Do you want to have an infinite reservoir of inspiration? Be a perennial student. Learn or try something new, however small, every day (or at the very least once a week). It’s harder to get into a rut or funk if you’re challenging your brain … Continue reading staying inspired
For several days I found myself inexplicably sad. I don’t cry often, but the other day I spontaneously burst into tears on my way home from work. I realized that I was crying on behalf of several different friends who were going through hard times.
Creative types feel deeply. Often we have an unspoken connection with other people’s feelings that can make us take on whatever someone else is going through. Perhaps this is why so many of us are introverts; it can be exhausting being around people because it’s not so casual for us. Small talk is not part of our DNA. We may not go out of our way to be social, but we long for any connections we do have to be meaningful.
We pick up other people’s baggage as we go through our day, carrying others’ burdens without them even being aware that we are doing so.
Perhaps this is our job as artists, to feel every human feeling at least as deeply as the average person does in order to make someone else feel understood and less alone, and to thus lighten their burden. This is also perhaps why many creative types are often prone to depression. We take on a lot, behind the scenes. I don’t like the idea of medicating for depression because–even though it hurts an awful lot–I count it as a gift to be able to empathize and feel deeply. I believe it is my gift to others, even if they’re not conscious of it. I don’t know if empathy lessens anyone’s pain, but I hope it does. I hope that on some spiritual or psychic level, this unspoken connection is doing some good.
However, it’s never fair to think that your pain is equal to the pain of the person with whom you empathize; it is not your pain. But I know that we are told to share one another’s burdens. That is brotherly love.
“Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.” Galatians 6:2
This passage varies almost not at all among all of the versions of scripture. We love others as Christ loves us when we demonstrate sympathy in someone’s hardship.
But the passage goes on to say,
“For if anyone thinks he is something when he is nothing, he deceives himself. But each one must examine his own work, and then he will have reason for boasting in regard to himself alone, and not in regard to another. For each one will bear his own load.”
In other words, don’t be so conceited as to think you are better than the person who needs your help, and don’t then make your act of kindness inflate your conceit by claiming that pain as your own. You can assist someone with their affliction without taking on the full weight of it.
There is a distinction between “burden” and “load.” Burden is the affliction or pain or weakness itself. The load it brings is the consequences the person bears as a result of his reaction to the burden he bears. For instance a person’s burden may be that they are going through a divorce. Their load may be that their circumstances are causing them to be bitter and use that as an excuse to be angry at others. We can be there for them in their grief without taking on their attitude. The burden is the boulder that must be carried up the hill; the load is comprised of a bunch of stones you’ve picked up along the way. The boulder is our story, as flawed humans, that we carry through life. The stones are unnecessary, and will only impede your progress up the hill. Our job is to help carry the burden up the hill, and it is each person’s own responsibility to leave the stones behind. The stones are Resistance, keeping you from forward progress. Don’t collect others’ stones.
We are to collectively carry our individual human hardships through life. We go further up and further in (more on that next week) better if we help each other carry the baggage necessary for the journey. But we must fight the urge to pick up stones along the way. We must recognize certain attitudes and reactions as the Resistance and unnecessary weights that they are and leave them behind.
We must not confuse stones for boulders. We can help each other recognize the difference, but it’s up to each of us individually to let go of the stones.
7 hours online with tech support regarding
6 missing blog posts;
5 online chat sessions to restore
4 months of work;
3 day holiday weekend delayed the response time of the
2 entities that hold all of the power with my
1 measly website
I was starting to get better at showing up regularly to write and posting to my blog every Wednesday. Then I put the cart before the horse and tried to optimize too many things at once, and didn’t notice that my site had lost its mind. It went back to the dark ages. Something happened with some settings with my hosting site, and my site was suddenly sent back to how it was a year ago. They managed to fix it, but the last four months of posts were irretrievably lost.
It has been a lesson in keeping the main thing the main thing instead of jumping to finish things that aren’t immediately necessary. Instead of continuing to post regularly like I’m supposed to, I went dark for a while, then decided that I wanted everything to be awesome all at once. I tried to add products to my site by using a snazzy plugin that didn’t work. Had I been paying regular attention to my blog in its current state, plugging away one step at a time, I wouldn’t have lost all the work I had posted when I was showing up every week.
And, because I got a new computer and failed to save one essential document, I don’t have a backup file of said posts. Guys, don’t be an idiot like me. Save your stuff. I caught a brief glimpse of the ghost headlines of the posts that are forever lost, and here is what little I can piece together of the last several months:
5/4 – Defining Resistance, in which I remind readers what the theme of this blog is really all about: that invisible force that keeps you from improving and doing good work. It’s the opposite of the Muse; it is ease and comfort and wants to keep you mediocre.
5/11 – Instant Gratification, in which I discussed resistance in the form of wanting to see results right away rather than having the patience to hone a specific skill. Putting in your time and pushing yourself to do the work without seeing results right away is what will create success.
5/18 – Play: Being in the Moment was inspired by a gift I got from my mom for my birthday. It’s a Buddha Board, on which you paint with water and it evaporates. It’s a lesson in practice and letting go, that what you make doesn’t have to stand the test of time. Enjoying the act of doing something is valuable enough.
5/25 – Staying Inspired was a list of resources from which I find evergreen inspiration, such as nature and being open to hearing to other people’s stories.
6/15 – Resilience. Wouldn’t it be nice if I could remember anything about this post? Ironically, in trying to bounce back from this data loss, I can’t think of the contents for this particular week.
7/6- Trash and Treasure visited my experience of purging after reading Marie Kondo’s “The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up,” with the end goal of only owning things that bring you joy. The process and result brought with them a certain level of mental and emotional clarity that surprised me. To thoroughly and permanently detach yourself from things that don’t delight you, and to cherish those that do, is very freeing.
I don’t want this post to come across as an excuse for not showing up. I want it to be a cautionary tale to those who are frustrated by slow progress, and a reminder to save your work–even when it doesn’t seem worthwhile at the time. I want it to be a public pledge to you, dear reader, that I will commit to showing up regularly from now on–even if it sometimes feels futile. I’m gonna do it for you and I’m gonna do it for me, because defeating Resistance is the name of the game.
When something bad happens, you have three choices. You can either let it define you, let it destroy you, or you can let it strengthen you. –Unknown
We all experience the occasional betrayal by our immune system. It’s yet another form of Resistance rearing its ugly head, trying to keep us from our important work. It’s very tempting to let this be an excuse to let ourselves off the hook. A missed day or two in favor of healing is not the end of the world, so long as it doesn’t cause you to fall irreparably behind. The important work is what we do when we really don’t feel like it. Encouragement, friends, for not letting illness derail you.
Resistance makes you stronger. Writing when you don’t feel like it is the best way to improve your writing habit. Showing up only when it’s easy doesn’t make you stronger. There will always be obstacles. Overcoming them is what makes you better at what you do.
Ride the high. Be inspired by your illness-induced stupor. Take advantage of the fact that your inner editor is too tired to give a crap and go wild. Write something you wouldn’t normally write, like maybe trying your hand at poetry. Or work your symptoms into a scene. Can you learn something about your character through how you currently feel?
Give yourself permission to suck. It’s always good to get the crap out to make way for better work. If you often feel like the words on the page are somehow too precious to throw out, this may be a good exercise in writing something that is meant to be scrapped. It’s cathartic to shred work sometimes. It takes the pressure off. Be happy to have work you don’t feel bad about shredding. Some days you just have to half-ass it. It’s still better than not showing up at all.
Plan ahead. When you’re well, try to stay ahead by keeping a schedule and writing more than your daily quota. This will give you some wiggle room when unexpected things arise, like illness or an emergency. If you have deadlines, make sure you have content well ahead of time. Anticipate that things will crop up and don’t wait until the last minute. If you stay ahead, there will be margin for you to have a day or two of down time without having to do too much catching up later.
Let go of the little things. Eliminate any unnecessary activities. Most things can be postponed for a couple of days. Avoid cleaning, cooking, gardening, or anything else you might be tempted to do. The world won’t crumble if you don’t do everything you’d normally do when you’re well. Call in reinforcements if you need to. If someone can help with a meal or kids, that will give you the time you need to rest and knock out a few words–even if it’s nothing more than a haiku about how messy your house is.
Don’t give up! Even if you feel like you want to die, or just sleep all day, don’t give yourself permission to break the chain of showing up every day. You’re allowed to write garbage. Just show up a little bit. It’s okay; we’re all human. But even if you show up and just do the bare minimum that ends up being thrown away, it will make you feel better about yourself that you’ve accomplished what you promised yourself you would do. If writing has become as much of a habit as breathing, it will make you feel worse if you don’t do it. Keeping the chain going will lift your spirits because you didn’t give up. You may even find that just jotting down a few words–even if they don’t make a lot of sense–may put you into a state of flow that takes your mind off of how awful you feel.
Take care of yourself. Don’t prolong your illness by not resting or listening to your body. Do what you can, but don’t create more stress by expecting to knock it out of the park. You can only come back swinging if you let yourself get 100% better. You won’t do yourself or anyone else any favors by pretending you’re not sick. The sooner you rest, the sooner you’ll get better.
Happy writing, and feel better, champ!
The last few weeks have been a series of posts on the various aspects of perfectionism as resistance. This week I want to pull them all together and recap how we can overcome the offshoots of perfectionism that keep us from doing important work.
- Many of us don’t start something because we have this perfect idea of the outcome that we’re afraid we won’t attain. We are so afraid of going the wrong direction that we go nowhere.
- Fear of failure a vicious cycle that can be broken by repeated failure, otherwise known as practice.
- We long for purpose and meaning in what we do. For this we need a plan in order to prevent paralysis. Preparing for our work equips us for success.
- Identity: sometimes we are daunted by the idea that our work will define us. What’s more important is to consistently do work you enjoy, regardless of how you will be perceived by others.
- For creatives, procrastination can stem from caring so much about the outcome that we’re paralyzed from even starting because we’re afraid of doing something less than perfect. The longer you wait to do something, the more you build up in your head and hold it to an unattainable standard.
- Proficiency in anything is only possible with lots of practice.
- You’ll go further taking one step every day than you will staring at the chasm you intend to overcome in a single jump. Don’t be so intimidated by the distance that you don’t make that first step.
- Having a routine makes you more likely to get things done because you don’t have to waste time deciding what needs to be done.
- If you want to build momentum and avoid flaking out on what you need to do, show up every day and don’t break the chain.
- Practice constantly. Create prolific amounts of work to hone your skills every single day.
- “Continuous improvement is better than delayed perfection.” –Mark Twain
- Others see the story of you and your work by what you consistently do.
What do you struggle with when it comes to just doing the work? What prevents you from consistently creating? When do you feel tempted to break the chain? Drop me an email and let me know what kinds of resistance you face in your creative work.
“Continuous improvement is better than delayed perfection.” –Mark Twain A huge part of what stunts creative work is the feeling that we need to do perfect work instead of prolific amounts of work. In last week’s post about procrastination as it relates to perfectionism, … Continue reading perfectionism, part three: consistency
You’ll go further taking one step every day than you will staring at the chasm you intend to overcome in a single jump.
The other day as I was reflecting on procrastination, I had the thought that maybe procrastination isn’t about caring too little about something to see it through. I believe the opposite is often true, that it comes from caring so much that we get paralyzed by the idea of not completing it to the perfect level that we had hoped to attain (see part one). It may be a combination of that and caring more about the peripheral consequences of not finishing the thing you’re putting on hold. I care so much about writing, but I don’t do it as regularly as I ought because I’m afraid of it not being perfect. Of course it will never be perfect. But I do it because I said I was going to, because I want to be a writer, and because when I do it I feel like I’m in my element. The consequences of not writing include letting myself down, falling back on my promise (explicit or not) to my readers to post every week, and putting my reputation at stake. In school, my grades and diploma were at stake, in addition to my identity and reputation among my peers and professors. It can be very daunting when doing what you love feels like it includes holding your identity in the balance.
Rarely do we think of the consequences of procrastinating. Generally, there’s just an overall guilt of not doing that thing. When I do remember how silly it is to put off doing something I love or to which I (for better or worse) attach my identity, I have to remember that I only get better with practice. It’s stupid to be paralyzed by perfectionism. That next thing that you’re going to do is just one of many thousands of iterations you should be performing to hone that skill. Always strive for excellence, but it’s absurd to expect to sit down and turn out a masterpiece in one shot. Each member of an orchestra tunes up and practices before each performance. They don’t just show up and play a note-perfect symphony. Excellent musicians practice constantly. They stay sharp by practicing scales and rudiments every single time they pick up their instrument. They don’t become virtuosos by thinking scales are something they learned as a kid and therefore don’t need anymore. Proficiency is only possible with practice. The same is true for athletes, painters, actors, singers, writers, newscasters, carpenters–literally any skilled person became skilled because of repetition.
Not every painting that every famous painter did was their piece de resistance either. The great ones in anything showed up to their work every day. Sure, they were probably perfectionists, too. But those who excel at what they do only got to that level because they overcame that mental hang-up and just did it over and over and over again. They probably hated even their best works. Just keep doing your craft and the next thing you make will overshadow the last thing. When you sit down to do your work, remind yourself that this is not your Guernica or Sistine Chapel. You don’t have to reinvent the wheel every time you create something. Everything has been done, but anything you do will have your unique spin on it. Put in your time doing the rudiments in preparation for the good work that will come out of you. But get over the idea that you have to turn out your masterpiece.
Picasso said, “the less Art there is in painting, the more painting there is.” In other words, quit thinking everything you do has to be a significant piece of art and just shut up and do it. The more you romanticize the medium, the more you’re likely to be too intimidated to do it. (More on that in a later post.) Forget about external judgments, definitions or standards lest they leave you too overwhelmed to even start. Picasso averaged at least two paintings per day in his lifetime. How many of those were ever seen by anyone but himself? Jimi Hendrix, who only lived to the age of 27, made around 70 albums. Mozart composed over 600 pieces in his lifetime and certainly wasn’t famous until later in life. Charles Schulz created nearly 18,000 Charlie Brown comic strips before he died. You better believe they all practiced their craft every day without fail and weren’t paralyzed by the thought that each next thing had to be their masterpiece.
You’ve heard it said that sometimes people spend their whole lives with their masterpiece still in them because they were afraid to try; or what’s just as disappointing, they obsess so much about creating their one big thing that they miss the fact that they might have already succeeded. Maybe you were so focused on what you thought it would be that you already created what the world sees as your masterpiece, but you didn’t see it because it didn’t come about how you’d imagined. Instead of a singular piece, it came about as the result of practicing and doing your work every single day. Maybe a work you’ve already done resonated with someone, or simply your dedication to doing the work consistently resonated with someone. A closet full of unused canvases is a huge waste compared to the small amount the paint “wasted” on what you might think is a failure of a painting. But you practiced. A blank page is sadder than a bad poem. Every artist has done loads of bad work before they became masters. The common denominator is that every single day they shut out the negative inner voice that told them they weren’t good enough and did it anyway.
The longer you wait to do something, the more you build up in your head and hold it to an unattainable standard. The ten unedited journal pages your write for your eyes only have more value than the book you intend to write. The small steps taken to hone your craft are valuable and help add up to the greater works ahead. You’ll go further taking one step every day than you will staring at the chasm you intend to overcome in a single jump. Don’t be so intimidated by the distance that you don’t make that first step. That step itself may make a difference to someone, and it will certainly build momentum in your skill.