“When one man, for whatever reason, has the opportunity to lead an extraordinary life, he has no right to keep it to himself.”
– Jacques Cousteau, French explorer, filmmaker, innovator, scientist, photographer, and author.

June 4, 2012. Reykjavík, Iceland. KEX Hostel. Feeling a little typsy off an overpriced local beer and the adrenaline of a new adventure, I hit ‘Send’ on a heartfelt email, instantly delivering it to 200 friends, family, colleagues, and acquaintances:

“I’d like to share some very exciting news with you. Starting today (I wrote this Saturday), I am spending the next seven months traveling and living abroad. This trip has been a long time coming. Traveling, experiencing life in new places, and meeting unique and interesting people is something I’ve always been passionate about. And while I’ve been extremely fortunate to have already travelled to some incredible places, the 2-3 week vacations each year just didn’t satisfy my wanderlust.

In short, I’ll be documenting my journey via my website GiveLiveExplore.com. If you’d like to stay updated as I add posts, photos, and videos, please subscribe here.”

Eight months ago today, I began writing for a fairly simple reason: to stay in touch with family and friends as I embarked on the journey of a lifetime. But something unexpected happened as I began to put words onto the physical and virtual page. Before I could protest, the words took hold of me by the shoulders and with a mischievous twinkle in their eye said “Get ready for the ride of your life, kid. Here we go.” As we blasted off into worlds unknown, I realized I was no longer at the helm. The Art was.

The Power of the Written Word

Prior to June 4, the closest I came to crafting prose was banging out a persuasive email at work or dictating stories from a crazy weekend to college friends.

Ever since I was young, I always wanted to keep a journal. I even tried a few times. All past attempts looked identical: two or three days of back-to-back entries. Ten days later, another entry. Thirty days later, another. Then, blank pages upon blank pages. FAIL.

But somehow over the past eight months, I managed to write almost every week. How did I do that? Why did I do it?

While I always knew that writing could be therapeutic, I finally admitted I simply cannot write for myself. I’m not self-disciplined enough to hold myself accountable. So in the moment of sending that fateful email on June 4, asking you and many others to join my journey, I indirectly begged you to hold me accountable. Even if you signed up for my email list just to humor me and never actually read my stuff, I convinced myself you eagerly anticipated my emails every week. And it kept me going.

And as I continued to write (for you, of course!), I saw myself and my journey with greater clarity. I became clearer on who I was, who I was to become, what I believed, and what made me tick. As a previously self-proclaimed non-writer, I discovered the cathartic power of the written word. I began to love the act of writing. And I was blindsided when I considered the notion that I was creating art.

Street art in a defunct prison in Tallinn, Estonia.
Street art in a defunct prison in Tallinn, Estonia.

When Does a Creation Become Art?

This newfound love of writing contributed to one of my unspoken goals on this trip: to rediscover the creative being that I knew was buried somewhere beneath a surface of reason, rationality, and routine. Although everyone probably has varying creative abilities, I became convinced that at our core, we are all creative beings. We’re born to create. We’re born to work toward creating something. Anything. And I wholeheartedly believe that our ability to work toward something is one of the greatest gifts we have to give.

As I began creating this website and putting words down on the page, I kicked off a recursive loop of understanding and inspiration.

  • I wrote to communicate my thoughts and perspective — but only through writing could I actually comprehend and articulate my thoughts and perspective.
  • As I shared my writing, I learned others found inspiration in the words. And in telling me so, they inspired me to continue writing. Even rereading my own writing gave me more understanding and inspiration. And ’round and ’round we go!

So maybe a more appropriate question before asking when a creation becomes art, is: What is Art?

Statue inside church in Prague.
Statue inside church in Prague.

My definition of Art is any act or creation inspired by something outside oneself which has an impact and reach larger than oneself. 

(I’ve read a bunch of things recently on art, but the book that has influenced me the most is The War of Art (affiliate) by Stephen Pressfield, which I HIGHLY suggest to anyone. Quotes below are from Pressfield’s book.)

Many things can be considered art: “writing, painting, music, film, dance, or any creative art, however marginal or unconventional.” Art could be “any entrepreneurial venture or enterprise.” Or perhaps a piece of jewelry, a website, computer code, a kitchen appliance, plate of food, or a lecture. Even a conversation, a romance, or the path of a journey could be a work of art.

In short, I think a creation only becomes art once it’s shared — the minute one puts it out into world and subjects it to praise, criticism, or indifference. Even if it’s shared with only one person, the act of sharing it makes it art.

The art of love in Copenhagen, Denmark.
The art of love in Copenhagen, Denmark.

Getting Naked in Public

The problem with creating Art is it’s scary. As I continued to write on GiveLiveExplore, it scared me how revealing it felt. Even today, eight months later, I get extremely self-conscious every time I submit a new post. Graham Storrs perfectly articulates what it feels like:

"Being a writer is like standing naked in the High Street hoping people won't find you ridiculous."

Without fail, before clicking “Send” on my email posts, I feel an uneasy heaviness in my stomach. Questions run through my mind, like: Will people think of me differently after reading this? Am I revealing too much? Not enough? Did I make some huge grammar mistake? Do I sound like an idiot? Or the scariest question at all: What if no one cares?

This is probably why 99% of people don’t turn their creations into art and openly share them. It’s scary to get naked in public. It’s scary to expose those ugly blemishes and to reveal that body you’re never quite satisfied with. It can be intimating to know that you won’t be attractive to everyone, no matter how good you look. There will always be a Negative Nancy. Or worse, a Silent Simon.

Father & Child sculpture in Tartu, Estonia.
Father & Child sculpture in Tartu, Estonia.

I have so much respect for all of you artists out there. Those of you who put yourself out into the world, risking criticism, rejection, or being ignored. And I have even more respect for you who keep doing it. Because I know the most genuine of you do it because of some inexplicable drive and inspiration compelling you forward. You do it for the creation, for the art. You love to do it, but you do it for something bigger and grander than yourself.

As scary as revealing oneself can be, the reward of creating art far outweighs the fear. For me, writing has given me a reason to connect with people. It gives me something interesting to share. It shows who I am and what I believe.

There’s great power in sharing your art, revealing yourself, and risking vulnerability. With writing, the benefit is that people feel more open to sharing themselves with you, because you’ve shared yourself first. And when people are open and sharing, good things happen. People connect. Like-minded people find each other. Honesty, truth, and light breed more honesty, truth, and light.

Writing has changed my life. It’s opened up a brand new world I never knew existed. And I don’t intend to look back. Consider this essay my call to action for each of us to create and share our art.

What’s your art? How are you getting naked?

This is Part 4 of a 5-part piece called Thoughts on Coming Home.

Part 1. Was That Life? Very Well, Once More!Initial thoughts on coming home after a 6+ month wander.
Part 2. Reverse Culture ShockFirst impressions on being back in these United States.
Part 3. These Things Traveling TaughtThe most important lessons I learned on the road.
Part 4. Art, Creation, and Getting Naked: How writing and creating art changed my life.
Part 5. The Journey Continues: 
What’s next for me? And for this website, blog, and email newsletter?

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