I'm reading Burnout, by Emily and Amelia Nagowski, and in it Amelia tells a story about a recording session directing a professional choir. Recording sessions are stressful, endurance affairs. Music is an incredibly emotional, fully present task - the first take. Maybe the second or third take you marshal your deep feelings and give it another take and the engineer says "Thanks Choir, sounds great. Let's go again." Again, and again, and again. At the 100th take, he says "Could we make the color more specific on this go" (read, y'all sound dull and exhausted, can you sound like humans again?)
Emily and Amelia talk about what they call The Monitor. An emotional process that is constantly evaluating the amount of effort we put in with the reward we get out of it. When things are hard and unrewarding for long enough, we eventually just want to give up entirely - we burnout.
In the session Amelia proposes a reorientation of the choir's priorities. Instead of focusing on making a good record or trying to have a good career as a musician, both long term and challenging goals, she proposes that they focus on something more attainable. "The goal, with each take, is to fill Andrew with joy." Andrew being the star recording engineer that the choir had felt extremely excited and privileged to work with before the start of their grueling session.
After a few more days of recording, when everything was feeling low, they asked Andrew if he was filled with joy and he said yes, he was! The choir celebrated their success and made a good record in the progress.
But there's someone else that I think is missing from Amelia and Emily's commentary - Andrew.
So often the target for our art is abstract and far off. We imagine what it'll be like when we make a killer record that becomes successful. We engage in our minds with the critical response over our award winning novel. We think about the impact a project will have on a particular community. Or even more directly, we imagine what it'll be like when we finish. We'll feel full. We'll feel relieved. We'll feel inspired and we'll beam sunshine out of whatever hole is most appropriate for our art forms.
But in all of the planning and looking to the future, we miss that there is almost always someone right in front of us. While imaging that the audience can/could/should/will be bigger/better/smarter/wealthy/sexier/more we lose sight of the people right in front of us. We lose sight of Andrew.
In the recording studio, we may be imaging the future fans as well as dredging up the emotions, traumas, and dreams of the lifetimes that inspire our music, but in that room, the one that hears us first is Andrew.
Who plays the role of witness to your creative process where it is right now? When it gets hard and it feels like the benefits don't outweigh the investments, who is benefitting right now? Who can you focus on filling with joy right now?