When I was in high school, my friends and I had a rock band. We played some original songs – with lyrics by yours truly – and a ton of Oasis covers. It was a lot of fun, and we probably weren’t bad compared to other garage bands our age group.
Still, pretty much anyone could have guessed that we weren’t going to sell a lot of records. We never did a paid show at a venue. We had a good time dressing up and playing rock star, but we weren’t ready for the heavy lifting that it took to be real musicians.
I was the worst. My spot in the band was lead singer, but that’s where my contribution stopped. We really needed a rhythm guitarist or a bassist, but I didn’t have the patience to practice either instrument. Eventually, several members of the band went on to other projects – without me.
This was really hurtful at the time, but in retrospect I can’t blame them. I wasn’t pulling my own weight. I didn’t practice on my own time, and wasn’t really thinking about the success of the band. I was more interested in the image of being part of a band than the hard, repetitive work of developing my craft as a musician.
This wasn’t the first or last time that I would put image before substance. In high school, I wanted to be a fit and healthy person, but I didn’t want to exercise or change my diet. In college, I wanted to be an expatriate novelist (who doesn’t?) but I never disciplined myself to write. And so on. Throughout my life, I have often pursued an image of the kind of person I would like to be; but I haven’t always taken seriously the question: Do I actually want to do the work?
If not, that’s a problem. Because the work is where it’s at. 99% of an artist’s time is spent at the easel or doing promotion, not receiving accolades. Writers spend years, sitting at a desk – writing, editing, agonizing over their work. Athletes and musicians train and practice a thousand hours for every five minutes of glory.
At the end of the day, it’s the work that makes a life. If I don’t like the daily grind of writing, it doesn’t really matter how glamorous it is to be an author. If I don’t want to spend most of my available time practicing at my instrument, I’m not cut out to be a musician. Pro athletes have to love the thousand hours of training just as much as the moments of glory. They’re a package deal.
Where’s the work that I’m called to do, even if the glory never comes? What’s the thankless, slogging labor that I find rewarding in and of itself? For me, that’s the litmus test of fulfillment. Rather than seeking out an image that suits my ego, wholeness comes when I pay attention to the daily activity that makes me come alive.
The work doesn’t have to be picturesque or fashionable; in fact, it almost certainly won’t be. Nobody lives in the limelight most of the time, not even rock stars. But if I’m true to the work that God created me to do, I’ll find peace in that. And maybe, some days, even a little bit of glory.