The courageous creative

Recently I led a workshop on getting your work from concept to exhibition. It’s been a wonderful process, putting together this resource for artists and creatives: it’s made me think a lot about the creative journey and what it involves.

In preparation for the presentation I researched many avenues, and came across Todd Henry’s podcast, Accidental Creative. Henry is a man with a mission: he dedicates his life to facilitating and supporting creative professionals as a speaker, consultant and author. His podcasts are ninja: direct, energising and motivating. They make you think about who you are as a creative, and what you need to do to produce a great body of work: not only in your job, but your whole life.

I was listening to what Henry says in Everyday Acts of Bravery and it struck a chord.

Being a creative is tough. Every day we need to examine what we’re doing to keep it aligned with our mission and purpose. We need to show up and be committed. We have to put ourselves out there when we are making work, to be new, original, considered. Through this we keep growing and developing as artists.

Don’t ignore your calling

The cornerstone of creative life is facing and accepting your calling, because it isn’t going to go away. This requires the highest form of bravery because it can be radically life-changing.

If you’re in a good, routine job or have a comfortable lifestyle, it isn’t always easy to accept that your calling may be elsewhere. So many people have reported that nagging feeling of incompleteness or dissatisfaction – and often it’s simply that they’re not doing the work or living the way that, deep down, they really want to be.

Aligning yourself with your true purpose is incredibly important. It’s your path, it’s what you were meant to do. Fight it, put it away or stifle it, and you might suffer. Misdirected energy has a way of spilling into other areas of one’s life, possibly in an unhelpful or even destructive way. It’s a subterranean yearning for an authentic existence which, if unfulfilled, can lead to sadness:

“Most men lead lives of quiet desperation and go to the grave with the song still in them.”

as Henry David Thoreau put it.

Learning is a lifelong process. I believe that when we are truly evolved, we understand that we know very little at all. Remaining committed to extending ourselves and open to new ideas and perspectives is the only productive way of addressing it, otherwise we can become stagnant and set in our ways. And as we know very well, stagnancy is the enemy of creativity.

Moreover, as we get older we become more conscious of time. The time we might have wasted; the time we should be doing something meaningful and valuable with right now; and the time we have left to build a contented existence and do work that makes us happy.

There is a lot of unconstructive noise-making around the idea of doing the work we love: that it’s self-indulgent and disregards others. That it doesn’t even conform to a work ethic.

Aristotle recognised this myth more than 2000 years ago:

“Where your talents and the needs of the world cross, there lies your vocation.”

I love this idea, that a calling can serve the world. You can even create a business out of it. As Nick Williams of Inspired Entrepreneur advocates in his book, The Work We Were Born To Do, to deprive the world of your unique gifts is actually to do it a disservice.

Which leads us to courage. In order to be creative – and be a creative – we have to be brave.

The first step is to deal with ourselves

The first step is to deal with ourselves: any inner resistance, negative self-talk, whatever internal stuff might be taking us down and preventing us from doing our work.

The next is to value our skills and talent: to look at what we have and honour it. To see how it may be useful and of service.

The next is to commit to the journey: to be prepared to go somewhere we haven’t gone before. Breaking out of comfort zones is hard – but it is necessary if we’re to move forward.

Yes, we might be really good at what we’re doing, but are we inspired by it? Is it right for us? Are we developing and progressing? Do we want to be doing something more – or even something else?

I’m not suggesting we find our inner ninja, whack on black robes and start battling – that’s a little too hardcore! A more gentle approach is just as effective.

As you move forward, be kind to yourself

As you move forward, be kind to yourself. Be aware that time is of the essence, but don’t run before you can walk.

Do your research: explore, discover, take some space to think. Don’t give up your day job immediately if you rely on it for your income; instead, explore your creativity on the side and see if you can build it into a more sustaining proposition.

If you push too hard you’ll only come up against events and circumstances that are the universe’s way of telling you that you’re either not ready yet, or you need to get more information to understand what you’re dealing with first.

Knowledge is power, and it takes time to acquire. But knowledge arms you and propels you onwards.

Know that as a creative you’re always entering fresh territory, and understand that even though the process may be challenging at times, ultimately it’s taking you where you need to go.

So, reward yourself with each new step. Consider each one a milestone and celebrate it.

Others have gone where you are now heading

Reach out to others, talk to them – get lots of support and ideas. Others have gone where you are now heading: examine their journey, see what they’ve done and how they’ve done it.

Look at what has made them fail and succeed: even the most successful people have experienced failure at some point. The difference between them and those who have truly failed is that they haven’t given up – they’ve learned from it and carried on. Treat them as a model from which to forge your own way.

Above all, be a lionheart. Know that you’re doing something amazing with your life.

You are an artist. Not everyone can do this.

At times when you’re struggling for finance or ideas, or both, this may seem like a curse, but it’s actually a blessing – and you have been blessed.

Be brave, and be real. You won’t regret it.

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