What is obsession, and is it good or bad? So often, obsession is seen as a bad thing, typically associated with individuals who don’t know when to let go or how to balance life with everything else. Oftentimes, it’s associated too with stalkers, criminals, master criminals, and drug addicts.
A dear friend of mine was just told that she was obsessive, and that is, in fact, what made me start to ponder the concept. (Her horrific obsession? Posting more than what someone thought was a reasonable number of links and posts on Facebook in a day. Yeah…considering she only put out about a dozen or so throughout the course of the day and none of them were ads or spam, I have to wonder whether the complainer actually spent much time on Facebook. I have some friends who literally spam my feed with more than 50 posts in a day.)
Obsession seems to be connected to passion. A number of incredible artists and people who have made such differences in the world could be qualified as obsessed. For this, I’d like to limit it to artists, actors, authors, and other creative individuals.
So let’s start with someone that just about everyone would agree was phenomenal. Leonardo da Vinci. He painted fewer than 30 known paintings, but with all of his drawings and sketches that have survived, he completed thousands. I’m guessing that that number does not actually include all the sketches and doodles that he did on the side, in the dust, or on his table and walls. One of his most famous paintings and one of the most well known paintings of all time, the Mona Lisa, underwent numerous renditions. From analyses of the paintings, experts now believe that he repainted the Mona Lisa over a dozen times, trying to get it just right. From articles on the Daily Mall to biographies that detail this incredible man’s life, most would agree that da Vinci was incredible, and he certainly was obsessed with his art.
A more modern example of a woman who took obsession to an extreme to hone her craft is Anne Hathaway. In preparation for the role of Fantine in Les Miserables, she lost 25 pounds, and anyone who has seen that woman knows that she did not have 25 pounds to lose. In addition to that, she had her long hair cut during the filming, to help to convey the emotion and trauma of what Fantine went through. It’s hard to watch that particular scene without experiencing the drama and the emotion. A lot of people were actually concerned that she had taken preparation for the role too far, but Anne Hathaway took the role so seriously that she did not even allow concerns over her own health and well being get in the way of performing it to the best of her ability. Had she done it in moderation and balanced it all equally, I doubt that the scene would have been quite as moving.
Another example of one of my favorites is J.R.R. Tolkien with his series, The Lord of the Rings. The Hobbit and the Lord of the Rings took him more than twelve years to complete, perhaps longer, depending on where you start the clock. He toiled long and hard over the series, crafting his races, characters, languages, and scenes. You can’t pick up that series without realizing that it was a labor of love and a passion for storytelling that brought it all together.
These are only a few. I could talk about so many others who have sacrificed, honed, and challenged themselves, sacrificing health and so much more to push themselves to the limit of their craft and art. Obsession can lead to bad results if the object of the obsession is bad or flawed. Serial killers, stalkers, and the like are bad examples of obsession, but they are not the only one. Here’s one thing that I have noticed though. People who are obsessed tend to get results in the areas that they pursue. Harold Brown once said, “It’s the addicts that stay with it. They’re not necessarily the most talented, they’re just the ones that can’t get it out of their systems.”
Now maybe I’m just trying to make myself feel better. After all, I know that I obsess over writing. I write between 10,000 and 15,000 words every day, working on various stories, novels, articles, and legal pieces. Only a fraction of it has ever been published, primarily because I don’t think it’s good enough and because it needs “just one more edit.” Or maybe it’s because I worry for my friend. She is passionate and vivacious, even when she feels isolated and unsure about her place in the world. Yet her obsession is with justice, raising awareness, and storytelling. I think that her ability to be obsessive is actually one of her strengths. Not in her Facebook posts so much as in the honing of her craft and the perpetual pursuit of characters that are true to real people and who are drawn from the corners of society that most of the world would rather ignore.
People often say that balance and moderation are the key to life. However, here’s something interesting about balance. Balance does not necessarily mean equal as so many people seem to think. When I make soup, balancing the broth requires adding spices, but I don’t put in equal amounts of salt and pepper. I put in a little more of the one over the other. So perhaps one can be obsessed while living life in appropriate balance when you consider the craft, the goal, and the desired impact. So here’s to obsession, friends.