Midge Maisel is a devoted Jewish-American housewife whose husband suddenly leaves her for his secretary. On the same day, she heads to a late-night venue in New York, takes to the stage, delivers a drunken comic rendition of her ‘perfect’ life and her husband’s misdemeanours – and ends up flashing her breasts! Her raw talent is spotted by an up-and-comic agent, but then she’s arrested and thrown into jail. Quite a night!
This is one of storylines from the award-winning TV series The Marvelous Mrs Maisel (if you haven’t seen it, it’s brilliant – and you have five series to enjoy on Amazon Prime). It’s set in 1950s, but the story is timeless. It’s about how to be a pioneer and disrupt the status quo by staying true to your art. And it has inspired me to write this blog.
It’s meaningful for me, as my work with creatives is about reigniting the passion that we often lose when we try to make a living from art.
Midge Maisel’s journey is about the bravery of showing up with authenticity. Magic can happen when we unleash our true nature and let go of trying to be something that we’re not. But at the same time, it reveals the barriers that we all face as creatives. When we are brave and authentic, it makes us feel more vulnerable. So how do we manage that?
The common barriers to creative freedom
Barrier 1- Perfection
Our star, Mrs Maisel, is obsessed with perfection. She measures her thighs every day and goes to bed wearing a full face of make-up to ensure that her husband never spots a flaw. Today, so many of us seem just as obsessed – but now it’s a pronounced pout, flawless skin and a social media feed that tells the story we want people to believe about us.
The 1950s were a glamorous era for many women – but they still had to fit in to a man’s world. I question whether we’ve progressed that much since then. How can we unleash our true nature when we are surrounded by perfection? I think it’s harder than ever.
I work with creatives who tell me they feel less-than because they fall into the trap of comparing themselves unfavourably to the perfect worlds presented on social media. The toxic desire for perfection is the enemy of creative freedom.
Many of my clients actively turn off social media and focus time on reflecting on their own work and developing their own perspectives.
Barrier 2 – Money
The other battle for Mrs Maisel is the pressure she faces to shave the edges off her raw talent to fit in and be commercial. Her truth-telling gets her into trouble. She’s fired from a huge contract when she humorously reveals clues that a famous heartthrob might be gay.
Even today, the battle to make money is ever-present. I’ve coached hundreds of creatives who feel stifled and frustrated that they have to dull their creative talents to fit in with a commercial regime. The more successful they become, the more pressure there is not to stand out.
I also see how the creative industries miss opportunities to create meaning or connect more deeply. There are incredible artists out there doing powerful work but, at the same time, the commercial world encourages them to make creative work according to data gathered by algorithms.
I often ask myself – how can leaders of the creative industries encourage more authenticity and risk-taking?
The real solution – standing up and freeing your voice
The crux of the TV show and what I love most about it is that Mrs Maisel chooses to take a stand for being free and doing her work in her own way. She begins to turn down lucrative showbiz contracts to play smaller, niche venues. She’s hired to be a comedy host at an underground strip club. Here, her provocative humour and observations not only draw new crowds of women into the club, but she also empowers the female strippers to see themselves as talented performers who turn their tacky acts into vignettes celebrating female beauty.
Mrs Maisel, a trailblazer, now becomes a cultural leader who is able to shift a stale, male-dominated industry.
Freeing your voice means becoming a cultural leader
Personally, I want to live in a world where creatives are brave enough to disrupt the status quo and bring out their raw talent. David Bowie, Tracy Emin and Vivienne Westwood were classic disruptors. Without their cultural leadership and the voices of other creatives, our planet would be grey.
Nothing excites me more than working with an artist who rediscovers their deepest passion by writing, drawing or creating work that reflects their truth. Not only do I see them grow in confidence, I also see it leading them to creating better commercial work.
Of course, I want creatives to make good money but, in my experience, creatives always benefit from investing time in doing work that is completely self-directed rather than purely for financial gain.
As a creative person myself, my early years of blogging were filled with a desire to ‘get it right’ or make a good impression. I can see how I was squashing down my natural voice as, deep down, I didn’t feel I was interesting or good enough. With social media, I would often compare myself unfavourably with others in my industry.
So – what can we learn from Mrs Maisel?
Showing up with integrity and becoming a thought leader is about listening deeply and developing work that represents who you really are.
Mrs Maisel spent years living the life of the ‘perfect’ housewife and, on some level, many of us are creating a similar façade to impress the world in some way.
I believe that to be truly creatively fulfilled, we must break free of the pressure to conform and fit in. We must prioritise time for our own work.
Freeing your voice may involve:
- Writing morning pages (a practice created by Julia Cameron in her book The Artist’s Way). Spend time simply expressing yourself early in the day.
- Limiting time on social media, so you can break the habit of comparison. Spend time alone, in meditation or cultivating your own perspectives on life.
- Prioritising time for passion projects – which means projects that are not for money and solely for your heart.
- Learning to listen to your heart. Follow your hunches – instead of over-thinking decisions, trust the instincts that feel right. That may mean going with your first choice.
I take a stand for all creatives who seek a fulfilling career. Yes, find work that pays you well, but at the same time, prioritise work that develops your thinking.
I’m here to remind you that expressing your truth really matters. That you, too, can be a cultural leader.
What are you taking away? I would love to know.
This blog was sent to me by a trusted confidant and your words landed in my heart. ‘Find time for my creative passions’ I was just today thinking of finding a way to achieve this. I loved reading this piece very refreshing! Thank you.
Ah Deborah, I’m so happy that this find a way to your heart. Yes to prioritising your passions. Good luck and thanks for this comment. Nicky x
What I’m taking away is a recognition of my own desire to ‘get it right’ and how that doesn’t always serve me. Today, I had a first-round interview for an exceptionally well-paid job outside my usual field. I’d normally prepare, dotting every i and crossing every t, but life intervened and I had only an hour – but nonetheless I aced it! I was myself. I spoke warmly about what I can do. And they liked me! They’ve asked me back for round two next week. Way back when, there used to be an initiative called Bring Your Daughter To Work day – remember? How about we campaign for a Bring Your True Self to Work Day?! 😀
Gill – I’m smiling as I read this. Yes to bring your true self to every day I say. As an over-preparer too, we can often lose the essence of our natural voice – and when we simply show up and be ourselves, there is magic. Good luck with your second round and sounds like it’s a great new habit. Nicky x
I couldn’t agree more with Nicky’s brilliantly concise and thought-provoking blog. Especially her point about the sometimes strangulating effect of social media and its toxic message of perfection on our creativity. Einstein said: “Anyone who has never made a mistake, has never tried anything new.” We should try something new every day. Risk making mistakes, risk being less than perfect.
This is the message of my newly published book, THE WORLD BEFORE HARRY, which uses time travel as a device to observe our own time from the perspective of the 1980s, an age before the social media phenomenon. The protagonist is crushed by cyber bullying and the false belief that she has to be online-perfect. When she falls through a wormhole into 1989, she discovers the spirit of feminism alive and well and is released from the pressure to be always present on social media, always perfect. Only then can her authentic self and unique creativity surface.
Thanks Nicky, your blog has truly tapped into the zeitgeist. It is an important message for us all.
Hi Jacqui, thank you for your brilliant message and quote by Einstein. I would also add celebrate being less than perfect as it’s much more enjoyable. Perfection is boring. I have bought your new book and I’m looking forward to reading it. Thanks again for sharing and good luck with the book. x