Did you think you would enter the artistic world, all labeled and degreed, ripe with undergraduate knowledge and indisputable enthusiasm and it would carry you the rest of the way? I did. I believed that feeling of excitement was the result of passion. And that passion indicated what I should do with my career. And that what I should do with my career was an obvious passion-related choice I would only need to make once. The biggest mistake we can make as creatives is to remain the same. In order for our creativity to thrive, we have to let ourselves be changed on the regular. This is not only scary, it takes an incredible amount of energy (read: curiosity and openness) and restraint (read: knowing the difference between a calling and whimsy). We have to have simultaneous childishness and deep wisdom to even just make a minor commitment to our craft. In other words, creativity demands.
It's no joke to get up day after day, fight the battle anew and hope that you live up to those demands. It can be heavy to create. It can be tedious. You will get tired and frustrated. You will rationalize that if you just stopped, no one would notice anyway.
But what if we could see that this disheartening isn't defeat, but a shedding of old artistic skin? What if we could see this resistance as the calm before the creative storm? What if we stayed just a minute longer?
I have personally gone through roughy 6730 transformations this year alone. Each one of them heavy, tedious and frustrating. Each one of them leading to something I can't quite put my finger on yet, but I know it's present. You know this presence. It's that small voice in your head that says, just go to that audition, just write that next chapter, just email that contact, just stay in it.
Staying in it means we can let the excess fall away. We can stick around long enough to see why what no longer serves us no longer serves us. We can let the cream rise to the top because we're allowing it the time to settle.
I have quit every artistic venture I have ever started. Not outwardly in the world (although yes, sometimes), but internally, quietly. I have given up and left, pouted, then I have turned around a dragged my feet back to my work. I know now this is part of my process. I know I have to allow myself to see what it would be like to give something up to gain the extra clarity I need to stay put.
But after my creative tantrum and/or meltdown, when I have put my tail between my legs and sidled back up to the work, I don't do things the same way. The experience of letting go wasn't just in my head. I did let something go. A habit, a goal, a partnership, a vision, a dream. You have to let some of it go to keep your material fresh. You have to eliminate what doesn't work to give what does work a little room to breathe. This can be painful, but it's the only way to stay honest. Because if you keep artistically lying you will burn out. Honesty equals longevity.
Why did I think I would make the choice to be a creative one time? Because I thought inventing myself would always feel good. I didn't take into account the growing pains of authenticity. But now that I'm a teensy bit older and a teensy bit wiser, I understand that shedding skin - while healthy - won't always feel good. When we reconcile that channeling dreaming into doing means letting something go, we realize we don't have to always feel good doing what we're meant to do. We don't have to feel excitement and passion to be making the right choice. We don't need to feel affirmed every step of the way. In fact, we shouldn't be feeling all of those things every step of the way if we want our inner barometer to stay calibrated.
To stay in it as an artist requires a lot more than simply passion. It requires surrender to the elements of change. But when we do stay in it, weathered by that creative storm though we may be, we reinvent ourselves. We reinvent our craft. And we arrive at the threshold of our unlimited potential.
Photo by Craig Hanson Photography.