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Hey, people who create for a living -- what keeps you going through the tough times?

Posted May 18th, 2017

I have a question for coders, poets, painters, scientists, novelists, composers and others who attempt to create:

What keeps you going when things get difficult -- when you fear you might not be able to create the thing you’re trying to create? Seriously, I want to know -- at the bottom of this story is my contact information. Drop me a line.

I ask because earlier this year I wrote a profile of Jonathan Sessler, last year’s University of Texas inventor of the year. He beat cancer twice as a young man and has gone on to a distinguished career as a cancer researcher, looking to create new drugs.

The storyline was not what I expected. Sessler was polite in answering questions about his background but really, he wanted to talk about two things, neither of which fit into the neat adversity-to-victory narrative: his work, and the likelihood that he will ultimately fail.

He kept steering the conversation back toward those two strains because the obvious narrative was, at best, reductionist. And he did not think the obvious through-line raised the right question: why should people do hard things, like science? Why is it worth the time, the energy, the heartache, the high risk of failure?

He saw the answers as not just pertinent to him, or to scientists, but anyone who creates -- and may or may not succeed in creating what they set out to.

You can read the story here. After publishing it, I asked, via Twitter, where people doing science find their motivation. I didn’t get a lot of replies, but what is lacking in quantity is balanced by quality, I think. Any women who have tried to crack into a male-dominated field should particularly appreciate the last of these:

Let me open up my question to not only scientists but those who create: Why do you do such a difficult thing? What keeps you going through the failures?

Tweet to me (@martytoohey) or, if you don’t necessarily want to join what I’m hoping could be a public Twitter discussion, email me at mtoohey@statesman.com.

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