Of course, it is alright to ask questions like:
- What project do I want to do?
- What creative field do I want to explore?
- Who should I approach to learn more?
- How can I apply this or that to my life?
- What do I feel like doing?
- When should I get started?
Those questions and more are fine. They are about what direction you should follow and commitment of energy, time, and money you should make. The questioning is fine but….asking the wrong person for advice will get you the wrong answer. The answer you will get is something like this:
- No, that won’t work out.
- No, that isn’t the direction for you because_____fill in the blank____
- No, you can’t do that.
- No, that’s already been done
- No, that doesn’t feel right.
- No, no, no, no.
Ever come home after a day of work and someone asks you if your want to do something? Everything they suggest just doesn’t “feel right.” Sound familiar?
“Noooo, I don’t want to do that.”
“Well, what about _______? ”
“Noooo, I don’t want to do that.”
” Ok, what the hell do you WANT to do!!!!????? Just forget it. I give up.”
Our thoughts: “Nothing looks good so I guess I want to do… nothing. Strange. Usually, I want to do something but…this is weird. Hmmmm.”
Secret: We have an Inner Rejector who, in summary, hates anything other than sure pleasures, like chocolate sundaes, beach vacations, massages, puppies and kittens, tantalizing images, gossip, impulse buying, chips, and summer breezes.
The pleasure-safety-comfort complex controls us far more than we realize. Sometimes it stops us and almost always, it is tugging at us.
This complex has the purpose of protecting us from the extremes of:
+ never resting,
+ never slowing down to think before acting,
+ never taking time to smell the roses.
That is the light side of the complex. The dark side gets us to:
– resting too much,
– hanging too loose,
– loving inertia,
– accepting self-doubt as a perpetual condition
As you can see the light-side has a real purpose but, without balance, we can allow the dark side to be the side that is always facing up. We will talk about balance later.
The Inner Rejector is a direct relative of Depression. They link up and Depression gives the feeling tone the Inner Rejector needs to really get going. Now all the pleasures and comfort things and processes that have worked for us before, now those really suck, too. Chips and chocolate are like rotten food and eating cement. A horrible combination, that Inner Rejector and Depression, but they are frequently hanging around.
The Better Choice for Your Questions
We are far better off not asking straight-forward questions because our Inner Rejector will pull them right to itself and fire back, machine gun-like, “no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no.”
Instead, quietly look around your memory. Look for clues:
- what has attracted your attention,
- what has charmed you,
- what has fascinated you,
- what has caused you to take spontaneous or almost spontaneous actions
- what has given off the air of rightness
- what have you done in the best of times (and maybe the worst of times)
From this inner archeology, you will get strong but quiet indications of what to do next; where to go; where is likely to be the right fit for you; how you might approach something or someone; how you can find more resources or, at least, further clues.
Shhh…don’t be too loud. You don’t need perfect information to start something or take your next move. You are not a mind-reader or a sooth-sayer, so stop acting like one, scanning for information you can’t get. Go with what you got. If you start poking around too much you will make too much noise and stir your Inner Rejector to come on over to “help you out.” That help sucks.
The ringing sound of metal striking metal is distinctive. We hear, joined:
the solid strength that is the anvil;
the strength of motion delivered by the hammer
the strength of resistance in metal between hammer and anvil;
and, the determined alchemist, the blacksmith.
The ring of the metals is simple, real, necessarily constant, and earthy. We are drawn out of our thoughts and analysis, right into the center of action, into the world of grit, sweat, work, focus, and the finite.
We are badly in need of a beacon, reminding us that action, almost any action is what we frequently need to break free of stuckness. We need to start anywhere and just work. Work enlivens us and leads us to where we need to go. It ends confusion and removes the troubles caused by wandering and slumbering.
Begin today and hammer away. Hit hard and feel reality’s reverb in your arms, shoulders, and heart. Let go and strike fast, leaving no time for self-doubt or criticism to intervene. Feel resistance slowly move under your focus.
Hold in your ears the blacksmith’s beacon.
Under a spreading chestnut tree The village smithy stands; The Smith, a mighty man is he, With large and sinewy hands; And the muscles of his brawny arms Are strong as iron bands.
His hair is crisp, and black, and long, His face is like the tan; His brow is wet with honest sweat, He earns whate'er he can And looks the whole world in the face For he owes not any man.
Week in, week out, from morn till night, You can hear his bellows blow; You can hear him swing his heavy sledge, With measured beat and slow, Like a sexton ringing the village bell, When the evening sun is low.
And children coming home from school Look in at the open door; They love to see the flaming furge, And hear the bellows roar, And catch the burning sparks that fly Like chaff from a threshing floor.
He goes on Sunday to the church and sits among his boys; He hears the parson pray and preach. He hears his daughter's voice singing in the village choir, And it makes his heart rejoice.
It sounds to him like her mother's voice, Singing in Paradise! He needs must think of her once more, How in the grave she lies; And with his hard, rough hand he wipes A tear out of his eyes.
Toiling,--rejoicing,--sorrowing, Onward through life he goes; Each morning sees some task begin, Each evening sees it close; Something attempted, something done, Has earned a night's repose.
Thanks, thanks to thee, my worthy friend For the lesson thou hast taught! Thus at the flaming forge of life Our fortunes must be wrought; Thus on its sounding anvil shaped Each burning deed and thought!
- Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
If you know the James Thurber short story, The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, you know fantasy is a major pastime for the story’s main character. Elaborate fantasies that keep Mitty in a drab life of little.
Ben Stiller’s recent movie treatment, however, starts with this fruitless fantasizing but leads us to the power of transforming imagination and trust the end of the movie Walter Mitty travels from being stuck to unstuck.
Mitty is a hyper-organized, quiet employee, who works in photo receiving within the large storage library at declining Life magazine. His title, negative assets manager, can be taken two ways: as a real role at Life but personally as the manager of his negative assets. Those include: high-level shyness; passivity; lack of passion to follow his own dreams; day-dreaming to the point of trancing out; and, inability to see his own worth. These are not terrible negative assets but just the sort of characteristics found in many stuck creatives. Enough to hold him, and us, back.
His early fantasies show Mitty as action hero, creative genius, and great lover. But those drop away quickly as Mitty is thrown into a situation where he is under pressure to take action and leave his storage room.
He must move onward, but he still lacks the motivating power to do so. A co-worker, played by Kristin Wiig, seems to be only the girl of the boy-meets-girl formula, but she is more that. She is his muse. His attraction for her draws Mitty into the world, out of the shadows and his fantasies.
Getting to know her requires Mitty to take chances, to push himself beyond his comfort level, to take what may come. He needs these skills throughout the remainder of the movie as the scale of his life booms grander.
His muse, gives him the shield and the energy he needs to go fully on his great travels. Kiig’s character explains a recurring element of Stiller’s movie, David Bowie’s song, Space Oddity. In a great scene we see shy Mitty electrified by this song and Wiig’s image and we can’t but also feel this powerful release from stuckness.
> Practice: Do you have inspiring images? If so, bring them back to vividness. If you don’t, take another look at movies, books, music, places, that have moved you to creativity or inspiration. Still can’t find any? It is o.k. to go in search of one.
At last released, Mitty can now fully launch out to track down the one person who can solve his work problems, a great photojournalist who travels to the world’s very dangerous locations. Mitty must walk into dangers. At first, shy Mitty seems so much smaller than the daring photographer. Soon we see, by traveling and taking chances, Mitty has grown to be a co-equal.
Walther Mitty trusts. He trusts that travel and pushing himself to manage the obstacles of travel will crack him open to a greater life. A rational person, cautious person would say this is all absurd. There are no muses. No reasons to take chances. Visualization will only disrupt life, not add to it. Trust in the unknown and unseen is crazy.
> Practice: You have trusted before. List the times and instances you have trusted; don’t overly focus on the results of that trusting but the trusting itself.
The Secret Life of Walter Mitty reminds us in a beautiful and compelling way, that trust frequently pays off. Life gets bigger and more important when we get off well marked paths and try new trails. It won’t be easy, but it will be stimulating and broadening.
Mitty is different at the end of the movie, of course. But something unexpected awaits him back where he started. He gets to see that his years of slow, quiet, quality work in the negative assets library had made him a hero of sorts and an unsung creative shaping the experience of millions. He was Life magazine, the greatest photojournalism publication in the world.
This is a Talking Typewriter Production – Which means this video has also been turned into text. So…you can read this video below or you may watch the video itself, above. It’s the same stuff. It’s your choice.
Hi this is Gary Goodwin founder of The Stuck Creative and welcome. Today we’re going to look at getting started on the creative journey. I wish I could report that getting started, starting on a project or even on an entire creative life is easy, that it involves one inspired leap into creativity.
The Road is Tough
But actually it is tough going. Going from desire to be creative, having an idea to actually completing a project is a very long, long journey. Most of us have not been on this journey before so we don’t know what to pack or how to prepare. We don’t know where to go, we don’t even know what’s on the path, what’s on the map. We don’t know how to relate where we have been to where we’re going. Basically we are lost before we even start.
Creatives Must Get Unstuck
As creatives we must travel. We must find a way to get going and to stay free. Being stuck is not good for creatives. Being stuck is demoralizing and it can easily convince us that we don’t have what it takes, that the trip is not worth it and perhaps we shouldn’t even try to travel. Our initial stuckness and our struggles with it only drive us into more stuckness. Now I’m going to suggest today that we can learn how to break free of this trap by consulting with old adventure movies. Action heroes in the 1940s well into the 1960s had to face a common trap, much like our own troubles around getting started.
Quicksand, a simple combination of sand and water was the monster out to get the brave and the just during this multi-decade period. Invisible and binding, the hero couldn’t see it until the earth gave out beneath his feet, then he was trapped. It was too late. Will our hero make it out? Our trap is not made of sand and water but it’s the traps in our daily mindset. What was solid earth and got us from where we wanted to go in almost everything we do throughout the day, if we persist with that it’s going to give out from under us and put us into stuck mess.
Our usual mindset will remain our trap if we don’t create a new one. It won’t be easy because we have to drop a lot of what we know and do. That which we know so well that has done so much for us, we need to change how we hold those skills. We need to put them on the shelf for a while. We must do things differently. Of course we must have a different mindset. Now for the things we need to drop to get to the new mindset.
Drop Driving Forward Movement
First we have to drop of a lot of our desire to struggle our way out of quicksand. Using driving forward movement to change things will only exhaust us when we’re stuck. We also need to give up that desire, that hope that we can shortcut or trick or [console 00:05:00] or persuade or hack or assume our smarts will get us out of this stuckness.
Drop Thinking We Don’t Have to do the Work
That stuff doesn’t work when simple work reality is concerned. Everyone has to travel the same basic path and we’ve got to do the work, not shortchange the work, not ignore the work, not deny the work, not do the work halfway. We must do the work. For instance to build muscular strength we must do things like lifting weights. Everyone has to work muscles to get stronger muscles. Everyone actually has to do the work to get stronger. Pedigree isn’t important here. No one is going to be able to skip over the fundamental work. That’s a reality. That’s a work reality.
Drop Looking for Short-Cuts
Again the desire to shortchange that or find a way around it is a waste of time and it actually will serve to keep us weak rather than make us stronger. Likewise counting on anything but our own hard work is crazy. Luck can help and can appear but that’s only a short term fix. We have to build our own strength to travel the long road between wanting to be creative and being a productive creative. Also most of us have spent too much time putting off work so we can’t afford any more time waiting around for luck or someone to rescue us or something to pop up. The sooner we start on our own path, building our own strength, the closer at last we’ll be to our creative lives and maybe actually getting a project started and done.
Drop Old Understanding of Time
Regarding time, time is different in this new mindset. We need to drop our certainty for how long things should take. Time is different where braking out of quicksand. Everything will be much much slower, many times slower than we can stand but we must learn how to be patient and steadily work because there’s no other choice. You must to the work since the work will not bend to us.
Drop Making Comparisons
Oh yes, there’s that whole thing about comparisons. We frequently are making comparisons where we’re at or who we are, making comparisons with all sorts of other people. We see them racing ahead of us free of any impediment, sometimes skipping merrily down that creative road. Let the other people be where they’re at and let yourself be where you’re at. Bring attention back to what needs to be done for you to get out. Those people you see skipping down the road came through the same place, they too had to get through the quicksand around starting. Getting out of quicksand doesn’t take much information gathering, a little bit but not much. You’re going to get what you need here.
Drop Gathering More Information
Drop the urge to gather more information and turn what you will learn here into slow, steady action. That’s the key, slow, steady action with the little bit of knowledge that you need to get out of quicksand.
We just went through the things that need to be dropped to bring about a change of mindset to get us out of the quicksand of starting. Now we’re going to turn to things we need to pick up or to pack to make our mindset closer to what we need to get us down that creative road. It’s not just picking up but it’s actually embracing. At first we may embrace something we don’t fully understand or fully appreciate but over time if we look carefully and if we use it on a steady basis we will be able to embrace that and bring it closer to ourselves so that it can fully change our mindset.
We need to embrace crawling, meaning that small, very small movement is what will propel us forward, and that crawling takes time. Actual quicksand is fluid enough to allow pockets of water, [inaudible 00:09:07] sand to form if we move our limbs and body slowly, very slowly. With each pocket that we develop from that slow movement the sand loosens its grip on us and we’re able to move just a little bit more.
Once we get into this slow steady movement we will now be able to handle setbacks because there will be setbacks. There are setbacks for us and there are setbacks for everybody else. We will know that movement forward sometimes means moving sideways or backwards or simply waiting for a while until things are [inaudible 00:09:54] Then we can move forward again. The sooner we can embrace that non linear movement is a fact of life, the sooner we can save the energy we formerly used to struggle against this reality.
Slow and steady will only come from being excellent at patience and at persistence. Persistent focus and just the right amount of force is what we need, persistently. If we’ve done all the dropping and embracing just discussed, at some point our skill at spotting subtle openings or clues and help will develop. We will spot openings for movement, indications where we can move next. We will see clues that will us to understand our work better and we’ll see help that will appear from all sorts of sources.
Embrace Getting Dirty
About getting dirty, I’m not so much focused on how dirty we’ll get crawling out of quicksand, but using getting dirty as an analogy for being humble, doing whatever dirty work presents itself between where we are and where we want to go with our creative projects. No task are too small or to low for us to do, these are the things we need to do at this time. Our ego needs of being thought beautiful or smart or cool or always in control, get put on hold as we work our way out of our own quicksand.
Embrace Becoming a Different Person
We all have to change, that’s just the fundamental nature of this struggle out of stuckness.
How to Make This Work
– Remember what you have to drop and to embrace
Make your own list of the above things that need to be dropped followed by making a list of what you need to embrace. Every day for weeks and probably months, review this list to keep mindful of what needs to be done.
– Challenge yourself to take small steps in dropping and embracing what is on the list and look for successes. Success can lead to other successes.
-Be Patient But Be Persistent
Because our distractions flow through us, we participate in:
- what is perceived as a distraction,
- how that distraction affects us, and
by how much
- what we do when distracted
- what we do to avoid, lessen, or increase distraction
- where we are distracted
- when we are distracted
- how frequently we are distracted.
(This post is part of an on-going series of posts on The Truths of Distraction. At the conclusion of the series all truths will be combined into a video.)
Andeas Goll, Pan and the Nymphs, 1897, oil on canvas
The positive side of reading a biography is its potential to inspire. We see another human working away who finds answers, takes actions, who receives benefits, or overcomes obstacles in some manner we wish to emulate or fate grant us. We want what they have. Maybe not all of it, especially the part about suffering or travails.
Last night I saw the last minutes of a multi-part series on Frank Sinatra. It contained rare photos and films, and voice overs of those who knew him and had spent some time traveling his life’s road. The presentation, of course, made everything about Frank appear fascinating. Even Frank’s downturns and blemishes looked heroic, meaningful, poetic, or at least colorful. The director moved us through a dozen emotions. There was:
-sadness at Frank’s retirement,
-elation at his return out of retirement,
-grief over his passing, and
-rejoicing at his triumph over poverty and non-fame to riches and power in New York, NY.
Fun stuff and a great dopamine rush.
Stepping back from this experience, I can see something hidden in this biography and the many others I have enjoyed. My inner critic detects fodder for self-judgement. How in the world can my life ever stack up to, not so much to Frank Sinatra, but to any creative person?
My inner critic finds my story wanting. In comparison with biographies, I always come out: smaller, drab, undisciplined, untalented, with darn few crescendo moments to speak of and with no future mourners or current fan base.
What started as a source of inspiration contains the undoing of my creative self-image and project motivation. My inner critic is happy, but I’m not.
Biographies are stacked against us because they are poetry and art and not reality. “Wait a minute, they used real facts and figures. They didn’t make anything up.” That’s true, but poetry and art do something to facts and figures. Nothing wrong with that. That’s the power of the arts.
Biographers sort and choose what best fits their writing goals.
Biographers develop a story or narrative arc.
Biographers look at a person’s life from 10,000 feet.
Biographers usually know how things are going to work out.
Biographers think they can reduce complexity to simple cause and effect
Biographers match a person’s life events and character to transcendent archetypes.
I would leave this discussion as something only I have to deal with, but I hear it between the lines of many creative people. “Enter and be judged,” demands the inner critic. “Speak and explain how you are as worthy as those celebrated in this high stack of biographies. Justify how your life merits examination and artistic rendering in a Ken Burns series, a David McCullough lengthy read, or a History Channel treatment. Who dare stands before me?”
How to Handle Biographies
1. Get thrilled, enjoy and get inspiration from biographies, but be on guard. Biography feeds two mouths: the inner muse and the inner critic.
2. Remember, people in biographies did not live their lives from the perspective of their biographers. They lived daily life, under the same ground rules that we live. Biographers short-cut, simplify, glorify, amplify, and minimize. We have to take the long road, accept complexity, live with the mundane, and take life at whatever size it presents.
3. Limit the inner critic/judge by disputing its comparisons and think of it as a very ill-informed and belligerent person who is trying to give you advice. No thanks and move along.
4. Turn your attention from unimportant comparisons back to your work at hand. If you don’t have work at hand, that’s a problem. Get busy and get some. Keep consistently busy.
5. One last time: Don’t compare yourself and your life to a biography.