*Editor’s Note: Ayn Rand stands for just about the opposite of our mission. That said, Elephant Journal articles represent the personal views of the authors, and can not possibly reflect Elephant Journal as a whole. Disagree with an Op-Ed or opinion? We’re happy to share your experience here.
Mary says “baaaaa.” Jim does too, because they are sheep, doing what they are told and following somebody else’s rules.
But people don’t have to be sheep—they can think for themselves, resist the status quo and discover where their originality goes.
I’m talking about making the most of our unique gifts, which isn’t always easy, but it beats the pants off standing around baaa-ing all day long and waiting to be sheared.
Let’s explore two original characters, one fictional and the other real, and find the lessons that set them above and apart leaving their indelible mark.
Lesson 1: Be unreasonable and go for it.
Ayn Rand approached 12 publishers before she found one willing to take the risk of publishing what was to become her first literary success: The Fountainhead. Its lead character Howard Roark was a revolutionary architect with a passion for self-expression.
The book chronicles his exploits as he followed his creative path. Several times while she was writing the book, Ms. Rand reached out to Frank Lloyd Wright, a real life manifestation of Roark. Each time she was rebuffed.
After her book was published and became a success, she finally met Mr. Wright. He had not read her book but they clicked, clearly being cut from the same cloth. Ayn, Roark and Wright would never take “no” for an answer, and they wouldn’t lower their standards either. They were unreasonable in their search for self-expression and perfection.
Lesson 2: Be self directed and self confident.
I’m not saying that Wright was selfish. But he built his whole school, personal habitat and compound for someone five-foot-eight.
Once he looked at his six-foot-one son, standing in the living room, and said, “Sit down, you are ruining the scale.”
He would have been just another selfish guy if he hadn’t been the greatest architect of the 20th century.
Wright and Roark appeared selfish to others, but they were just driven by passion and didn’t care what anyone thought.
Wright had a thing for Japanese ceramic scenes. If upon completing a building for someone they hadn’t required any changes, letting him build just as he wanted, he would incorporate a ceramic scene in their home as a gift. But if they wanted a different colored carpet, an overhang slightly larger or smaller or any change at all, they wouldn’t receive the gift.
He wanted things his way. Always his way. Howard Roark was the same, and perhaps we should be too, especially when it comes to our uniqueness. If we are stubborn and selfish about unimportant things—like where we go to dinner or what sort of car we buy—then we are just petty and selfish.
But if we are true to what is really important to us, self-expressive and uncompromising, we will discover and flaunt our unique gifts.
Lesson 3: Be daring, not careful.
Wright said, “Take care of the luxuries and the necessities will take care of themselves.”
If Wright had money, he spent it, buying another grand piano rather than paying the bills.
In his lifetime Wright owned 35 grand pianos and 85 red cars. There is a museum dedicated to his cars, and dotting this world are incredible, unique buildings that are a tribute to his daring. Holding back and living conservatively simply weren’t his way.
While he was personally extravagant, his buildings are austere. He loved concrete. As common a building material as there is. But he was able to turn it into beautiful, comfortable and totally unique expressions of outrageous habitat. He was brash and conceited, but that is often the way of genius—a small cost for the contribution he made to so many.
Roark also followed a path of daring, walking the edge of what was possible while ignoring what was popular.
It’s scary to live life on the skinny branches of our uniqueness. But worse yet is to stay near the trunk of what is culturally acceptable never really living our own lives at all.
Lesson 4: Ignore the rules.
Wright was in court once for something or other. He told the judge that he was the greatest architect that ever lived. “I had to tell him that,” said Wright, “I was under oath.”
Roark found himself in court often. Clients sued him due to his radical designs and unwillingness to follow convention. They commissioned him because he was in demand, but they wanted him to build houses like others did: to follow the rules. Roark never did. At one point, rather than compromising, he burned an uncompleted project to the ground.
While we all want things our way, we know better. Wright and Roark never did. They refused to bend or live by other people’s rules.
Wright seldom drove the speed limit. He didn’t think it applied to him, and he had the speeding tickets to prove otherwise.
Lesson 5: Work and play as if your life depends upon it.
Passion converts work to play; it enables us to work tirelessly.
Every Saturday night, Wright, students, clients, teachers and friends would gather for a shindig. They would dance and party into the night. Often the men would wear tuxedos and the woman gowns that reached all the way to the ground. They partied like they worked: full throttle.
Roark spent time in the quarry smashing rocks with a hammer when he needed a break from all his creative work. But remember, he is a fictional character, and they never need to rest or take care of themselves.
Wright insisted on a one-hour nap every day. “Never disturb me unless there is a fire or clients,” he told those around him. He attributed living into his 90s to his daily naps.
Recently, touring Wright’s Western Hangout, Taleisin West, I marveled at his buildings: the attention to detail, simplicity, absence of straight lines and presence of triangles. Between buildings there are stairs. They are wide and only a few inches tall. The result is pleasing to the eye and effortless climbing.
Wright’s stairs made the difficult easy, reminding us all that expressing our unique gifts doesn’t have to be difficult.
Lesson 6: Creativity inspires love.
Roark was a victim of unrequited love—which sells books.
But Wright had three wives, each of which he loved in their turn. He fell in love with a client too.
Love comes naturally to those who are following their passion. It offers company and another avenue for self-expression. Both Roark and Wright fell in love totally, committed fully. In fact, neither of them ever did anything half-assed.
Our unique gifts.
Separate from the sheep, don’t worry about what others think or say, let your light shine brightly. Be unreasonable, self-centered and daring. Ignore rules, play and work as though life depends upon it and love fully.
Joseph Campbell said it best when he admonished us to “Follow your bliss.” Sheep don’t know anything about bliss, but daring, original, cutting edge creatives do.
Chasing what we are truly passionate about without compromise leads to a life worth living. Read The Fountainhead if you haven’t, or read it again. Visit or view Frank Lloyd Wright’s buildings. Open your eyes to the genius all around and inside you, nurture and then flaunt your unique gifts and you are guaranteed a fine time.
Here is a free MP3 file that speaks to making the most of our unique gifts.
Author: Jerry Stocking
Image: Screenshot/Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind; Wikimedia Commons
Editor: Emily Bartran