No Rewards

What if there was no reward in the end?  By no reward I mean- No money. No fame. No accolades. You just create, and that’s it. Just you and what you’ve created; and knowledge of your work only exists between you, the creation, and God?

Would you still be doing it, or would you feel like it’s no longer worth the time and effort?

For a little over a week now, I’ve been fasting from sugar. 6 days a week I go without sugar, and have one day of my choice to splurge if I want. Otherwise, no junk food, no sugar in my coffee or tea. None. The first few days it was hard. Then I started noticing how much junk food was everywhere! I heard a podcast with a Dr. Robert Lustig who said that high fructose corn syrup is an ingredient in almost everything we eat. From candy to hamburger buns. And the reason why is because many companies know that our brains naturally react to sugar. Sugar goes off in the “reward center” in our brain. It makes us happy. It gives us a rush. And then we crash from the sugar rush. And to get that “high” again, we eat more sugar. It’s starts to disrupt our natural processes. You notice how fruits and things with natural sugar have fiber in them, or not that much sugar at all? Things don’t naturally exist in the world tasting like Kool-Aid. But apparently, especially in America, we are addicted to sugar and fatty foods. I’m not going to belabor the issue with a health post here, I’m just saying…After knowing all this, especially in the detail Dr. Lustig told it in, I knew it was time to make some sort of real change.

About 2 years ago I cut alcohol for 90 days. It was tough at times because suddenly that was when all the parties at clubs had open bars, and people had drinks flowing at house parties. When I would turn down a drink people would ask “Are you religious?” When I told them no, I was just giving up alcohol for 90 days, many of them said “I could never do that. Too hard.”  To self impose the discipline to not reward themselves, or to not lean on their crutch was too much. The thought of it was daunting to them.  But with this sugar fast, something that we know has a direct conenction to the reward center of our brain, it made me wonder- how many of us would do what we do creatively if there was no reward?

Everyday, a song runs through my head. A rhyme. An idea. A concept. Some kind of vision. I can’t help it. I can’t really turn it off. All I can do is write it down and stall acting on it until I have the money or flushed the idea thoroughly out to figure out how to take the fragment and put it together in the puzzle. I have things I’ve written that no one has seen. And in my own head the ideas play, and I watch them in my mind’s eye. I’m entertained but some of it. Some things I discard once I revisit them because they don’t entertain me like they did initially. No one may ever see them. It would be a shame to not share the good stuff with the world, I know this. But if I never made any money from them, if no one ever told me it was good, if people saw it and never said a word, how would I feel?  Maybe insecure at first.  The mark of a good artist is usually the number of people that “like” their work. But what if I’m never rewarded?  What if I get nothing in return?  Is the creation itself a reward?

I’ve been tasting food differently now. Tea without sugar doesn’t taste so bad. Salads don’t bother me if I don’t have any dressing (yes, that has sugar in it too). I don’t really miss burgers, though I would love some toast with jam!  But when I look at the $.50 sodas at my job, and know what it will do to me, I’m not that interested. On the splurge days, when I do have sugar, I don’t really have that much.  When you experiement with your own habits, you begin to discover new things.

So I ask you artists, have you ever thought about what would happen if no one ever saw your work? Or does that idea frighten you and sound like death? If you had to do a monologue and act it out with passion in front of empty room after empty room, would you still love it? They call that “paying dues”. What if no one ever discovered your work until after your death? And you weren’t alive to see all the royalty checks, or to be interviewed on television? Your work would be taught in schools, shared amongst groups of friends, and YOU don’t get anything except the praise of your name spoken into the air. Would that satisfy you?  I can’t lie, that last scenario actually kinda scares me. I want to have my roses while I can still smell them. But then again, it’s not always about what I want, but what needs to happen. Not having sugar has shown me that there are other ways of being rewarded, and sometimes those less immediate rewards can be better for you.

What do you usually give yourself for a job well done? How do you reward yourself? Go without that reward for 2 weeks and see if you can handle it. Ask yourself, “Do I live for rewards, or do I live for the work?”

“I’m an actor. First of all, I don’t take myself that seriously. I take what I do seriously, and I try to do a good job.” – Denzel Washington