Image for The Gathering Pod A Martha Beck Podcast Episode #152 Worth the Trouble
About this episode

Are you looking for some creative inspiration? Want to find out if your latest passion is worth the trouble it’s going to take? Then this episode is for you! You can also participate in Martha’s guided meditation to help you tap into the creative power of silence, space, and stillness.

Worth the Trouble

Martha Beck:

We just got back, my family just got back from going to New York City. We went to see Hadestown, which for the first time ever on the night we saw, featured a wonderful singer-songwriter named Ani DiFranco. If you haven’t heard of her, you should. Franco was playing one of the lead roles in Hadestown. And Hadestown won best musical. It’s the story of Orpheus and Eurydice from mythology, but it’s updated for our times with great music and the whole thing. So I love a Broadway musical and I love Ani DiFranco. And the other thing was that we’d been reading on Patreon how Ani DiFranco was having such a hard time getting into the role. So she’s been this brilliant singer, super successful, started when she was like, no years old, 10 or something. Seriously. She started professionally when she was about 16.

Now she’s 52. And for the first time ever, she was going to be in a Broadway show, and she went to New York with her daughter and they got in an apartment. She said, okay, I’m going to go and do my role as Persephone in Hadestown. And then we started reading online, a series of sort of horrified, “What have I done?” stories from Ani about how hard it is. She’s a consummate performer and everything, but she’d never been in anything where you have to do this very specific dancing, very specific singing. And you have to be at exactly the right place on the stage when you say each syllable precisely in concert with everybody else. And you’re not allowed to vary at all. And she was like, “I thought I’d be able to bring some of myself to it and kind of rock out.” She was like, “Nooo, they’re very controlling.”

And she said she was exhausted. She’s too old to be starting this. Her daughter was in a new place in a new school. It was freezing cold. They were living in New Orleans, so they came to New York in the middle of winter and she said she’d just get up and put on a big down coat. And within a few days of starting to do all the dancing and choreography, she was like, her hip was hurting and her elbows were, everything was hurting. So Ani had been having a hell of a time. So we drove to see her. We thought the least we can do is show up, and if she falls down on stage, we can all cheer and distract everyone. And plus, I love a good Broadway musical. Who doesn’t? So we drove to New York and all of us had to go. Okay.

So Karen and Rowan and I, that’s us, our weird, deeply satisfying domestic relationship or arrangement. Then we had Adam who was coming along because we didn’t want to leave him in Pennsylvania. And we, of course, we have to take Lila, our three-year-old, who is quite a lot of trouble these days, I found. And then of course the dog had to come because we weren’t going to leave Bilbo the dog home in Pennsylvania to lose all his fur from anxiety. Then we all go. And so we arrive in New York City with all our stuff. We cram ourselves into a small apartment where we are a bit in each other’s everything. And we’re trying to arrange Adam, “You’re going to sleep on the couch.” And Lila has her little bed. She wants a big bed, no a little bed. Bilbo doesn’t know what’s going on. He’s shivering, he’s shedding, he doesn’t know what’s happening.

And I was thinking privately in my own little head ball, “I think I’m too old for this. I mean, really, we all have to come here?” We’re not going to sleep through the sirens and the crowding, and it’s going to be exhausting. And then what if Ani falls down and we all have to feel bad for her and oh, really? Is it worth the trouble? And I think Ani DiFranco herself was on Patreon going, “I don’t know if this is worth the trouble.” So we get the babysitter, which is another thing, it’s not easy to get a babysitter in Manhattan on a Friday. We get to the theater. That wasn’t easy. It took forever for just the taxi to go through the streets. We finally get into our seats and I’m sitting there and the musicians come on stage, they’re all on stage. And I’m watching the trombonist, and he’s doing these shoulder exercises that I once had to do in physical therapy. And I can tell he’s got a problem. Well, not a problem, but his shoulder looks a bit sore. So I’m empathizing with that thinking, “Man, it’s a lot of trouble playing the trombone.”

And then the whole cast came on stage and the entire audience was made up of psychotic Ani DiFranco fans. So everybody, there was an immediate standing ovation that only calmed down after about five minutes. And then there was another one, somebody stood up again and everybody else stood up. So everybody’s cheering. We were cheering our throats out for at least 10 minutes before it even started. And everybody sits down, gets settled, and the trombonist plays one note. And I looked over at him and he was holding, I don’t even know what they call the thing. I think it’s called the baffler, that they put in front of the horn to make the sound different. So with his left hand, he’s holding that with his right hand he’s working this heavy piece of metal equipment and it starts making music that just blows me away. And I thought just in one second I thought, “Who thought of that?”

Who decided they were going to form metal into this weird shape? Okay, a horn. That’s one thing, but the slider and the mouthpiece. And then how hard did he have to work to be able to make these sounds? And he’s playing this incredible melody and he’s got both hands up. I know how much his shoulder is probably hurting, and this music is completely transporting. So I burst into tears and just sat there absolutely enchanted by the entire thing. And it was, somebody said they liked my reading of my book, Diana Herself– that’s related to the Greek myths too. So I’m watching this adaptation of a Greek myth, and the lyrics are brilliant, and the music is brilliant, and the dancing is brilliant, and the actors are brilliant. And Ani DiFranco comes out and she has, I don’t know if she missed a single thing because it looked to me like she nailed it.

Bullseye. Center of the target. And all of us psychotic fans in the audience were just like, “You go!” It was like watching your child up there on stage. And I started to get inspired. I think I’m going to write my second novel. This actually, it’s giving me a bunch of ideas for what I could do with my next novel. And wow, in the meantime, look, I took three photographs over here. I’m going to go back and paint more cityscapes. I did. They’re horrible. It’s great. I am going to, I’m make things, and I’m going to do things. My life was full of joy in that moment, and it was so-o-o-o worth the trouble. And the awe I felt at these people who are like, they’re supernaturally good singers, then they’re supernaturally good dancers. Then some of the dancing, singing chorus people, I won’t give too much away, suddenly start grabbing instruments.

They’re playing the accordion, they’re playing the violin while they’re singing, while they’re running around a moving stage, while they’re dancing. And I just thought, “That’s why it’s worth the trouble to be human. Look what we can do. We are the most annoying, destructive, vicious animals on this planet. But oh my God, when we finally get our act together, literally, and we bring everything we’re gifted with, when we give voice and music and shape and expression to the best of us, guess what? Humans are worth the trouble. And it’s worth the trouble to be human.” And the show was amazing, it was perfect. At the end, it wasn’t like there was a gradual standing ovation. It was like someone had shot a starter’s gun and everyone in the audience just shot to our feet. And the feeling of being in joy with all these people who also had been following Ani’s difficult road to her first Broadway opening, and all of us who had played her music about the difficulties she’s gone through in her life before that, all of us who had–I mean, there were people around us in the audience who’d come from other states, other countries even, to see this night.

And everybody had taken a great deal of trouble to get dressed for it and to get in their best selves. So I came out going, “That is the vibe I want in my life.” And it’s the vibe that I’ve been blessed to have many times. But it’s only what happens when we take trouble. If something’s going to be worth the trouble, I mean really worth the trouble, it’s going to take a bit of trouble. Trouble. So yesterday the day after we got back, I was talking to a friend on the phone, a very, very accomplished actor, writer. No, he’s not an actor, he’s a very accomplished verbal artist. I mean a beautiful, beautiful writer. And he was just bummed out because he felt like he wasn’t being intellectually challenged and he was kind of bored by his life. He wasn’t sure if he wanted to make anything.

Now, on another day I might’ve gone, “Yeah, I know what you mean. I know what you mean.” But yesterday, after having gone and had this experience watching Hadestown, I was like, “Intellectually bored?” Oh my God! Learn something! Learn physics, it’s amazing! Learn biology, go, I don’t know, build a green wall to suck some of the carbon out of the atmosphere. Go run for office, write another book, inspire some people. Make sure you take a lot of trouble because the joy of the effort is consummated in the finishing of a project, but that joy comes from the amount of trouble you’ve taken. Now, you cannot do that unless the passion’s in you. I know a lot of people, everything I’ve done with coaching my whole life is about helping people find the direction that they want to go, that their passion takes them. But in every case, I remember once I had a client who said she had an affirmation: “I know that if I achieve all I am meant to achieve, God will make it easy for me.”

I fell apart laughing. I was like, “I think it’s the opposite.” I think we’re here to find something that does stir our passions and is also a lot of damn trouble! like having a relationship, like raising a baby. Holy crap, you guys, babies are a lot of trouble! Did you know? And they just keep being trouble as they get older until they’re as old as me, and then they’re more trouble than ever. That’s where the sweet spot is, y’all, that’s where. Let’s find a joyful thing, find our passion, and then let’s just dive into the trouble. And any time you feel like it’s too much trouble, go and find one of the beautiful things that other human beings have made. The astonishing art, the amazing music, the brilliant books. We are the species who create things, and we need to enjoy each other’s creations because someone took the trouble.

And then when we do fully take it in, how much trouble someone took to bring us to something exquisite, then we know that what we have a passion for is worth the trouble. And we go back to parenting or writing or painting or doing our jobs, forestry, whatever it is, with a kind of fire in the belly that says, “It’s worth the trouble.” So I want to see what people are asking. Let’s see. I have to get my messages. Here we go. Yay. All right, so Dr. Donna says, how do you switch your mind to discover it’s worth it? I tend to let exhaustion and fear silence the “worth it.” Well, if you’re exhausted, you need to rest. The fact that something’s worth it doesn’t mean that you just go without cease. I mean, part of the theme of Hadestown is that– this is not a spoiler because Hades means hell, right?

So part of it is the devil is ruling over hell, and it’s all about working and working and working and never stopping. And the dance is like that. And it’s just about our mechanistic culture that makes things out of machinery and then tries to plug in people as machinery. That’s not worth the trouble. Being a machine is not going to stir your soul the way the creation of your heart’s desire or your love relationship or whatever is going to stir you up. So rest if you’re exhausted. If you have fear, go get inspired. Find something someone has made that inspires you. There’s a wonderful woman named Maria Ressa. Oh gosh, I hope I got that right. She won the Nobel Prize for Peace. She’s from the Philippines, and she was reporting–she’s an investigative journalist–she was reporting on corruption in the government of the Philippines, and the Philippine government turned on her.

And there was a point where she was getting over a hundred threats an hour. And she decided that she wasn’t going to let that stop her. And she turned her curiosity on the hate campaign that was being launched against her, and she found that lies spread six times faster than the truth on the internet. And she further found that there is only one thing that spreads as fast as lies, and that is inspiration. Now, I’m sure she was afraid as she was undergoing these horrors, but she also knew how to be inspired. And she knew how to say what she had to say in a way that inspired others. Go find her story and read it if you’re afraid, and then just say, “Okay, if she had to feel the fear and do it anyway with that, and nobody’s got a gun pointed at me, I can write my novel.”

Yeah, use Maria Ressa as inspiration. Use anyone who does great things in the face of great fear. Because you know what? Everybody who does great things is in the face of great fear. Read Ani DiFranco’s Patreon postings while she was rehearsing for Hadestown. She was clearly terrified and she made no bones about it. My God, you should see her dance. All right, so Amanda says, “Hi, Martha from Australia. I felt that enormous uplift in a theater and it’s gorgeous. Are there other places you find the same feeling?” Oh yes, I can just go to the internet and get inspired a thousand times a day. I mean, some of the people who are just making cute Instagrams of their pet duck are blowing my mind. I love that people put on costumes and do funny parodies of things or just write really clever memes that are beautiful or compelling.

And I’m like, wow, this person would never be…I read this one sentence that they wrote that was so perfect or so funny, and this person I might never ever meet, and they might never write a book that I will read, but oh my God, they’re everywhere. Watch great movies, binge on a great TV series that’s really high art. I think Breaking Bad is like Shakespeare-level art. These are incredible creations. A lot of people went to a lot of trouble to create for no reason. Nobody was saying, “Okay, we need another movie about a guy going on drugs.” No, you always start knowing that the world is too full of what you’re doing. Now, I want to write that second novel now, and I know the world is too full of novels and too full of books, and I’m going to do it anyway. That’s what lifts me. And books have always lifted me. So find the place, find the thing that lifts you the most, and it probably will be something creative, whether that’s the arts or the sciences or political and social movements. It’s going to be the creation of something because creativity is our gift, and that’s where we go to all our trouble. Yeah, get inspired. So Monica says, “Do you believe it’s too late at 59?” Yeah, Ani DiFranco is 52. I think 52-and-a-half is the cap. After that, nothing’s worth it.

No, I’m 61. And the other day, Ro found a picture of a wonderful active woman who’s 116, and it gave us all pause. We’re like, “What if we have to keep thinking of things to do until we’re 116? I think I’d better learn Spanish after all.” I know a story of a woman who, she helped her mother go into an assisted living facility and then die. And she thought, I am not going to put anyone else to that trouble. So when she turned 65, she put herself into an assisted living facility and waited to die–for 30 years. She was completely healthy for another 30 years. And after a while she was like, maybe I better start something again.

It’s worth the trouble even if you drop dead in the middle of it. Why not? Better than do it that way than just sitting around waiting. So no, it is not too late at 59. You’re a child, Monica, get going! MaggieIsBeing says, “I can’t help but think of all the trouble Diana got into cruising around with Roy.” This is all in my book, Diana Herself. “And look how that ended up. Love that book. It rocked my world.” Here’s the thing. That entire book, Diana Herself, is a psychological portrait of me. What else would I write about? No, I think it’s a psychological portrait of us all. So it’s about a woman who doesn’t much respect herself and a man who thinks he’s all that and a bag of cookies. And they’re both me! The woman who thinks she’s not worth anything and the sort of macho, “Yes, I’ve got three Harvard degrees” kind of a masculine energy and very into itself. You can all drink because I said I went to Harvard. No, no, sorry, trigger alert: Drink water. But the point is that the whole book was about how do we wake up from the dream of being worthless or narcissistic? How do we find out who we really are? And that’s exactly what I’m asking us all to do again. Let’s go find out who we really are. Let’s get rid of our low self-esteem. Let’s get rid of our narcissism. Let’s find the space where we’re here to love, serve, and create. And thank you so much for saying nice things about my book. The next one is coming now. Okay, Delia says, “How can we know when we’re doing something hard for passion and creativity versus when it’s just a direct path to burnout?”

I’ve talked recently a few times about something that a social worker named Deb Dana called glimmers. These things that spark joy in you, the way a trigger sparks fear or depression or whatever. If you’re doing something for passion, and it’s hard and it’s awful, and then… Like I did another watercolor of a city corner in New York today, and I’ve done like three and it’s a total failure at this point. No, but not total because there’s one corner where I got something to work. And I got it to work twice, which means I can replicate it. And that corner of the painting is a glimmer. It’s like, yeah, okay, I got one corner of a large painting right, and that means if I keep doing this, I’m going to get the whole thing right. And when it worked, and I looked at it and I went mm-hm, that is a tiny, tiny example of the very same thing I felt when that trombonist started to play or when Ani came on and just rocked everyone’s socks.

Tiny, tiny, tiny creativity is speaking through me and I can let myself do it. So those glimmers are the ways that you keep from burning out. Otherwise it would be too hard. But the burnout factor is to tell you what’s not your passion. It’ll just drop you right off. You will not keep going very long, but as a glimmer comes up, woo! One glimmer can give you hours and hours of dedication to creating your heart’s desire. Okay, Flofia says, “What about trouble with without passion? I just quit a day job because it was too much trouble and suffering, and I’m having difficulty sticking to my conviction. Or was it a good idea?” I do not believe in trouble without passion. It makes me very sick in my body, in my heart, I cannot do it. I tip my hat to those of you who can do it.

I’m simply unable to do it. I was telling Ro it’s not that I decided not to do a nine-to-five job 40 hours a week because I decided to be a creative free spirit. I could not ever, even when I was young, have done 40 hours a week in a job I didn’t love. I couldn’t do four hours a week in a job I don’t love. I’m just very flimsy when it comes to anything that’s not my passion. I have to be fired up to get past the physical frailty of my body and the constant chaos of my ADHD mind. So yeah, I think you did a very, very good thing by quitting a job that was too much trouble and suffering. But if something’s troublesome but glimmery– like raising your baby or your cat or your parakeet– keep it up. The glimmers get better.

Okay, Marsha says, “Is it worth it when the trouble lives you experiencing a panic attack and headache?” I think that’s just a typo. I’m going to think you mean, Marcia, that is it worth it when taking the trouble makes you have panic attacks and headaches? To me, it is. I mean, I had such bad anxiety that as a teenager they asked me to, my English teacher made us all write a poem to enter in a contest, and I had a panic attack that lasted five days. I didn’t sleep. They had to put me on Valium because of my absolute terror of trying to work with language, which I respect and revere, and possibly doing a bad job. It was horrible, and it was totally worth it. And it was only one week of Valium. And then I not only was able to do it, but actually started to love to do it.

And that’s part of the reason it was so scary for me was that I love it so much, the written word. Okay, a couple more and then we’ll do our meditation. Cheryl Jean says, “I feel like the access to this creative beauty and joy should be available to more people. How can we help make that feeling accessible to everyone?” Share online, send your friends the things that make you go, “Oh my God!” And there are so many of them. Okay, so that’s the first thing I thought of. The next thing is take people. I mean, I got into Ani DiFranco because Ro was into Ani DiFranco and kept playing me Ani’s songs and quoting her incredible lyrics until I just capitulated. I’m like, “Okay, that woman is amazing.” Just share, share, share. Your creativity is part of your impulse to share. But you can also share other people’s creativity that gives you joy and delight.

And it is so wonderful because the more we give it away– inspiration– the more there is to give yes share. So Aime2E says, “This is so inspiring. It’s why the musical montage in movies is so misleading. But I don’t recognize fear as fear. The voice in my head sounds like being ‘practical.’ Ideas to be less ‘practical’?” Yeah, get some crazy friends. This is why Ro and I do the Bewildered podcast, Be-Wildered, because we want to hang with our creative friends. And that’s another thing. We’ve taken a lot of trouble to get to it before we ever even put one out in the world. And now it’s so fun. Somebody recognized us from our podcast in that audience, and it was like we did something completely and totally impractical because it seemed like so much fun. And again, just watching what happens when people are willing to do something impractical helps us stop being so practical.

So the culture is a mechanistic culture that will tell you to be reasonable and sensible. Go find some impractical friends, whether in real life or online or however you find it, and just hang with the impractical but inspired. It’s very contagious. All right, finally, Gail says, “How do you stay focused on projects of passion for long periods of time? I get excited about something initially, but can’t sustain the energy long term.” A couple of things. You can make contracts with your friends. Ro finished a gorgeous novel by making a contract with our friend Liz, that she would write a certain number of words every week. And Liz wasn’t reading the words, but Ro had promised, so she did it. You can tell people… I ran the Boston Marathon when I was a freshman in college because in Chinese class I was trying to tell people, tell the class that I liked to jog.

And the teacher decided that I meant I was going to run the Boston Marathon, and I didn’t speak enough Chinese to say anything, but “Sure.” Actually, literally, sure, it means yes, that’s what I’m going to do. So then I had like 10 people in my Chinese class who thought I was going to run the Boston Marathon, and that social pressure actually made me do it. So get other people, share inspiration, make promises. All right, it’s the end of today’s session, and I can feel you all so strongly already. So before we even go into our meditation, I just want to note that the hum of creativity is so intense right now. I mean, I was feeling it when I sat down here, but holy smokes, you out there are doing something– or I’m out of my head, which is a distinct possibility. But let’s, in this meditation, go into the creative power of silence, stillness, and space. That’s where the music comes from. That’s where the dancing comes from, as T.S. Elliot says, “The silence shall be the music and the stillness, the dancing.” Something like that. So let’s do our meditation, starting with asking if it’s possible for us to imagine the space between our eyes? Just your eyes. Let’s start with something really close by. Can you imagine the distance between your eyes? Can you imagine the space inside the atoms that make up the tissue of your head? Imagine that space as you go down through your shoulders, your arms, your torso, your hips, legs, your calves, your feet, all made almost completely of empty space that is un-boundaried that we are sharing. We are sharing the space in which our bodies appear to exist right now. Can you imagine the space in which all of us are suspended? Can you imagine it brimming with creativity, brimming with music and color and vibrancy, and completely empty at the same time? Can you hear the silence beneath all the sounds? Think of your favorite musical and play that music in your head and then drop in and hear the silence that allows the sound to be. And then find the stillness under everything you do, under your lungs breathing and your heart beating and everything you create. There is a stillness that holds you like the most passionate lover, like the tenderest parent. It loves us. It enjoys us. Can you imagine space, silence, and stillness filled with the potential for us to create whatever we can imagine? Thank you for taking the trouble to show up at the Gathering Room today, and I’ll see you later, and I want to hear what you’re creating. It’s so worth the trouble. I love you.

Read more