Derek Sivers

Entrepreneur, programmer, avid student of life. I make useful things, and share what I learn.

Sprezzatura

Watch this video of Elizabeth Gilbert's amazing 18-minute talk on creativity. Her speech was the hit of the TED Conference.

Absolutely amazing speech. Emotional, universal, insightful, educational, and funny.

She comes across so nonchalant, light, and conversational. Effortless.

When the conference was over, she asked me to walk with her back to her hotel, so we had a good 15 minutes to chat.

She told me she had finished her new book on New Year's Eve (it was now mid-February), so I said, “Congrats! Have you been relaxing in the last 6 weeks since then?”

She said, “No! I started preparing that talk the very next day! I've been working on that little 18-minute speech full-time, almost 8 hours a day, for six weeks.”

Aha! Now that's sprezzatura!

Sprezzatura” is an Italian word that means “to hide conscious effort and appear to accomplish difficult actions with casual nonchalance.”

I really admire how much work it took to research, write, edit, then practice that speech so that it seemed effortless.

It inspires me twice.

First for its own sake: for being such a great talk.

Second for finding out how much work went into making it.

When you think someone is amazing by DNA or destiny, you can be inspired by their work because it's so unattainably beautiful. You can be amazed and think, “I could never do that!”

But when you find out they're amazing only because of unglamorous persistent sweaty hard work, you can be double-inspired, thinking, “Wow! I could do that!”

My old girlfriend was not a musician, so one day she said, “I would like to be a pop star. It's so easy! They never have to work. They just hang out all the time, being famous.”

She was sincerely shocked when I told her about how it's actually a lot of work.

Sprezzatura.

Prince was my biggest musical hero in the mid-80s. (I didn't take him seriously until Miles Davis raved about him.)

First I admired his music. It inspired me for its own sake.

But later I found out about his work ethic. Nonstop perfectionist rehearsals, 18-hour recording sessions, recording hundreds of songs just to release ten.

Discovering this was a major turning point in my life. I now had a workaholic musician role-model. It was attainable! Just by practicing, I could do that!

So as an artist, it's good to practice and prepare so well that you can put on an effortless performance with sprezzatura. Let most people think you're just a natural genius.

But then it's also good for other artists if you quietly reveal how much work went into it, to inspire future generations to practice, practice, practice.