So far in this series, I've talked about the first two steps in learning how to live your best creative life: Step 1: Tune In, and Step 2: Face Your Fears. Today I want to talk about Step 3: Get Real (and Start Where You Are). This step serves as a reality check and a kick in the butt! It was just the push that I needed to really make changes in my life.
Here's the deal: You are not going to be able to create award winning art at first. You will not write a best-seller the first time you put your thoughts down on paper. You are going to go through the learning process just like everyone else on the planet. No one is perfect, everyone is a beginner at some point or another. This was a huge problem for me. I had been carrying around this grandiose notion in the back of my mind for years that I was an artist, but I wasn't actually creating art. News flash: Just thinking about it does not count. You are not going to improve while you sit around thinking. The journey doesn't start until you do. As Marie Forleo says: "Clarity comes from engagement, not thought."
For so many of us, perfectionism keeps us locked in inaction. It makes us think: "I'm not going to get started until I know that I will succeed" or "I don't want to look stupid if I make a mistake so I just won't do anything." But this is keeping us from the very thing that we need to do to move forward, which is learn from our mistakes. Lots of experts will recommend that you do a certain number of projects, just to throw them away. So, if you're an artist, go ahead and do 10 paintings that you know you are going to chunk, just to get your juices flowing. Or write 10 blog posts that you know you will never post. I know this may sound like a waste of time, but you are not going to improve until you have put in the time and effort to develop your skills. There is no shortcut to this. You have to be honest with yourself about where you are currently, and what it is going to take for you to get to where you want to be. Then you have to take action. Consistent action. Every day.
Get Real also means not expecting too much from yourself and your circumstances. Maybe you have obligations such as children or aging parents or providing for yourself and your family, and you cannot just quit what you are doing to chase after your dreams. So What. Do what you can within the constraints of your current circumstances. Stop putting off starting until things are perfect. Start where you are. Elizabeth Gilbert suggests that when the heroine of the story can't manage a full-fledged heroine's journey, that she opt for a mini-quest instead. This is something that can be accomplished within the span of an afternoon. Challenge yourself to find something beautiful, create a ritual around releasing something in your life that is troubling you, do whatever feels right for you within the constraints of your current circumstances. Your goal doesn't have to be a life changing event that would require you to become an entirely different person. Your goal can simply be to start carving out an hour here, two hours there to devote to yourself and your creative life. It doesn't sound quite as glamorous as a life-changing experience, but it is realistic, and that's what we're going for.
For me, Getting Real meant that I could not quit my day job to pursue my passions. I have bills and obligations and student loans that are not going to wait around for me to find myself. So I have to work around them. In fact, my working life has provided invaluable material for my art. I face challenges at work that show me where I need to focus my attention, where I need to grow. Life is what gives us creative material. I had the opportunity to not work for several months a few years ago and it was disastrous. Instead of using the time to focus on my art, I spent the entire time desperately searching for a job, anxious and lacking direction. I realized during that time that I need structure in my life. And a full-time job provides just that for me. Sure, sometimes it is the absolute pits to have to leave my own personal projects to go work on someone else's all day, only to come home in the evening too tired to do anything that I had planned, but at least it keeps me interested and on my toes and excited about my work when I do have the time to focus on it.
But here's the really cool thing that I've learned: You will get where you need to go no matter which path you choose or which road you are on in life. It does not matter if you are working full-time, caring for your family, and juggling a variety of other obligations, or if you are able to devote 100% of your time to your creative life. If you are awake and aware and consistently facing your fears and tuning into your inner voice, you cannot go wrong. It took me a while to understand this. For years I worried that I had chosen the wrong path, that I was spending my time on the wrong things, that I was going to miss the thing that I was born to do. Not gonna happen! A great illustration of this concept is Santiago's journey in Paulo Cuelo's book The Alchemist. Santiago learns what he needs to know in all of the different things that he does along his journey and all of those things ultimately lead him to his treasure. But the key is... he makes the most of each situation that he finds himself in. When he is a shepherd, he is the best shepherd that he can be. When he works in a shop selling crystal, he excels there and helps the shop owner to make more money than he ever thought possible. Neither of those jobs were his ultimate destiny, but they were practical situations in which he could learn the skills that he needed for the long term. That is how life is. Everything that we do along the way is leading us to our destiny, we just have to trust the process.
So, I challenge you to take the first step to get started on that project that you've had in the back of your mind for months (or even years!). I challenge you to schedule time for yourself this week, to do whatever you need to do to feed your creativity. I challenge you to Get Real, acknowledge your situation, and then Take Action in whatever way you can. Let me know how it goes!
Must Read for "Get Real": The Alchemist by Paulo Cuelo. Also, watch Elizabeth Gilbert's conversation with Oprah on 'Mini-quests' here.
Next time I'll talk about Step 4: Take Yourself Seriously.
See you then!
© Haley McManigal 2015
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