Some of the biggest challenges I had to face with my creative career did not come from the outside world, but from the inside. Vulnerability, resistance and fear have been and are some of the biggest threats I (and any creative or anyone pursuing a calling) have to overcome. For me at least, it has been quite a struggle, so I've decided to write a blog post about it, maybe give some good/inspirational advice in the process.
Vulnerability (or "creative vulnerability" as I like to call it)…Uh! I've had some hard time with this one! Anyone who has been with me at Dawson knows how much of a hard time I've had. To me, opening up about my photos and my art was the most vulnerable position I could put myself in. And putting my photos in front of the class and having to stay there and watch as everyone dissects them seemed like a piece of a nightmare. I felt completely naked and exposed.
But then I found this Chase Jarvis LIVE talk with Brené Brown, a research professor at University of Houston Graduate College of Social Work (check out this Ted Talk as well). One of the things Brené said was a complete eye opener for me: "There is no creativity without vulnerability". It's so true…You have to allow yourself to be in that position in order to be truly creative. "Vulnerability is the birthplace of innovation, creativity and change. To create is to make something that has never existed before and there's nothing more vulnerable than that." And we are taught as a society that vulnerability is a weakness. It's not at all. Surrendering in the face of vulnerability is weakness. Acknowledging vulnerability, accepting it and pushing through is true bravery.
Understanding all these was essential in overcoming my struggle with vulnerability and in my growth as an artist. When i had found those Brene Brown talks, at that point in time I was really struggling. I was preparing for my graduation portfolio critique. Really brutal stuff!!! Lol. There's a panel of photographers outside the college critiquing (Ahm! Judging) your photos and the whole photography department (teachers and students) is watching. And then you display your portfolio, and you stay and listen to the critique…To me that was the pure definition of vulnerability and it terrified me to the bones. But Brene's advice was really inspirational and empowering to me. I realized then that if there's one thing I know about me is that I am brave. And yes, I have those feelings, maybe stronger than other people….So what? I'll just be that much braver overcoming them. So I just went to my critique, my palms were sweaty and my heart was pounding. But I pushed through. And I learned a valuable lesson and overcame a big fear.
And while vulnerability doesn't really go away…it's the way of life of the artist…learning to accept it and be brave and get over it is a lesson that must be learned in order to grow.
Another hurdle I (and we, creatives,innovators and freelancers) have to deal with (this one is less personal but just as vicious) is what Steven Pressfield calls "resistance" (in his book that i'm reading now The War of Art). Resistance is a sort of mental block; it's a sort of universal force that he claims acts against creativity. Resistance is the way we self-sabotage ourselves from reaching our own potential.
And I was dealing with that a lot lately and I knew I have a problem, and I couldn't really pinpoint what it was. I was procrastinating a lot lately, but it was procrastination disguised as work (I have to do that tutorial, I have to call my bank, I have to reply to that email etc.). Every time I would actually sit down to do my work, I would somehow find myself working on something else, which seems important, but does not add to my bottom line. I end up spending hours in front of my computer with low productivity. And I think Pressfiled perfectly defined the mental process I was going through:
First unhappiness. We feel like hell. A low-grade misery pervades everything. We’re bored, we’re restless. We can’t get no satisfaction. There’s guilt, but we can’t put our finger on the source. We want to go back to bed; we want to get up and party. We feel unloved and unlovable. We’re disgusted. We hate our lives. We hate ourselves.
I was indeed going through this mental struggle recently. I still am in a way. But Pressfield's book is another eye opener and I find is filled with great advice. The solution that Pressfield gives to combating resistance is (long story short) seriosity, professionalism and dedication. It's basically that quote from Picasso: "Inspiration exists, but it has to find you working". Basically, you don't have to have the perfect idea, the perfect circumstances, your room doesn't have to be spick and span for you to be able to create. It's the other way around. Just put in the hours, pay your dues, do things over and over again, learn new things and ideas and opportunities will come.
And another hurdle I have to deal with (and this one is strictly correlated with resistance and vulnerability) is fear. Anyone trying something even remotely outside their comfort zone has to deal with fear. Any entrepreneur, anyone changing careers, any artist performing on a stage or not to mention extreme situations of soldiers going to war, has to face fear. Fear comes from dealing with uncertainty and risk. What fear does to me is it fills my head with what ifs and my stomach with those bad anxiety butterflies and just leaves me there paralyzed in anxiety. And I've had a lot of a hard time dealing with it. And I've gotten over it so far because I like to see myself push through situations, and I'm not comfortable lingering in my comfort zone for too long. But I still have to learn to deal with it, because it keeps me from putting myself out there and taking chances as much as I would want to. What Pressfield says in his book is that fear is actually a good thing "it tells us what we have to do." His rule of thumb: "the more scared we are of a work or calling, the more sure we can be that we have to do it". If you are comfortable doing something, it means that you are not exploring unchartered territories, and therefore it does not lead to growth. And what makes the difference between a professional and an amateur is one's reaction in front of fear: an amateur will stay in his comfort zone and try to first overcome fear before doing his work, while a professional will do his work in spite of that fear. He will push through. He knows that fear is part of the game, accepts it, and goes on with it. No matter how accomplished you are, fear will still be there (Pressfield tells us about Henry Fonda how he was throwing up before every show but then cleaned himself up and marched on stage).
So being an artist or an innovator of any kind, you will have to deal with vulnerability, as you put part of yourself out there, you will have to deal with your own mind's resistance as you put yourself in that vulnerable situation, and you will have to deal with fear, as you face uncertain situations. The solution for all, my friend, is just push through! Laugh in their face, and push through! You are braver than than that, smarter than that, and more amazing and interesting than that! Push through! Get out of that comfort zone! You are a creator and an innovator, the world is waiting for what you have to give!
And, my dear reader, if you find yourself in any of these struggles, please share your experience with me. Or maybe you know someone who might find my advice useful. Please feel free to send them this blog post.