spent a lifetime obediently responding, “You’re right. I do suck and I am stupid. Thank you. I’ll go back in my hole now.”
I would like to see you engaged in a more generative and interesting conversation with yourself than that. For heaven’s sake, at least defend yourself!
Defending yourself as a creative person begins by defining yourself. It begins when you declare your intent. Stand up tall and say it aloud, whatever it is:
I’m a writer.
I’m a singer.
I’m an actor.
I’m a gardener.
I’m a dancer.
I’m an inventor.
I’m a photographer.
I’m a chef.
I’m a designer.
I am this, and I am that, and I am also this other thing, too!
I don’t yet know exactly what I am, but I’m curious enough to go find out!
Speak it. Let it know you’re there. Hell, let you know you’re there—because this statement of intent is just as much an announcement to yourself as it is an announcement to the universe or anybody else. Hearing this announcement, your soul will mobilize accordingly. It will mobilize ecstatically, in fact, because this is what your soul was born for. (Trust me, your soul has been waiting for you to wake up to your own existence for years.)
But you must be the one to start that conversation, and then you must feel entitled to stay in that conversation.
This proclamation of intent and entitlement is not something you can do just once and then expect miracles; it’s something you must do daily, forever. I’ve had to keep defining and defending myself as a writer every single day of my adult life—constantly reminding and re-reminding my soul and the cosmos that I’m very serious about the business of creative living, and that I will never stop creating, no matter what the outcome, and no matter how deep my anxieties and insecurities may be.
Over time, I’ve found the right tone of voice for these assertions, too. It’s best to be insistent, but affable. Repeat yourself, but don’t get shrill. Speak to your darkest and most negative interior voices the way a hostage negotiator speaks to a violent psychopath: calmly, but firmly. Most of all, never back down. You cannot afford to back down. The life you are negotiating to save, after all, is your own.
“Who the hell do you think you are?” your darkest interior voices will demand.
“It’s funny you should ask,” you can reply. “I’ll tell you who I am: I am a child of God, just like anyone else. I am a constituent of this universe. I have invisible spirit benefactors who believe in me, and who labor alongside me. The fact that I am here at all is evidence that I have the right to be here. I have a right to my own voice and a right to my own vision. I have a right to collaborate with creativity, because I myself am a product and a consequence of Creation. I’m on a mission of artistic liberation, so let the girl go.”
Now you’re the one doing the talking.