In 2017, Gustavo Dudamel became the youngest conductor of a major orchestra of his time. I remember an L.A. Times journalist urged us not to get too excited about our newest conductor, counseling us that he was still young and unproven, that we should not rush to anoint him genius quite yet.
Dudamel was not an ignorant man. He was aware of the dangers of leading with his heart. When a spirit rises up to express its true self, there is an aspect of our collective humanity that wants to test it. It takes courage to lay ourselves bare. There is nothing to hide behind, no cloak of cynicism to shroud our timidity. Dudamel was not impervious to criticism. And yet, he chose to make himself vulnerable, to let inspiration move him in spite of the potential public blowback.
What if Dudamel read the criticism and decided (unconsciously or not) to be more emotionally careful? What if he thought that the cost of public scrutiny was not worth his bruised ego? In a creative life, the fear of embarrassment can threaten us at every turn. We may feel the pull to lower our vision, to withdraw, to be reasonable, practical, sensible, and all those other words that masquerade as maturity but are really just euphemisms for fear.
As artists, it is important that we do not underestimate the antagonistic forces we face in the act of creation. Our fears are not unfounded, insofar as we have evidence to support them. And if we face them head on, the antagonistic forces will win. After all, they have libraries of proof . . . history is on their side. The desire to transform means risking everything we think we know for something beyond our imagining.
By taking the risk of allowing ourselves to become channels, every blocked artist, every cynic and naysayer for miles around marks us as a target. Wisdom comes from knowing this, and protecting our creation by not discussing it while it is being borne, so that we can get down into our story and really let it rip. We cannot wait for everyone to support our endeavor, because not everyone will approve of what we have to say. We cannot wait for our security to be guaranteed, or for victory to be certain. In spite of the voices in our heads telling us otherwise, we alone know what the truth is. There is no time to settle a score. There is nothing to win. All of the reason our antagonists can muster is no match for our open heart.