Did you know that human fleas, during the 19th and 20th century were used in circuses in Germany and England? The fleas would be rigged to miniature objects such as chariots, to perform feats of strength due to their ability to jump high. While fleas have no propensity for learning, the circus ringmasters would use a shallow glass case with a lid to force the fleas into submission; every time the flea tried to escape, it would bump its head against the lid. After several attempts at fleeing, the flea would altogether give up and obey instruction. We can borrow a few lessons from this awkward anecdote as we observe the circumstances creatives may encounter along their journey. After several conversations with artists who pursue different art forms, I propose that there are 3 stages in the life of a creative. I illustrate this by way of a circle below:
This stage in the life of the creative is full of ideals. The creative views life in black and white, and dreams of pursuing and accomplishing grand feats. To the creative, everything is possible and they may not subscribe to the SMART acronym. The dream stage is filled with disappointments. For example, your art or individuality may be criticized harshly or even rejected, to the point of abandoning your dream. You may have heard of Tchaikovsky- Russian composer and famous for The Nutcracker and Swan Lake, amongst other orchestral compositions. One of his works, Romeo and Juliet was his first great orchestral piece. However, at its premiere, it was considered such a dismal failure that Tchaikovsky had to revise it several times. Even after these revisions, it did not receive the acclaim it deserved. Only twenty years later did Romeo and Juliet achieve worldwide popularity. Today, Tchaikovsky is celebrated as one of the great composers of the Romantic era, simply because he was persistent and refused to give up despite his initial failure.
The bible shows many instances of hardship, bearing fruit of character, love and endurance in the life of a believer. Ultimately, God is more interested in maturing your character than your comfort (Romans 5:3-4). In addition, your character is what should ideally support your gifting. It is also important to note that God may allow for long seasons of no validation from those around you, in order to wean you off the praise of man. Learning to do what He has called you to do without the approval of human beings is important if you are to have great impact.
The second stage is where a creative is thrust into the heart of accomplishing their dreams. This may be in the form of open doors and opportunities. These opportunities may sometimes look miniscule or come in the guise of hard work. The perceptive creative will view these as opportunities to grow in their craft, leadership and character. The late Seth Vosena Busolo started working at the Kenya Conservatoire of Music as a messenger. At his free time, he learned to play a piano piece by ear, with no prior music training. This attracted the attention of one of the teachers at the conservatoire who was so impressed at Seth’s skill that he began to train him. In addition to being a messenger, Seth went on to teach other students at the Conservatoire with successful results.
The bible in Luke 16:10 talks about the need to be faithful with little; for one cannot be faithful with much, if they have been unfaithful with little. For example, you may have been given an opportunity, not directly related to your area of calling or passion. Nevertheless, work at it faithfully, no matter how small it may look. In addition, be consistent with sharpening your core gift. Your attitude in this will be magnified ten times over when God gives you bigger opportunities in your area of passion.
After sustained growth in your area of gifting, you may experience plateauing. This stage can be caused by lack of growth, boredom or discouragement in the area of your calling. It also may be caused by having achieved one’s set goals and dreams. The key is to continue innovating and giving yourself greater opportunities to dream and live out your gifts. Innovation comes at a cost; few people may understand your art form. In the study of the history of Western music and art form, one prevailing issue is the fact that with every new and innovative art form, the preceding era frowned upon these new stylistic approaches. Art is subjective and those who listen to, or view your art may not have the taste for that particular art. As an artist, it is therefore critical that you do not compare yourself to another artist. In music, timbre is the quality that distinguishes one instrument from another in terms of sound or tone. For example, despite playing a saxophone and flute on the same pitch, they will never sound the same. So it is with different voices, music, and artists. Be comfortable in your own art form and be consistent in sharpening and presenting your skill despite how awkward or unconventional it may be. What is awkward today may be commonplace tomorrow.
So, what does the flea story have to do with all this? It may feel like you constantly have a ceiling over your head, and that no matter what you do and how high you jump, you keep getting bumped. Maybe, like those fleas in that circus, you have resolved to be ordinary and have stopped dreaming. Today, God is calling you to a reviving of dead dreams that He gave you a while back. It could have been in your childhood; that one dream that you know continues to glow in your heart, albeit dimly…yes even that dream is attainable!