Every once in a while I’ll stumble across an idea (in this case a quote) and just think, “bingo.”
Oscar Wilde said that if you know what you want to be, then you inevitably become it. That is your punishment. But if you never know, then you can be anything. There is a truth to that. We are not nouns, we are verbs. I am not a thing — an actor, a writer — I am a person who does things — I write, I act — and I never know what I am going to do next. I think you can be imprisoned if you think of yourself as a noun.
— Stephen Fry
The exact Wilde quote to which Fry is referring is this:
“If you want to be a grocer, or a general, or a politician, or a judge, you will invariably become it; that is your punishment. If you never know what you want to be, if you live what some might call the dynamic life — but what I will call the artistic life — if each day you are unsure of who you are and what you know you will never become anything, and that is your reward.”
— Oscar Wilde
I relate to this on a personal level — not only because of the actor and writer thing, but probably stemming from networking events where people ask the inevitable question, “So, what do you do?” (I may try to start quoting Stephen Fry to them at the risk of sounding like a pretentious douche.) I wrote about my pursuit of creativity as just being “inevitable.” I just didn’t have the perfect wording for what that pursuit was. So the amazing irony is, while I’ve struggled to figure out exactly what my noun is… I’ve been verb-ing all along!
Forget the noun, do the verb.
Austin Kleon, someone I follow and read with some consistency, found this to be empowering also, stating, “Let go of the thing that you’re trying to be (the noun), and focus on the actual work you need to be doing (the verb).” He even wrote a chapter in his new book about it (although, as of this writing, the book isn’t out, so I don’t know what it says). Instead of one of the aforementioned quotes, however, Austin quotes R. Buckminster Fuller:
I live on this earth at present, and I don’t know what I am. I know that I am not a category. I’m not a thing — a noun. I seem to be a verb, an evolutionary process — an integral function of the universe.”
— R. Buckminster Fuller
Give yourself permission to live a creative life.
I’ve met so many people who just like the idea of being an “artist.” I actually talked about it some in this interview I gave on the MAKE IT Podcast. It seems to me they never find joy in the work (verb) — they just don’t love that aspect enough. I also know lots of artists who are so focused on becoming the artist they want to be (noun), they drive themselves crazy plotting and planning and structuring their work to the point of not enjoying it.
Find joy in the work. Or if you can’t (or if you lose it), find work that gives you joy. Give yourself permission to live a creative life. By simply doing, you will find the satisfaction you’re looking for. Elizabeth Gilbert touches on this a lot in her book, Big Magic:
“This is how it feels to lead a faithful creative life: You try and try and try and nothing works. But you keep trying, and you keep seeking, and then sometimes, in the least expected place and time, it finally happens… You might earn a living with your pursuits or you might not, but you can recognize that this is not really the point. And at the end of your days you can thank creativity for having blessed you with a charmed, interesting, passionate existence.”
— Elizabeth Gilbert
But wait, that one time you said…
I know, I know. I did a whole thing about “creative” is a noun. When people ask you the networking question, they want a noun. “Creative” is the only catch-all, general word that concisely describes what it is I do. (Although if I answer with, “I’m a creative,” that may come across even more douchey than quoting Fry.) So I stand by it! But I like this too. Life is full of contradictions; what can you do?
I do think some people are nouns. Some people are actors, teachers, writers, climbers, paleontologists, down to their core. But I also think Fuller had it right when he said we are “an evolutionary process.” Even if you define yourself a particular way, growing, learning, and pursing will lead to a more fulfilled life. In that way, we are all verbs.
Life is about doing. So let’s go verb our asses off.