Thinking Out Loud: Is it a thing? Or is it a Thing?

THINKING OUT LOUD is Drooly Dog’s Advice Column in which we talk about creative process and what might be holding back that voice of yours – whatever form it might take. Send your questions to:

If someone plays Beethoven in the forest and nobody’s there to hear it, is it still beautiful?


Do you do a thing or do you do a Thing?

A thing is something you do because of your own reasons. A Thing is something you do because of reasons outside yourself. Both can be true, both can be great. Or, not.

Beware taking young talented people and turning their thing into a Thing way way WAY too early.

Every little kid with a baseball bat is apparently a potential Major Leaguer. Every tiny human in a tutu is a potential prima ballerina. We put them in pageants and tournaments and leagues and meets. That’s because at this stage it’s all conjecture. Nobody will argue that your 5-year-old doesn’t have “it” because 5-year-olds are sticky messes of potential who yell a lot.

Those bios they run during the Olympics or what have you where they go back and tell this tidy story about passion and purpose and all that? Yeah. There’s more to it. Detours and mess-ups and noise. Life isn’t an edit. It’s more interesting than that. There was a point when every kid, no matter how accomplished, absolutely effing refused to put on the hockey skates or go to the lesson or whatever. That happened.

Somewhere on the road to “achievement.”

“Achievement” is where we walk that dangerous line between thing and Thing.

Let’s face it: Achievement is rooted in a worry about our kids “making it.” The world is competitive, we tell ourselves. We are helping them compete.

It doesn’t help that the higher education business has located this rich vein of anxiety and capitalized on it like the world’s most strategic mosquito. There can never be too many test review courses or tutoring companies or enrichment materials.

You know, some things will become Things. Sometimes the path is clear. Sometimes we’re okay with what we do becoming how we make a living, or with people seeing us in a certain light. Sometimes we just love something and go for it. Fine.

Other times, though, we want a choice here. I have fought labels my whole life. I find them constraining and limiting. I came from a musical family and was constantly asked “what do YOU play?” and I was like, “pencils?” I mean, I love music. I have every intention of playing more of it. But, I felt like I owed the public an answer about this. I didn’t.

I coached my kids’ soccer teams for a bunch of years. I so wish I had told the parents: Drop your kids off for the games. Go get coffee or a beer, depending on the time of day (or not). Come back, pick them up and ask if they had a good time. I wish so hard I had done this. Instead I got long emails about my defensive strategy and snide comments on the sidelines and dads yelling at their kids on the field. Seasons would end with the kids crying when they lost in the playoffs. The playoffs! We’d go 6 and 2 and make the playoffs and end in tragedy anyway. That’s bullshit. Seasons should end in pizza.

Is a film worth making if it doesn’t win an Oscar? Of course. Film is a language that should be spoken in all ways all the time.

Same with art, with writing. With scientific exploration. With exploration of any kind.

If you play it right, a thing and a Thing can coexist. I’ve done this with several different careers and industries where I love the art form and the learning and especially the people. It can be done. But it takes awareness and knowing the difference.

Is putting in the work worth it? Absolutely. Just be conscious of when a thing is a thing and when it’s a Thing. That awareness can be the difference between a long and fruitful relationship with something you love, and a sad burnout you can’t quite explain.

Drooly Dog offers creative advice only. Nothing legal or medical, please follow of your own accord. It’s up to you, man.

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