Recently, Caroline wrote a beautiful and personal account of her development as a creative individual; the hurdles of creative realization, the process of comprehending a future that is filled with uncertainty, and a world that idolizes successful creatives, yet patronizes ‘creative fetuses’ (read: ‘starving artists’).
It’s interesting that in my childhood, I experienced extreme duality when it came to creative encouragement/discouragement – my parents/family consistently advocated my creativity, embracing and encouraging it every step of the way, but the total number of voices that spoke into my pursuits outside of my family equaled about 3. The amount of times I heard that I would never amount to anything creatively and that I should focus on my skills in math and science is shocking when I think back; “You shouldn’t chase pipe dreams”, “Be smart, don’t be a dreamer”, “You’re setting yourself up to be a starving artist”, “That’s great, but you can’t make money doing it”, etc… As a naive little kid, I sadly fell into the trap of putting some credence into what these people were saying. Not that it made me stop creating, but the words have been ghosts that haunt my mental basement ever since–and on days that I feel discouraged, I still find myself saying, “I need to get a real job.”
How many of you have heard similar things? How many of you struggle with those past voices and comments– that, no matter how hard you try, and no matter whether you believe it or not, the volume of those voices just never seems to respond to your mental remote control?
So here’s where it’s my turn to get personal. Little did I know just how much this would ultimately work against me and my creative pursuits. After high school, I went on to study music at University and did quite well, but overtime I had an opportunity to ‘put myself out there’, I just couldn’t do it. I would have this deep feeling of anxiety in my guts. I would always say, “No”. It didn’t stop me from performing or creating altogether, but it stopped me from taking risks, standing on my own two feet creatively, and just generally making the firm decision to chase something for myself as an artist.
I backed up so many people as a guitarist in the studio and on the stage, arranged music time and time again for others, yet wouldn’t dare stand up and do something that was completely of my own creation or concept. I call that hiding. Hiding behind others. I call that self-deceiving – because I told myself I was ‘doing’ and being myself, when really I was just settling for what fell in my lap, and fitting into the expectations and confines of others. I hid the ‘creative me’ from everyone; in an internal coma guarded by fear and trepidation for reasons unknown to me at the time.
So then I moved to America in 2007, and had just about every comfort I relied on stripped away. I started to explore why creating just wasn’t satisfying me any longer. I knew something was wrong, but it took me forever (read: 4 years) to figure it out. I even started thinking that everything I had done up until that point must have just been a fluke, and everyone who had encouraged me must have been trying to be nice. This wasn’t true, but I had given into the ‘opposition’. Without knowing it, I had put my real creative self to sleep, and when I tried waking it up, all of the creative muscles had atrophied. I needed physical therapy for my creative physique. It hurt, it sucked, and it was the best thing I ever did.
Through it, I started writing stories again, and I started photographing like a mad man – two passions I have had my whole life. I also started writing and performing my own music again, which resulted in an album I put out last year. It was the best taste of freedom. But even then, I have only just scratched the surface of this concept and I’m in the process of ‘putting myself out there’–by no means am I saying ‘I’m there’ yet. Even after my recent liberty, I have a constant feeling of being watched … being watched by the opposition … which is ready to pounce at any time …
And what do I mean, exactly, when I say opposition? I’m not talking about the type that comes with constructive criticism, but the type that exists only to stop you; to kill you off; to make sure you don’t succeed!
Ever seen The Never-Ending Story? In that story, the Empress of a world named Fantasia sends the hero Atreyu [not the metal band – a young skilled tribal warrior boy] to stop a seemingly unstoppable evil force called “The Nothing”. The Nothing is consuming all of creation, turning everything into literally ‘nothing’ – hence the clever name. If this wasn’t enough, hot on his trail is a giant blood-thirsty talking were-wolf-like creature named Gmork who has been sent by The Nothing to destroy Atreyu. Gmork only exists to destroy Atreyu for the will of The Nothing. Gmork is clearly Atreyu’s frightening opposition. The Never-Ending Story is profound for me, because as a kid, Gmork scared the living daylights out of me – this is exactly how I choose to see my opposition today – scary, frightening and completely one-eyed in stopping me from succeeding and if possible, destroying me. It’s not hard, because my opposition actually DOES seem that terrifying. It will stop at nothing to destroy my pursuits. Atreyu has a showdown with Gmork, and defeats him with a fatal stab through the heart with a shard of stone. If that were enough to end the battle with opposition, I’d not be writing this – I know I have to have that showdown constantly, and choose to pick up my shard of stone daily.
(For those of you who may not be as nerdy as me with my story references, these similar stories and characters also work: The Terminator vs. Sarah Connor. Voldemort vs. Harry Potter. Sauron vs. Frodo Baggins. Scrooge McDuck vs. Flintheart Glomgold. Oops, I got nerdy again.)
Here are some thoughts and strategies I work hard to implement into my life and creativity:
CONFRONT YOUR OPPOSITION ON PURPOSE //
Be ready to keep killing it like it’s Jason Voorhees from Friday the 13th [he just never dies!]. No matter what you do, this world exists on the basic principles of opposing forces: Simply put, no matter what you try to do affirmatively, there is a force waiting to stop you. This is a universal principle – deal with it – whether your goal is obviously creative, or your goals are as pragmatic as a Bunsen burner and a dissection kit.
SURROUND YOURSELF WITH A FELLOWSHIP OF CRITICAL ADVOCATES //
Similar to what Caroline said in her post, surround yourself with a few select people you trust who recognize the opposition, and who will tell you the truth and egg you on when you need it. In the best case scenario, you will egg them on too in their endeavors. These aren’t ‘YES! Men’, they’ll actually tell you what you need to hear when you need to hear it!
PUT THE TRUTH SMACK-DAB IN FRONT OF YOUR FACE!
The voices of the past may not go away, so build your own oppositional counter-attack against your opposition. If someone tells you or has told you that “You can’t do that and get paid for it” or “Get used to being a starving artist!”, then make a wall for yourself in your home and pin your first check / invoice / letter of thanks / words of encouragement from people / awards / whatever[!] on a pin board entitled “MY CREATIVE HARVEST : [i don’t need their permission]”. Because in this world, it’s uplifting to see the fruit of your labor.
(Oh, by the way, being creative is not necessarily about making money, but if your strongest opposition quantifies your creativity and ability solely on money, then you just won a war against those destructive words …)
GIVE BACK & GIVE AWAY GENEROUSLY: EVEN IF YOU DON’T THINK YOU HAVE RECEIVED ANYTHING YET //
Another incredible, but perplexing principle I have found on this earth is the notion of generosity. BE GENEROUS – not because you want something back, but because it nullifies the opposition [lest I say it, the evil forces] on this planet, and creates a positive influence in other people’s lives that creates a domino effect against that which exists to stop us. Even if all you can give is small, or you think it insignificant – someone else will be flabbergasted! Generosity for the sake of generosity is a quality of love. The opposition cannot exist alongside love. Voldemort was first defeated by the love of Lily Potter [Harry Potter’s mother], not fire with fire. J.K. Rowling knows a thing or two about opposition me thinks 😉
STOP RUNNING AWAY // CONFRONT YOURSELF, YOUR PAST AND YOUR FEARS //
The opposition will drudge up anything in your past that belittles, or reminds you of failures, hurts or aches. Come to terms with what those things are – work to forgive and forget both the circumstances and the people involved, then commit to loving the fact that you are who you are because of both the uplifting and life shattering things that have happened to you. We are all broken people, we just have different stories that explain ‘why’. You can’t change that you are broken, and neither can I. Confront this fact, and love that you are in good company! The closer you move towards forgiving the source of those hurts, the more freedom you will have to be yourself and overcome that which is waiting ahead of you. This is for your own joy and enrichment and for the betterment of those around you – not just an antidote to the fuel of the ‘opposition’. You may never be truly fearless, but do everything you can to roll up your sleeves and fight your opposition with dumbfounded forgiveness of your circumstances.
GO COLD TURKEY ON THOSE ‘TO-DO LIST’ TASKS THAT ARE ACTUALLY JUST DISTRACTIONS & DISGUISED PROCRASTINATION //
My amazing wife Caroline has this little thing that she always says, “If I’m doing something, I feel so much better!”. Now, Caroline’s credit here is that 95% of the time she is actually ‘doing’ things that serve what her dreams need. But, I hear this from people all the time who aren’t as proactive as Caroline [not even close]. To quote Admiral Ackbar from Star Wars: Return of the Jedi, “It’s a trap!” … unless you’ve filtered your ‘doings’ down to vital prioritized tasks. Procrastination is the Secret Service of your opposition. CUT IT OFF!
ABOVE ALL ELSE … LOVE WHAT YOU DO!! //
Love the fact that you create – that doesn’t mean you will always love WHAT you create, but love the whole concept of ‘making stuff’! It’s the pursuit of getting to where you want to be and WHY you create that is the ultimate sustaining thing (AND weapon against your opposition). Love it for life, and safeguard it by always making sure you create for your own interests alongside creating for others. (Have personal projects that you are doing for yourself, not necessarily for work or money.)
These are just a few ideas on preserving, sustaining and developing yourself as an artist; knowing that Gmork is hot on your trail no matter how valiant, brave and daring you fought yesterday … today you have to stand up and face him again!
Atreyu’s of the world: UNITE!
*For further thought, I really recommend that you read The War of Art by Steven Pressfield. My coming to many of these conclusions is thanks to this man and his very simple to read book of wisdom and practicality about creating and doing.
Btw: Found the original Willy Wonka poster here …