Category: expectation (page 1 of 2)

365 small steps

Saying out loud what your goals are is necessary in order to calibrate your journey towards them. Daily steps, however small they seem, will get you closer to your goal; communicating about it with other people keeps letting you know whether you’re on the right track.

As this hits the internet, I will be on my way to Austin, Texas for the second seanwes Conference. I went last year, and it is no overstatement to say that it was life-changing. I learned so much, and met the most wonderful people. The clarity I received from intimate conversations is priceless. It’s safe to say I would not have made the progress I made this year if not for those conversations. I know I have a long way to go, but I feel such a huge weight off my shoulders knowing that I’m making forward progress. Prior to this time last year, I felt anxious, directionless, like I was treading water.

This time last year:

  • I was taking all kinds of self-inventory tests and reading all manner of books and articles designed to help me figure out what my “element” is, what specific thing I’m good at and want to pursue.
  • I had a hundred different things I wanted to do and was anxiously dabbling in each of them with no particular direction, wondering which of them was going to be the thing.
  • I was really hoping to quit my day job really soon.
  • I don’t even remember what was going on with my website, but I know that it was pretty sad stuff.
  • I couldn’t say in one sentence what I’m all about. “Well, I sell crochet stuff sometimes, I’m a sign artist for my day job, but what I really want to do is write and illustrate, but don’t really have the energy to be creative when I get home from work.”
  • I had janky business cards that I wasn’t thrilled about handing out.
  • I would not have been able to answer 9 Key Questions for Building a Successful Brand Foundation.

Now, going into this year’s conference:

  • Thanks in great part to the conversations I had last year, I know exactly what I want to do for at least the next couple of years (i.e., I have an elevator pitch): I will write and illustrate a series of books that make the concepts of the Great Books accessible to children.
  • I have a focused direction for multiple products.
  • I have regular content that I’m putting up on my website and social media.
  • I still don’t want to stay at the day job for the rest of my life, but am comforted that it is a great place to be while I overlap.
  • I have a professionally designed logo and web elements that bring clarity to my website, products, and business cards (which are now mini bookmarks with a sample of my hand lettering and an email address linked to my domain–instead of the old gmail address I’ve had since college).
  • I also got some great clarity from hand-letterer Lauren Hom’s ten-week Passion to Paid course. She and the students in the class helped me define a side project that propelled me into my current conceptualization of a book-themed product line/curriculum.

I know I still need to work on:

  • Building an audience. I don’t have much of a following yet, but this is a good thing at this stage. It needs to be the first step before I launch any products, and it gives me the freedom to write my books/create products/build my brand in the meantime. I can find my voice and have room to establish myself without the pressure to “perform” for a large audience.
  • Incorporating my awesome new design elements into my products and web presence, and create a landing page with a specific launch date.
  • Actually write the books…and all that entails (writing, editing, illustrating, publishing, marketing, distributing).
  • Reach out to influencers within the realm in which I want to establish myself.
  • Share and curate my work more regularly, as well as set strict deadlines.

Apologies that this has been a me-centered post, but I share this in the hope that it inspires someone who is where I was a year ago, or where I am now looking into the future. I can’t stress greatly enough the value of community. You need to step outside of your own point of view in order to get real clarity.

Daily journaling helps, too, but saying out loud what your goals are is necessary in order to calibrate your journey towards them. Daily steps, however small they seem, will get you closer to your goal; communicating about it with other people keeps letting you know whether you’re on the right track. One step a day doesn’t seem like much…until you’ve done it for a year.

I’m excited to see what insights will come during this conference and am excited for what the coming year will bring.

What are you working on now that didn’t seem possible a year ago? What have you learned? What steps do you look forward to making toward your goals in the coming year?

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baby steps

Slow and steady wins the race. Action beats inaction. Taking small steps is so much more important than thinking about big steps. Sometimes I have to remind myself that tiny positive things add up and that’s so much better than stressing about making big progress (which adds up in a negative way).

I think of it like driving veeeerrrry slowly in your car: eventually you’ll get further than just sitting there revving the engine and wasting gasoline.

I have a huge project ahead of me, and it’s daunting. It’s so big that sometimes it’s paralyzing. But I know that I need to chip away at it a little bit at a time.

So I am making a bit of a pivot in the content of this blog, and I want you to know what you can expect in the future. I will still be writing about creative resistance, but it will be more along the lines of what I’m specifically encountering in my current creative projects.

First of all, if you aren’t familiar with the idea of overlapping (working a day job for financial stability while you work on what you’re passionate about on the side until it can support you), I highly recommend the book Overlap by Sean McCabe.

My passion is to make big ideas accessible to young people. I believe that the ability to think critically is one of the greatest gifts we can bestow on future generations. I’m writing and illustrating a series of young adult and children’s books making the ideas of the Great Books (Plato, Dante, Augustine, et al) super digestible. I want to normalize what used to be a standard education but has unfortunately become very rare. Everyone is capable of learning big things and no one should be scared or ashamed to be exposed to “smart people things.”

I want to get kids excited about reading through book related products, as well. Hand-lettered bookmarks, handmade book bags, and crocheted animal plushie characters that introduce kids great literary characters and their authors.

I’m making myself publicly accountable for making this vision a reality, and documenting the process. I invite you to follow along, to sign up for updates on the book release, to join the conversation in whatever way you’d like and ask questions about what makes actually doing creative things so dang hard sometimes.

It will be messy. Most things are before you get to the finished product. And that’s okay, because perfect is an illusion that keeps you from doing the important, messy things. Thanks to those who have stuck with me thus far, and thank you/welcome to those who are newly jumping in.

I invite you to make messes and take baby steps with me. 🙂

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perfectionism, part two: procrastination

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).

Identity and romanticism

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.

Practice

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.

The less Art there is in painting, the more painting there is. –Picasso

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.

Expectation

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.

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fear of futility

Do you ever get tired of feeling guilty for not producing enough? For me, in the middle of National Novel Writing Month, this novel writing business is proving to be something hanging over my head rather than an enjoyable activity; I feel like I’m letting it defeat me.

Life is too short to not do something meaningful, but it will feel a lot longer than you’d like if you continually beat yourself up for not being perfect. It’s a catch-22. You will never meet your own standards, and that subconscious idea that perfection is the goal is completely paralyzing. Isn’t it better to just get something done rather than beat yourself up over something that you barely even started?

I know I have these unspoken, arbitrary, lofty standards. But what’s the point of such high standards if I’m incapable of meeting them? If I’m so afraid of failure that I never accomplish anything? If I have nothing to show for all my showing up, then I have failed. If I just do it I have succeeded. Isn’t the latter easier? What is keeping me from just doing the work to even 75% of my standards? There’s time for revision later. Why can’t I just do it? What am I so afraid of? Why do I feel like I’m not even capable? There are millions of people in the world doing what I’m doing. I know I can do it just as well or better than most of them, but not all of them. Being the best isn’t even the point. So what is it that causes me so much anxiety and paralysis?

It’s Resistance with a capital R. I’ve been showing up every day and trying to get out of my own way so the muse can show up. Shouldn’t that be enough to banish Resistance? Why is it still rearing its ugly head? What psychological roadblocks am I not seeing? It’s not fear of success, because finishing the first draft of a novel doesn’t really require anything of me after it’s done. I can roll with it or not. It can’t be the fear of failure because the only way to fail at writing is to not write. A draft is malleable. I can always fix what isn’t perfect. There are only words, and my only failure is not putting them on the page. I’m sure part if it is that little nagging dark force telling me that this isn’t what I should be doing. I should give up. I’m not a writer. I should either move on to some other creative pursuit (which I also won’t be good at) or just give up. Resistance is manifesting itself as both inadequacy and futility. What’s the point of all of this? My work doesn’t matter. My work won’t matter. So what’s the point of doing it? Why show up every day and pour my heart out? What are my blood, sweat, and tears going to accomplish in the end? I struggle to find the meaning and purpose in any of it. Who am I helping by showing up to write every day?

Somewhat ironically, the novel I’m struggling to write deals with immortality and youth. I ask myself why a character would want to live much longer, even with the benefits of youth. My thought was that many people wouldn’t know how to handle living more than a hundred years, that only those with an exceptional sense of purpose and joy would want to go on living. If you outlived all of your loved ones, what would keep you going? Albert Camus said that it takes more courage to live than to commit suicide, and that happiness (even for Sisyphus) is to enjoy your work in spite of the apparent futility of existence. I think the drive to create is stronger than the desire for immortality. Creativity, in one form or another, is where souls find their purpose. It’s how we make sense out of the lives we are living, and helps us and others enjoy that life. It brings context and clarifies meaning for us as we try to imagine what forever might be like. The need to create is a very strong human calling, and when I feel creatively blocked, I start to lose my sense of purpose, direction, joy, and meaning. Guilt creeps in.

Piled on top of personal guilt is the public shame of not having a word count on the NaNoWriMo site for my novel. This feels like a huge failure. Maybe it is a failure at the moment, but the entire project hasn’t failed. I am not a failure. I am a person who matters, who loves to write, and will write my heart out. Even if it feels like it doesn’t matter. Defeat is a mindset. The only thing causing me to fail is the idea that I’m not good enough. If I show up and write in spite of that voice in my head, I’ve won.

It’s frustrating to say that the cure for creative block is to just create, but time and again that’s the answer that reveals itself. Feel like you can’t do it? Just show up and do it. Simply doing anything creative usually helps to make the guilt of creative block go away, even if it’s not related to what you want to accomplish. If you’ve been staring at a blank page for a while, get up and go outside with your sketch book or make some bread. Every act of making something helps to bring you back to your center and remind you of the joy of creating without the pressure of meaning or perfection. It’s in your DNA to create, so find something–however small and seemingly insignificant–to make that makes you happy and don’t feel guilty about counting that as a success. It’s part of showing up to your work. If you showed up, you’ve won.

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