“Life is not easy for any of us. But what of that? We must have perseverance and above all confidence in ourselves. We must believe that we are gifted for something, and that this thing, at whatever cost, must be attained.” – Marie Curie
I’m obsessed with reading about people who have created amazing things in spite of having a lot of craziness in their lives. People who make incredible things happen even when the circumstances in their life are far from ideal. This curiosity led me to Marie Curie. Ms. Curie devoted her life to pioneering research at a time when:
1) People thought women had no brains compared to men and definitely had less to contribute
2) A woman’s sole purpose was to be at home and raise a family and;
3) There were no Hilary Clinton’s or Sheryl Sandberg’s or work-life balance articles or working-mommy blogs to turn to for inspiration and support.
Marie Curie crafted her own life. She believed in her work and in herself.
Here are 7 other things we can all learn from Marie Curie:
1. Have faith that there is something to be found/discovered/created even if you don’t know exactly what you’re looking for.
Marie spent years sifting through discarded uranium in a leaky wooden shed under hazardous conditions to prove the existence of radioactive substances. My story about this is a lot less risky but makes the point. A few years ago I started a blog. A woman read it, liked it and sent me an email asking me to meet for coffee. That woman is Jen Lee Koss, my now business partner and friend. I didn’t know when I started my blog that it would result in starting my dream business, BRIKA (I didn't even know if anyone would read it!). Do your creative work and have faith that there is good to come of it.
2. The hard stuff can take you out OR it can feed your spirit. It’s your choice.
Marie Curie had her share of hardships – she lost her mother, sister and father. Her husband (also a brilliant scientist), was killed by a horse-drawn carriage. She suffered from a miscarriage. She was denied a seat at the French Academy of Science because she was a woman. And oh yes, she had an affair with a married man (yet another brilliant scientist!) and was vilified in the press. Sure, she went through a period of depression. But her faith and confidence in herself gave her courage to keep going and to persevere. You know she won two Nobel Prizes AFTER all this right?
3. Create art for the sake of art…
And by art I mean anything with a creative output – a business idea, a recipe, a painting, a blog post. Marie Curie believed that pure research should be carried out for its own sake and shouldn’t be tangled up with industry’s profit motives. She believed strongly that research discoveries should benefit all of humanity. I had a conversation the other day with a close friend who has been to Burning Man. She said the amazing thing about all the mind-blowing sculptures and installations is that none of the artists get paid for them. There are no corporate sponsors involved. People just create for the sake of creating. And attendance to the event grows every year. People want art for the sake of art. People don’t want to always be “sold” something. And they are more likely to buy from you later.
4. …but know when you need help to sell it.
Marie’s reluctance to publicize (market) her work and need for funding eventually stymied what she was able to do. Until she paired up with an American, Missy Meloney, a huge fan and influential woman who took her on a tour of the US to raise massive funds for Marie’s Radium Institute. Marie was not a salesperson in any way, shape or form. But she needed to sell herself and her work to continue it. If you’re an artist, not a salesperson, find someone or something to help you sell your work. And learn from them.
5. You need a network or a scenius (thanks Austin Kleon!) to help you realize your creative dreams.
An artist needs to collaborate with others in order to be successful. After her visit to America, Marie Curie learned that “who you know” is almost as important as your work. Instead of only relying on a small group of like-minded scientists, she reached out to a larger network, and although it was uncomfortable for her, put herself out in front of her work. You can create art in a vacuum but you can’t sell it in one.
6. Everyone has a creative spark.
This one is for every person who thinks they need an Ivy League degree, or X years of experience, or a special certification to be successful. Marie believed that “inside every peasant could be hidden a writer, a painter, a musician, or a scientist.” Don’t waste your gifts waiting for someone else to tell you you’re good enough.
7. Compete against yourself vs against others.
We live in a hyper-competitive world where we are constantly watching what others are doing and comparing it to what we are doing. I think that often results in creating only with the competition as a reference point – and who knows if they know what they are doing? Marie told her daughters, “I have given a great deal of time to science because I wanted to, because I love research.” What if we did the work that interested us, kept learning, got better at it every day and were dedicated to pursuing our passions vs having more facebook followers than whats-her-name? What do you think you could create?
“Be less curious about people and more curious about ideas” – Marie Curie
If you're interested in reading more about Marie Curie, you can read Marie Curie & Her Daughters by Shelley Emling (the book that inspired this post although I'm sure there are many other amazing books about her!)
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