It seems to me that creativity, whether through your art or your business, is at its essence a form of gift-giving. The thing that wants to be born usually brings either joy or utility to others. And there’s something very elegant about this, I think.
So what if that is where we began?
What if businesses were started with the problem, the need, in mind? You wouldn’t need fancy investors to tell you to go out there and talk to your “market." You would just do it, because the whole reason you’re doing it is to help a group of people with a problem and you figured a startup was the best way to do it.
What if the art came from a place of love? What if you didn’t make something to be somebody—an Artist, a Singer, a Writer—but you did it just because you saw a pain and felt moved to comfort it through something that made just one person feel closer to humanity?
Every time I’ve ever had writer’s block, it came from a place of either fear or of trying to write something great. In other words, I was focusing on myself. I wasn’t focusing on what moved me and what I could offer.
And every time I’ve written freely and easily is when I was thinking about the thing that I cared about.
Same with yoga: when I feel stuck and nervous teaching is when I’m focusing on how I look, how I’m being perceived. But other times, the words flow. The teaching becomes easy. And I’m able to really connect with the students. And this happens only when I’m focused on what a privilege it is to be able to help them, and how I can make them feel good in their bodies.
I once read somewhere that if you want to figure out what you want to do, you should follow your heartbreak.
What is the thing that breaks your heart?
I’ve also heard this expressed in the form of writing advice as “Write about what makes you angry.” (These strike me as distinctly feminine and masculine ways of expressing the same thing, really.)
When we think about a thing that breaks our hearts, it moves us to act. To think of a solution, a tool, a piece of art. I think the fact that we as human beings are wired to care so deeply and instinctively is beautiful.
The things that break my heart are easy:
It breaks my heart to see young girls not love themselves. To see them compromise themselves for approval or affection. That really hits close to home.
It breaks my heart to see people stuck doing something they hate but who feel guilty or silly for wanting something else, something more. I’ve been there, too. And every time I see it, I want to reach out and tell them that it’s okay to want what they want and that if they risk it, they will find something magical on the other side of that fear. That their yearnings are not trivial or childish; they contain, in fact, the very seeds of their unique gifts.
It breaks my heart to see people suffer ill health in a rich country with expensive healthcare that doesn’t solve most of their disease (but rather often complicates it), and that some companies profit from this status quo. And it especially moves me to see children, the poor, and minorities be disproportionately susceptible to eating unhealthy food in a system where most of us can’t afford to get sick. Frankly, it makes me pissed. And I try to transmute this rage into something constructive, by learning how we can become healthy on our own through things like nutrition, meditation, and exercise.
It breaks my heart to see bullying. I really, really cannot stand bullying, and some of my very first memories as a toddler are of trying to prevent it from happening to people I care about. I used to get involved in recess fights (not real fist fights, but kiddie drama) in middle school whenever I saw someone get ganged up on or bullied for being different or quiet. I still get sassy and involved if a fellow customer is rude or abusive to a server or cashier, for instance.
But I also feel passionately about big countries and small countries, and how the big ones get to do the things they want for power and wealth at the expense of the little ones. I used to carry around a large volume of Noam Chomsky essays around school when I was fifteen, getting really deep into his essays on American foreign policy and interventionism. I think I included his name in my application essay to Brown (which must be how they knew I belonged there). My favorite class at Brown was called Politics of International Finance, which opened my eyes to the financial mechanisms that play a part in this international balance of power. To this day, this heartbreak drives much of my long-term vision for my life, even though I don’t know how exactly it will play out.
And finally, the way capitalism creates rich people and poor people is the biggest thing that breaks my heart. It seems difficult and slow to overhaul the system, and there are things about capitalism I admire and don’t want to replace—like its efficiency, potential, and how it theoretically returns to equilibrium depending on excess supply or demand.
So I want to see if people can be made more loving, more connected to their true selves, and happier from within using things like mindfulness. Maybe the inner shifts we can make will have a ripple effect on how we do business and how we treat each other collectively. That way, maybe this system we’re in that can cause so much pain will someday be used more for good than for gain.
Sure, it’s a naive, simplistic model of what could be, but I have no choice; I care too much to not devote myself to it.
This is why I’m committed to supporting the businesses that do good and improve lives. It’s what I wrote about in my senior thesis at Brown, and this is the reason I am continuously developing my marketing and branding knowledge, so that I can have the skill sets to help these businesses grow. I want to play a part in proving that business can be used for good and for gain.
My heartbreaks have guided me well. They continue to give me a sense of meaning, and whenever I feel confused about where to go next, I just return to the things that break my heart because I love this idea of living my life from a place of gift-giving.