Sunday, 18 May 2014

A survival Guide For The Creative Mind

Being a professional artist comes with its fair share of challenges so, through trial and a lot of error, I’ve come up with this survival guide on how to navigate the creative life without going bonkers.

Value yourself
Get a sense of your own value and the value of what you do and can create. As an artist you are a conduit through which flows the boundless creative energies of the Universe. Sounds grand, doesn’t it but that’s what’s happening and the clearer that pathway, the more effectively you’ll be able to share these riches. The trick is to tap into this authentically and graciously. In times gone by creative genius was something you accessed, a gift from the gods not something you were. Creativity is much easier on the soul if you think of it as passing through you because then, your job is simply to capture rather than generate it and allowing it to pass through your own unique filter is what gives this abundant energy so many different expressions.

Embrace it. It is your friend. We’ve all seen scans of rejection letters sent to famous artists early on in their careers and it amuses me how many of the subsequent comments are along the lines of, “I can’t believe Sting/ Tracy Emin/ Eddie Murphy got turned down for such and such”, and “I bet that exec is sorry now!”. Etc.

But how do we know that early work was as good as the work we’ve come to know them for? Was the first draft of Harry Potter any good? How do we know that 1978 demo of U2’s Boy was as good as the 1980 release? Could it be, these rejections caused those artists to go back, review their work and seek to improve it. Rejection is the Universe reminding us we can do better and giving us the motivation to do so.

Review your early work
This is a great way to chart your progress and see the gift rejection can be. If you look back at your earlier efforts, your paintings or recordings or scripts, hopefully, you’ll now see the flaws in them. Great, it means you’ve grown.

And if you think those pieces are still perfect there’s one of several answers a) they are indeed perfect and you are a genius (or have genius) b) it hasn’t been long enough since you last looked at it c) you are delusional (in which case have you considered applying for X Factor?) d) you are not committed to your creative growth.

You many have gotten too attached to a winning formula you are unwilling to move on from, which is essentially, creative death. True artistry is about continuing to develop, hone and explore. I was so scared of letting go of my first twenty minute routine, a significant landmark for any comedian. I thought the only reason I was funny was because of that routine.  When I let it go I was liberated and saw that what makes you a stand up is being the source of the comedy, not just the comedy itself.  

Only compare yourself to the artist you once were and the one you want to be.  Comparing yourself to anyone else is pointless. They are on their own path and have their own luck, rejections and success to work through. The minute you start comparing yourself to others you welcome in resentment and jealousy. You should be aiming to be the best version of yourself, not anyone else. We always invent a frenemy whose growth we secretly resent but let them go, allow them to walk their own path. If you stay in your truth, their journey becomes irrelevant.

Also, stop comparing how things are, to how you think they should be. That sense of entitlement will not serve you. The industry doesn’t owe us a living just because we decided to join it. It’s a tough reality to take but once we do, it liberates us from resignation, jealousy or frustration about the industry or our fellow creatives. Too often I hear performers claiming the state of the industry or the accomplishments of one particular act are the sole cause of their own lack of success. I say nothing but deeply believe it is their attitude that keeps success at arm’s length not the activities of others.

Chart your progress
One of my biggest pitfalls is listening to the voices in my head which pollutes my mind with negative feedback on how things are going. All it takes is one off day to create the perfect environment for doubt to start creeping in. I recently explained this unproductive mental cycle to a meditation teacher who recommended I begin to track my progress. It’s so obvious but it was a real a-ha moment for me.

I put together a really straight forward spreadsheet. Down one side, the things I wanted to chart, across the top, the date. Every day, I grade everything, (using a colour code, dark to light, dark being bad and light being great!) and over the weeks built up a colourful representation of how things really were. 

Spreadsheets may sound a bit corporate but it has done me the world of good. Now, when I get fearful because I’m not seeing the results I’m looking for, I glance at this chart and see the truth. Since I’ve started doing it, I’ve felt much calmer about what I’m doing which is important when you work in an industry that’s as unstable and uncertain as the arts.

Another way to plot your development is to set goals. If you know what you want and when you want it, you become accountable to yourself and have a better chance of making your desires real. Without them, success is more down to chance than your own clear and specific intentions. Some people like to chance their hand, but in my opinion, it’s the people who are clear and super intentional who achieve their dreams expediently.

Treat it like business
This is a tough one for people who tell themselves they don’t have a business brain. Well, first of all, as Olivia Pope would say, change the narrative. The story you tell yourself about who you are is the one you get to have so whether you tell yourself you can do something or you can’t, you get to be right. So, tell yourself you do have a business brain and can take a more business-orientated approach to your career. Why? Because you are the CEO of a very important company. Your artistry is the product and you are the boss and what boss spends all their days on Facebook and Twitter and not on letting the world know about the fantastic product they have. And remember, there’s a difference between being business-orientated and corporate. It’s the difference between Virgin and Morgan Stanley. Flair, individuality and fun needn’t be compromised by bringing order, professionalism and process to what you do.

In acting and comedy I’ve seen many people who have a weak work ethic but are surprised when a successful career doesn’t fall into their laps. If that’s your attitude to your artistry, I suggest trying some other industry where the parameters of what’s required of you are set by someone else. Because to make it to the top requires discipline (I sound like the dance teacher at the start of Fame).
You need a strong work ethic and be willing to put all your heart and soul into what you do. What you put in is what you get out and if you put a little in, you get a little out. It may look like that’s not true when you see other people make little effort but reap big rewards. If you’re thinking about this, go back to Comparisons and READ IT AGAIN. 

Know this, whatever you’re doing, someone wants it more and is doing more than you to get it so do your best. But know this also. Someone is always doing more than you whatever you are doing so don’t kill yourself. Sounds like a paradox but it isn’t.

Make sure you rest. Even if you love what you do beyond all else, rest is important. In fact, not only is it important, it’s part of the process. You may think things working out is directly proportional to the effort we put it but it’s not. While you sleep, while you rest, while you play, the Universe is working on your behalf and if you “effort” all the time, you are not leaving any room for the Universe to make a contribution so take a break. Be it taking a walk around the block at lunch time, a day at the beach, an evening in front of the TV, whatever, but allow your brain to have a little space from thinking about your career. This has all kinds of restorative benefits. It clears the deck, allows inspiration in, gives you renewed enthusiasm, calms the mind. It probably makes you better in bed too. But that might just be wishful thinking on my part.

Trust your gut
This means that no matter what anyone says, trust your instincts because, like genius, the messages it sends are not from but via you. Those instincts are the Universe’s missives offering you guidance. Trust your gut on your choices, on what your next move is, when and if you need to stop, change lanes, regroup, seek help, look for answers, knuckle down or take a break. Ask, listen and wait. An answer will always come. And make sure you are listening to your gut rather than your brain masquerading as your gut. Your head can generated fearful thoughts which are unhelpful and do not get you where you want to go.

So much of what artists do occurs on the energetic plane so make sure that you’re taping into an energetic stream that’s in service of your greatest dreams and desires. This may mean seeking coaching, therapy, incorporating a daily spiritual practice (essential for the artist). Look at your networks and make sure you’re surrounded by productive and positive people. Those in your immediate network are a reflection of where you’re at. If you are surrounded by procrastinators then, chances are, that’s the energetic space you’ll continue to occupy but if you align yourself with motivated, successful individuals, they will elevate you to where they are.

Let it go
Let go of everything. People chose an artistic life because they believe it will bring them pleasure so let go of the need to chase anything and simply do what makes you happy, every day. Do this and as the saying goes, you’ll never work a day in your life.

“But what about my goals and stuff?”, I hear you say. Of course you have dreams, and goals and tasks but never let your happiness become tied to achieving those things because it means you’ll only be happy once they appear in your life and that is a trap. Get happy and you will magnetise the things you desire to you. Remember, the moment you visualise your desires, they’re out there, they exist and are simply waiting for you to call them forth into the material world. How? By using your artists survival kit, in fact, let’s change the name from survival kit, to sur-thrival kit.

Grow, love, flow.

Other posts you may enjoy: Why Artists Will Always Work For Free, Path To Victory and Desk to The Dance - my journey from day job to performer

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