Andrew W.K. on Encouragement
And how faking it can be just as good.
Illustration by Tallulah Fontaine.
When I first moved to New York in 1998 I didn't have a lot of friends. I had none, actually. I moved to the city with my high school girlfriend, and she managed to last about a year before moving back to Michigan. I stayed in the city, determined but alone. It took awhile to get a grasp on my place in this new realm.
Eventually I managed to find a somewhat off-kilter social rhythm, largely through people I met at my job, as is often the case. I'd work all day at a record and video store, and spent my nights completely immersed in my own projects. I decided to devote all my free time to recording my ongoing efforts in music. It was really the first time I'd ever started recording as "Andrew W.K." in earnest, and I remember it being very exciting. I was slowly coming to the realization that a career in show business could be my world, and that working as a full time professional entertainer could be my destiny.
On my days off from work, recording songs was all I'd do. On weekends off I'd forego sleep and record 48 hours straight. After amassing quite a catalog I began seeking feedback from my friends, both in New York and back home. I would play my new tentative musical efforts for friends in person or usually over the telephone, and eagerly await what they thought of my work. I wasn't seeking approval so much out of doubt, but wanting to share my excitement about this thing I'd created and this new dream I was committing to. I got a thrill out of sharing my enthusiasm and this new vision I was becoming increasingly more devoted to.
When my friends finally did listen, I was often hurt and let down by what they thought. They didn't like what I was doing. Some of them even said they hated it. They said it sounded like"bad music," or that it was "too mainstream," or "corporate." Some said it "had no soul," or that I needed to "discover the blues." Others complained it wasn't in the tradition of "real New York rock." On and on it went. I was devastated and confused. It was demoralizing and extremely demotivating.
One friend in particular, a co-worker, was particularly negative. He seemed to delight in his "brutal honesty," and was just generally a person who naively believes they have a higher moral duty to the truth than others. He was very stoic about his brand of uncompromised "truth-telling" to the point that it made him quite unpleasant and not fun to be around. Most topics you'd bring up for discussion, he would shoot down, and school you. Most discussions ended in a lecture.
To love someone is to strive to accept that person exactly the way he or she is, right here and now.
I asked him why he couldn't just encourage me in my fledgling efforts to follow my young dream. He said he prided himself on being honest, and that if something sucked, he was going to say it sucked. "Would you rather I sugar coat things?" he asked.
The answer, then and now, is a resounding YES.
I would rather he lied, if that's how we must look at this, and encouraged my efforts in the moment. I tried to explain to him that I wasn't looking for objective critical evaluation. I was looking for camaraderie, for friendly fortification.
And I didn't think of it as lying. I thought of it as encouragement. Even in some of his endeavors that I didn't quite understand, I felt only excitement for him. I wanted him to thrive. I didn't really care that much about the details of what he was making. I just wanted him to be happy. All I really wanted to do was cheer each other on and revel in the joys of life with someone I otherwise appreciated and respected. Seeing him swept up in his work made me glad. Seeing him smiling and passionate and inspired made me feel the same way. I never wanted to crush that tender enthusiasm in someone I cared about—and I'm deeply remorseful for the times that I have.
I often think about these two schools of thought, a brand of harsh honesty versus a knack for patting on the back, even when you aren't quite on board. I think, when it comes to an individual following their true calling in life, a genuine friend has no right to interfere or tamper with another's effort in following that difficult and most righteous path. This is an area that is sacred, and all one can do is assist and support another's efforts in traveling towards their ultimate destiny. It is not their place to judge when it comes to another's divine life mission. I realize many disagree.
But in matters of the heart, matters of creativity, I don't think it ever helps to rain on someone's parade. No one who is devoting themselves to something they truly love has ever been swayed by a friend or parent or acquaintance telling them they are bad at it. It just hurts their feelings or fills them with resentment. There are no professional stakes here. This was my friend, and my recorded music was my holy dream. He wasn't my boss telling me my work was sloppy. It was someone I loved telling me what I was doing was stupid.
And in the end, it made no difference! I still was pulled along this same path towards my fate despite the naysaying of others.
Actually, that's not exactly true. It did make a pretty big difference and a profound impact. To this day I don't really talk to my friends about my creative pursuits or dreams. It's not worth it to me. These inner convictions are too delicate, too sacred, too important to share too freely. They must be brought out into the world through my actions and then seen. But reveal them in their gestation or infancy, and they risk being damaged or cursed. There are some parts of yourself and your direction in life that only you need to know about—that are best manifested from the inside out—and not shown to anyone until they exist not as dreams but as realities.
Which is why I think it's perfectly fine, when friends are pursuing their true will, to just give them a moral boost, a pep talk, a jolt of unconditional support. Just be happy for them, and share in the thrill of their journey while they're on it. No need to voice your opinion about all the reasons it won't end well. Encourage. Fill them with love.
There's a great Ken Kesey quote: "Always stay in your own movie." Everyone has their own life movie playing. You make appearances in other people's movies, and they make appearances in yours. But you shouldn't try to rewrite or direct someone else's movie or force yourself into the starring role. Even if you think their movie has gone off the rails or needs a little direction, all you can do is try to support them in the ups and downs as they learn on their path.
Because oftentimes that path is not a straight line—there are twists and turns and falls. Those down times are often the most educational and when those pursing their dreams can use friendly support and unconditional, non-judgmental love the most. People will figure out their path on their own eventually, and trying to lead them down it with a set of directions written for someone else rarely works.
There are of course extreme cases concerning abuse, violence, and other forms of unnecessary harm or destructive behavior which we can refuse to support, or demand someone remove themselves from. But encouragement and total love for someone we deeply care about is rarely a bad idea.
Ultimately I think Mr Rogers said it best. "Love isn't a state of perfect caring," he said. "It is an active noun like struggle, to love someone is to strive to accept that person exactly the way he or she is, right here and now."
Love and encourage the people who truly matter to you. Let your untiring support help shine more light on their path, as they journey towards their dream.
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