Why Do You Create?

I didn’t expect to hear this from a superstar, whose song “Happy” burst into public awareness and became the song of the summer.  We’ve all heard the song dozens of times–on the radio, on the web, on the beach, on TV…it’s virtually everywhere–not only in the United States, but around the world.  So, that’s why I was expecting Pharrell Williams to have a super-sized ego.  His eyes would give him away, and the tiny self-satisfied smile tugging at the edges of his mouth.

But instead, he stopped me in mid-stride at the gym last Sunday morning during his interview with Anthony Mason for CBS Sunday Morning.  Why?  He attributed his success to luck and his fans.  Repeatedly, he thanked them for making his song “Happy” the hit of the summer.  What’s more, he talked about a mistake earlier in his career when he thought his purpose in creating music was tied to his ego.  He admitted he listened to the “sparkly bits” from other stars like Jay Z who bragged about their talent and fame.  In doing so, he misinterpreted ego for purpose.

I wanted to hug him.  At long last, someone was being honest about the “dirty little secret” shared by many artists.   Sadly, many of us fall into the trap of using art to affirm our basic self-worth.   Instead of using our creativity to share our wisdom and wit and unique vision of the world, we may also use it to prove something to ourselves:  That we are worth something.  That we are someone.  And that we aren’t faceless and nameless.  Like Pharrell, I have also realized that using art to serve our egos is using our creative talents for the wrong purpose.  In fact, it’s pointless, because the ego is never, ever satisfied.

From CBS Sunday Morning.

So, why do artists, who aren’t slaves to their egos, create? To connect with others?  To learn more about themselves?  This deceptively simple question holds the key to our creative happiness.  Back to Pharrell:

“I realized along the way that there wasn’t enough purpose in my music. Going back and listening to Stevie Wonder songs and Steely Dan songs, you’d see that Donald Fagen had a purpose. He had an intention. Stevie Wonder was really singing about something. He was tryin’ to say something.”–From CBS Sunday Morning

When Pharrell found his purpose, everything changed.  And what’s his purpose?  He wants his music to lift people up.  What do you think?  Has he succeeded?  Definitely, I’d say.

So, now it’s your turn.  What’s your creative purpose?  The answer may not be immediately apparent.   In fact, if you’re like me, this question is going to make you squirm.  And it’s going to take some time, some honesty, and some soul-searching to find the answer.

And then, once you articulate it, what’s next?  Write it down.  The shorter, the better.  Keep it as a reminder of why you create.  Post it on your bulletin board.  Carry it in your wallet.  It will help keep you honest and grounded in your creative efforts.

And then, what?  With this knowledge and keener self-awareness, humbly accept your creative ideas.  Acknowledge that they come from a source far greater, vaster and wiser than anything that comes out of your “little” mind.  In fact, you may believe, like me, that creative ideas find you–if you are open to them and accept them humbly and gratefully.

What’s your writing purpose?  Do you think that you need to separate your ego from your creative work?   To hear other artists’ thoughts on finding their creative purpose, click on the links below:

Five Manifestos for the Creative Life

Pharrell Williams On Seeking Purpose in Music

11 replies »

  1. Such an awesome inspiring post, Patti! I create to heal myself, to connect to others, and to find humor and that magical place of flow where it isn’t me creating, but rather just being the conduit.


  2. I’m a bit late to this post, Patti, but I’m so glad I didn’t miss it. What a great question to ask ourselves: why. We often focus on the how and what and sometimes even the where. We forget that the answer to why we create is the most important of all. Everything else is secondary. I create because it helps me learn: about myself, about the world around me, about empathy and compassion. Thanks for this thoughtful post!


  3. Hi Jackie. I’m so glad that you shared your thoughts. Yes, like you, I write to learn about myself and the world around me. Along the way, it does teach me to be more compassionate. Sometimes it seems like a luxury to write to learn about myself, but then again, why are we all here on earth in the first place!


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