On Friday, the mega-popular singer Adele announced her split from husband Simon Konecki. Social media was peppered with excitement over how amazing her songs would be post-breakup. The public reaction lacks tact -- Adele is going through one of life's most painful transitions. Just as importantly, it reflects a big misconception over creativity by consumers as well as by us creators.
We believe the more pain we suffer, the stronger the results of our efforts. This is simply not true. It rings false for three reasons.
1. You are not required to make suffering happen.
Because I now had a history that was mine alone. I had an ordeal that I had survived and a passage that I had paid for with my own blood. Nobody know about this passage but me. Nobody would ever know, nor did I feel the slightest urge to communicate it. This was mine, and nobody could ever take it away from me.
But he didn't purposely throw himself down a proverbial flight of stairs. Life just gave him the situation. He just made the best of it.
2. You are not necessarily going to survive.
The trouble comes in when we believe we must have a terrible hardship to succeed, as if our suffering will balance the scales of our future prosperity. As I explain in my book, Bring Your Worth:
The universe doesn't want to punish you, which is as preposterous as believing gravity dislikes skydivers or flames hate firefighters.
The secret is we don't know if we'll even survive our darkest moment. Steve Jobs did arguably his most impactful work after surviving pancreatic cancer, but the chances of him making it were slim (and he passed just a few years later). Jay-Z's marital drama turned into the incredible album 4:44, but we could just as likely be seeing he and Beyonce divorcing right now. In Adele's case, after her breakup, there is no guarantee that she'll want to sing love songs now, any time soon or ever again.
Why would they put themselves through cancer or divorce or any other painful process on purpose? They didn't and, more importantly, there is no guarantee for survival.
3. You are not guaranteed to do great art.
Lastly, you don't know if your suffering will actually make you better. In most cases, it won't improve your idea or help your customer.
I explained the suffering problem in a previous column:
Entrepreneurs will have you believe that skipping that night of sleep or "crushing it" all day without eating is the key to success--there is even a startup or two dedicated to the idea. Sacrifices need to be made (I definitely walk the walk on that one), but there is no real correlation between depriving [yourself] and creating the next unicorn startup.
It's easy to believe we haven't suffered enough to bring out our best selves. It gives us an excuse as to why we haven't succeed yet. The suffering myth not only prevents us from being more, but it prevents us from striving for more, as we believe we don't deserve it yet.
As creators, we must remind ourselves that we don't always have to suffer to create great art -- because the public will not.