I had a sort of breakthrough experience over the weekend. One that I’m tempted to say should be obvious. But I don’t think it is. Until it is.
I was feeling like the worst artist in the world; really down about it. And then the breakthrough: I picked up the tools and did the work anyway. I kept at it despite the balancing act of the two voices that played in the background of my mind, saying: “you’re horrible at this” … “keep going.”
As creators, we so often feel the Resistance that author Steven Pressfield talks about in his book, The War of Art. That capital-R creative resistance that seeks to impede us at seemingly any and every moment.
From the slightly significant: a gallerist/publisher/prospective client rejects our work outright. To the significantly slight: scrolling through our social media feeds yet again or folding laundry to avoid the risk of engaging with ourselves in our real work.
And too often, especially when we are early in our journeys of developing the strength to resist the Resistance, we give up rather than charge in, mow through and overcome it.
Ryan Holiday wrote in his book, The Obstacle Is The Way, “When action is our priority, vanity falls away.”
Our egos — or vanities — tangle us up at every turn. In life and in creating. They lead us out ahead of the work. My fear of being horrible at creating only exists because I look past the value in the action of creating, and of enjoying the process for itself.
My ego carries me past the joy and right to anxiety-inducing expectations of self and others. To comparisons that are unnecessary and self-defeating.
Creativity is one of those things that so many of us mistakenly believe — and are even taught from the earliest ages, directly or by social osmosis — we either have it or don’t, we’re either gifted with it or not.
I keep trying to remind myself that living and sharing a creative life is a process of steps and days that accumulate. It’s an ongoing practice. It requires longevity, yet has no destination, no end.
And it’s okay to be who and where I am today, and to know that tomorrow, next month and next year the who and where I am will feel and look different. Because I’m evolving and growing. I’m practicing.
This all is part of the breakthrough from this past weekend. In the past, I have crumbled against the force of Resistance. I have said that I’m no good at this, and I have turned away from it for years at a time, presuming defeat was certain and unchangeable.
It seemed I liked the idea of being an artist, but didn’t understand just how much choice I had in actually doing the work that makes it real. It’s up to me to reject defeat and to keep going. To say, “Defeat does not exist in this dojo, does it!?” (Cobra Kai on Netflix has returned a slice of my youth, The Karate Kid)
Again, that freedom of choice to ignore the self-defeating voices and do the work seems so obvious now.
But creativity is one of those things that so many of us mistakenly believe — and are even taught from the earliest ages, directly or by social osmosis — we either have it or don’t, we’re either gifted with it or not.
So, the process of uncovering the creative potentials that each of us inherently contains is an especially challenging and often lengthy one. (See Julia Cameron’s “The Artist’s Way” for guidance in that creative self-recovery.)
With that in mind, be gentle on yourself if the following quote from writer Austin Kleon strikes closer to home today than you’d like:
“When you talk to a painter, ‘painter’ is their noun. But ‘painting’ is the verb. What they do is they paint,” Kleon said in a talk on Chase Jarvis Live, “And so, for me, I think a lot of people want to be the noun without being the verb. A lot of people want to be a ‘writer’ or an ‘author,’ but they don’t want to actually write.”
What Kleon says might be true, that some people want to claim the fantasy without putting in the work that makes it real.
It takes courage to break through that Resistance for the first time, and to keep coming back to do it again and again. It takes coming to these small epiphanies of the ‘obvious’ and recognizing that all the permission we need to create and express ourselves in this world comes from within, and really only from within.
But I also think, and based on my own experience, that many of us just don’t recognize our power to make the fantasy real. We don’t recognize we have a choice, because so many signals have told us, “No way, no how.”
A lot in this life tells us that we’re not enough. And when the depressing weight of such thoughts from without settle within, it’s often not obvious to many of us to counter that weight by keeping going in the face of it. It’s just not.
It takes courage to break through that Resistance for the first time, and to keep coming back to do it again and again. It takes coming to these small epiphanies of the “obvious” and recognizing that all the permission we need to create and express ourselves in this world comes from within, and really only from within.
So I’m sharing my breakthrough, my most recent epiphany of the obvious. It’s important that we share our vulnerability of these moments and struggles, especially given the fact we’re all facing them in our own ways. It’s a practice of courage and giving, and mutual respect for the journey we have in common but must walk on our own.
Likewise, I refer to others who know the struggle and have generously shared their insights publicly, as resources. Steven Pressfield, Lisa Congdon and Julia Cameron, all of whom I’ve mentioned at least a few times each on the Humanitou Podcast and blog, each have published multiple books on creativity and the challenges creators face.
(In fact, you can listen to my conversation with Lisa from episode 16 of the podcast.)
And Austin Kleon has written a few books, as well, that serve as guides on the creative path. The first two: Steal Like An Artist and Show Your Work.
His most recent in the series is … Keep Going.