i was asked to speak at an event for younger artists about to leave school and interested in embarking on a career in art. so, i wrote a letter to myself when i was at that point in my own development. here is that letter:
Dear Young Dustin,
There will be 3 sayings that define who you are in the future, where I am.
The first is advice from a former soccer coach.
The second is a saying that was said to you by some newly formed friends you will meet in a couple years.
And the third is a phrase that came by mistake when you were trying to think of something worthwhile to say about what you have learned in your life so far.
The advice from your soccer coach will be something you will say to yourself when you are tired, and it will form the underlying principle to your work.
He said, ‘Go further than you think you can go.’
‘Go further than you think you can go’ sends you into the unknown, into a place you told yourself you were not capable of going.
This one idea, ‘go further than you think you can go’ will be something you will tell yourself time and time again. You will remember it when you are trying to think about what to do next. You will say it to yourself when something isn’t working. You will consider it in the middle of performances when you are onstage and you need to make a choice.
‘Go further than you think you can go’ will surprise you and you will surprise yourself
Remember diving wildly for that ball that was kicked, and stopping it right on the goal line after being so tired, then colliding into the iron metal post only to get up can keep going because you told yourself to go further than you thought you could go… that was amazing… and you are still thinking about that almost 25 years later… that’s crazy.
Sometimes I wonder if you would have ever made that connection if it wasn’t for that coach 25 years ago.
I remind you of this because if you can remember to put this in your practice, to challenge yourself, to go further, to go deeper than you think you can go, to support other people in their practices, it will serve you in those moments where you would love to give up.
Go further than you think you can go.
‘One who does not risk does not live’
This second phrase will be introduced to you by some friends you meet in a city while you are on an adventure.
Now, it might be the new city you are in at the time when you heard this, or the change of ideas post theatre school, or the summer heat, or the beer, or the spirit of the friends you just met, but you will have just discovered love.
‘One who does not risk does not live’ is so important because it is so true. I am not just talking about art and work, I am talking about life and love. You, young practitioner, need to take risks, put yourself out there. Anything that is worth anything will put you at risk. Risk of failure, of rejection, of change. But life is lived through our response to failure, or adversity over rejection, acceptance of change.
I know it is not in your nature to take risks. But what is in your nature is courage, determination, stubbornness, and heart. Raw talent, skill, technique, maybe less so, but these other qualities, they are the ones that will define you.
Taking risks feels really hard, and I can tell you it does not get easier. It really, really doesn’t.
But the more you do it, the more you dare yourself, the more you take the jump, the more familiar it will begin to feel, and you will begin to trust it.
I use to have this way of putting it. risk is like lear on the cliffs of dover. he’s up there, blind, tired, basically at the end of it all, wanting to give up. and the fool with him convinces him that is is standing on edge of the cliff, and that if he jumps he will die. lear jumps, he doesn’t die because it was only ever a tiny hill. there was never a cliff, it was only something he created in his mind… well i guess he was lied to, but either way it is what i call a lear’s jump. and every creative act involves this jump.
One who does not risk does not live also reminds us that it is the living part that is the important thing. To live, to be here now in this moment.
The third phrase is:
‘make what you need’
‘Make what you need’ will come to you like some sort of Freudian slip or something. You will be thinking make what you want and you miswrite it as make what you need, i bring this up for two reasons. One because accidents are opportunities, and two making what you need is about responding to what moves you, and at some point in the future you will come to realize that an ideas has to affect you if you expect it to affect someone else.
‘making what you need’ is different from making what you want, or what you think other people want, or god forbid what you think the audience wants. don’t get me wrong, audiences are lovely. i love them, but the moment you start generalizing, and begin making assumptions about what the strangers in the room want to experience, you will get lost.
How you encounter the world is specific. It is particular. It is what gives meaning to the expression of You.
‘Make what you need’ will also help develop your aesthetic dialogue which is another way of saying finding your voice, which a lot of people will tell you is so important, to find your voice, but what the fuck does it mean?
Take the time to ask yourself, ‘what do i need? what do i need?’
we are only given this opportunity because of those that came before i us, so honour them by giving it an honest effort, and doing something extraordinary. Don’t worry about how many people hear about it, or whether or not you will get awards and other accolades … however small the action is meaningful because it is all connected.
your future self.