All creative journeys begin with a touch inspiration and a are filed on by tons of hard work. Sometimes, the initial heartfelt spirit of a creative endeavor can be quickly overshadowed by an overwhelming anxiety. Overthinking tasks, and feeling the stress and burnout of emotional and physical energy required to fuel our creative seeds, (particularly when we are following the path of a desire to write and record a story). Writing is a labor of love, with potentially zero payoffs. A time consuming and sometimes obsessive venture that battles our very best judgments, time management, money, sleep, and self-esteem. The consequences of our choice to write that book we’ve been dreaming about requires adherence to work habits and the narrow avoidance of being entrapped by comparison to our peers and mentors and worshiped literary idols.
We look at the blinking cursor on the screen and unravel at the notion that we might not have what it takes to complete the project. How can we avoid that fateful easy to slip down the slope, straight into the den of self-sabotage, where all our well-intentioned dreams go to die.
Knowing what you want and reminding yourself of your goals and accomplishments on a regular basis might just keep you from falling into the unhealthy habits that lead into an uncreative rut.
When someone I really care about asks me, “Hannah what do you really want?” I tend to feel stumped by this question. In my personal and work relationships, I am usually the one asking others “What do you really want?” As a writing coach, I this question as a prompt to help my client remember why they are going forward on this creative journey. What happens when we are asked by others, or even better, ask ourselves, “What do I want out of this experience/situation/relationship/life?
The question of “what do you really want?” Is easy to ask and hard to answer, even as I have been busy helping others achieve their dreams. The first answer is “I don’t know what I want.” Which is sort of a thinly veiled response for: “I don’t know what I deserve.” People feel put on the spot for even having to verbalize their own magnificent desire. The challenges of adulthood bring most people to a point where they feel like it isn’t going to happen. Yet the challenges of adulthood also prove, that it is important to give it a shot, even if you end up with not much to show for the hard work.
Unfortunately, sometimes it takes a catastrophic event, like divorce, the loss of a job, loss of a loved one or a near-death experience, to really prompt that life-changing questions into motion. There are countless examples of people who come to a crossroads and are in fact forced into the question of: “What do you really want?”
- Do I want a sense of oneness with the universe?
- Do I want a more fulfilling relationship with my family or significant other?
- Do I want more satisfaction with my job/career/business/creativity?
- Do I want to feel more confident around others or within myself?
- Do I want to take better care of myself physically/recover from an illness/become more physically fit or have more balanced nutrition?
When I think about all the ways I wanted to better my life, and what I have to show for my accomplishments, it’s hard to rectify our little expectations with our big reality. There is a pressure coming from within me to fix all the problems at once. I have been in situations where I felt that the areas where I felt lacking in my life seemed to meld into one giant cloud of anxiety and confusion. This cloud of anxiety pulls us in and leads us to be attracted to things that would help us into temporary or even long-term escapes. These temptations are real and they are tied to deep fears of inadequacy. The last thing we want to do was examine my own shortcomings, or be present with dark, sad, angry feelings.
So here we find the cycle of the writing life. Sometimes the very thing that pulls us down into despair, the sensitivity to the fragility of life, the awe of the world around us; is the very thing that will pull us out of our grief, and into a connection with the world.
Most of us begin our adult lives with a strong sense of what we want and who we want to be, then the trials of adulthood hit hard, life experiences and circumstances come, seemingly out of nowhere, to challenge all aspects of who we thought we were or what we thought we wanted in life.
It seems that everyone comes around to this reckoning sooner or later, and for some, it is easy to feel defeated by the uncharted circumstances or situations that life brings. It is also easy to look around at a room full of people, and think that you’re the only one who doesn’t have their shit together.
We all have someone in life that we look up to, envy, idolize or revere, as setting a standard for our own work. We look for the stories (sometimes unconsciously) unfolding on our friends facebook pages, on the glossy pages of vanity magazines, airbrushed sexily on a billboard, deep within the pages of our favorite books, or flashing across the screens of our new favorite TV series.
We spend our life feeling cynical, depressed, inadequate, self-doubting, anxious and self-loathing because we can’t live up to the images and narratives that we allow to flood into our heads. We struggle to rectify the things we absorb in the fabricated world of social media, and the real-life playing out before us… opening the door to the chronic dissatisfaction that our era seems to be making a reputation for.
We accept more work, longer hours, less time with our families and loved ones with the idea that the hard work is going to pay off in droves, once we make it past a few goal markers. There are a lot of messages out there in the world, telling us to work harder, to set goals, to make plans, to get ahead, to compete for the things you want, to strive forward toward that perfect ideal of health, wealth and wisdom waiting on some distant cloud in the future.
Some people feel conflicted when they pass through they seek those golden eggs of inspiration, only to encounter the hard work waiting on the other side: the distractions, faulty plans, missed connections and the ever creeping monster of self-doubt coming in to spoil every good intention, cutting us making us feel defeated, sometimes before we even begin the monumental tasks of simply living by our own truth.
There is an old cliche that it takes great mental instability to create great art. An artist has a bit of a masochistic death wish; to see the truth of life one must have the aptitude to ride through the waves of insanity, all the emotional turmoil, going up and down on doses of self-importance and recognition, followed by bouts of depression and self-hatred.
But there is a silver lining. The most important thing to do, when you feel the creeping sense of self-doubt is to take care of your body. Drop this idea that you must attain some perfected version of yourself. Be about your feelings without pushing them away or hiding from them or losing them in the false narrative of what the world says that life is about.
Go back to what YOU want for yourself establish a clear idea of what you really want, even if your self-critical mind thinks it is far-fetched or unattainable. Don’t believe anyone who says they have it all figured out, they’re probably lying to you, or worse, lying to themselves. Those same folks who appear to be on top of it all, the perfect careers/finances/attitudes/bodies/creative productivity is probably deep within their own internal battles.
Know what you want, and write what you know. This simple truth can wake us back up into our inspiration. Telling stories and producing great, authentic, creative work is driven by our innate human need to feel interconnected to our community. Us humans have an insatiable appetite to find meaning, love, connection, and reliability in all aspects of our life.