Deep Breaths -Help I'm Overwhelmed

There are very few human beings who receive the truth, complete and
staggering, by instant illumination. Most of them acquire it fragment by
fragment, on a small scale, by successive developments, cellularly, like a
laborious mosaic.
Anais Nin

We all have it.  A rising feeling of panic that swells up every time we think about all of the things we must do in order to be successful creative individuals.  It sometimes emerges in the form of a list, a long undoable, intimidating list.  So when I received an email from Julie Chapman last month I thought it was a great opportunity to discuss this topic and share some feelings that every creative person goes through, usually once a week...

on 9/28/02 11:06 AM, Julie Chapman wrote:

so i am trying to figure out how to "make a living doing what i love". and
being the creative person that i am (this is my excuse right now) i am
completely overwhelmed.

i've been a graphic designer for 8+ years. i also illustrate for myself and
for pay occasionally, and have had a dream for a long time of doing it full
time. it is truly what i love. when i draw something that evokes a feeling.
and in all honesty i am not a great illustrator. it takes me a while. but
when it comes together it feels amazing.

when i was 25 i thought...i have so much time to get this going. i have
until i'm i'm 33, and while i have learned so much about myself, i
still have yet to make this thing a reality.

do i start with a business plan? that freaks me out because i don't know
exactly what i want to do. do i make cards? stationery? that market seems so
saturated. i have spent a good time doing research but have yet to find out
that ONE thing i need to do to get the ball rolling. do i make a web site? (i
have started this) send out postcards? get things printed? find a rep? and
if so, where and how on earth do you find one that you trust?

i could guess there is not one perfect solution. i'm sure this is much like
life, the lifelong quest for the ONE thing that will make it all better.
but, if you have any thoughts, and would mind taking a look at the attached
samples, i would so appreciate it.


best, julie

----Original Message-----
From:   Keri Smith 
Sent:   Tue 10/1/2002 11:01 AM
To:     Julie Chapman
Subject:        Re: deep breaths

Hi Julie,

I will start by saying, it seems to be a natural state for creative people
to be overwhelmed on a regular basis.  This state occurs because we are
taking on too much all at once.  We have so many ideas that we want to give
life to, so many goals.  And then there is the technical side of things, how
do I start promoting, who do I contact?  Then as you mentioned, what market
should I start with?  The overwhelmed feelings get so great that we say, why
bother, it's all too much.

In my own experience I've found it helpful to treat this state almost like a
"condition", when I say condition I mean we need to acknowledge that we are
overwhelmed and respect it as a part of our creativity.  The creative mind
gets very excited about trying something new, the result of this excitement
is it doesn't know where to start so it starts trying to do everything at
once, very quickly it takes on the characteristics of attention deficit
disorder.  While a certain amount of this might be helpful in accomplishing
tasks (working as motivation), too much of it becomes paralyzing.

I know when it comes on because I have so many ideas, yet I cannot decide
where to start.  I find myself either anxiously trying to get something out 
(in a high pressure way, PEFORM, PERFORM), or procrastinating furiously. 
Now I know to say, "Feeling overwhelmed right now." 

At this point it is time to do one of two things:  a) sit quietly, or b) talk a long
walk.  (For me a walk works best because it gets me out of my current
surroundings and into a new headspace.)  I know right now your inner critic
is screaming, "What do you mean go for a walk!!??  How is that going to
accomplish anything?"  The goal right now is to slow your overwhelmed mind
down, treat yourself kindly, like a small child who is acting hyper and
running around frantically.  It is important to not start anything when you
are in this hyper mode, (usually when we do we have high expectations, or
want immediate gratification, when we don't get it we get frustrated and
want to quit.)   So humour me for a moment, instead of doing what you would
normally do (panic), do the opposite...go for a long walk.  Minimum time: 1

During this walk your mind will be talking frantically.  Thoughts will drift
into each other, you might even start to think "I'm losing it."  After half
an hour you may start to feel things slowing down a bit, you start taking
deeper breaths, start noticing your surroundings a little more.  At this
point we can ask the question..."What one small step can I take today, to
move towards my dream?"  Do not expect an answer right away, let it come to
you by itself, this answer will come from your intuition, not your fear
place.  You will know it is the right answer when it comes, because it will
calm you slightly, it will also be positive not based out of fear.  It is
important that it is a very small step, here are some examples:

-do a new drawing of something that really moves me
-go to a newstand and find the names of 5 art directors.
-phone an organization in your field and ask about volunteering
-phone one illustrator and ask them about their rep
-phone a postcard place for a quote
-do 5 thumbnail sketches for the website design

When you find the overwhelmed feelings creeping back in, take a moment to do
some deep breathing, and say "Everything is as is should be, I am moving
forward."  One small step forward is all it takes to create a successful
creative life.  When you look back on your life you will see that it was
just a series of small movements that created the big picture.  For some
reason we tend to look at other people's careers and think they took great
leaps and bounds, but I think if you were to ask them they would say, "It
happened almost without me realizing it."
The small steps will lead to other things on their own, we don't have to try
to control everything.

My own recent example: two years ago a few people had said to me, "you
should really get a literary agent to help you out with the contract stuff."
I started looking and researching but got very overwhelmed with the whole
process (it's very similar to trying to get a book published.)  How do I
know who to trust?  Will they understand my vision?  I quickly gave up.
After I started putting my articles on my website, the response to them grew
slowly over time.  Then six months ago I was contacted by a literary agent
who was interested in representing me.  This person really responded to my
view of the world, and I felt understood exactly what I wanted to do.  By
putting the energy out there, it came back in ways I could never have

A career is it is built up slowly, piece by piece.  It takes time to build
it.  I use a similar philosophy with creating a web site, start with a very
basic framework (first page) and build it outwards, adding new sections
slowly when you have time.  I am a huge fan of the saying "use what you
got".  Why do we try to force things into being perfect and whole when we
are fragmented and imperfect ourselves?

Being successful sometimes has little to do with talent, more importantly it
is the ability to get past your own inner critic, and work with these
overwhelmed moments and allow your true self to be put out into the world.
The more you allow yourself to really enjoy the process (without the
pressure to perform), the more you will find people responding to your work.

(one added note:  for the next little while, try to refrain from looking
compulsively at other people's illustration work (we all do it).  comparing
ourselves to others can be a habit that does little to bolster our self
esteem, it usually leaves us feeling drained and without talent.  allow your
work to be what it is without judgement or comparison.)

I hope I didn't confuse you too much, I send you some deep breaths through
the wires.

p.s. I've been using the "do the opposite" thing as an experiment lately.  It's kind of like a dare to yourself.  We already know what will happen when we do the usual thing, so what have we got to lose?  Try something new.

Keri Smith is a free-lance illustrator and native of Toronto.  A graduate of  O.C.A. she has a wide following of clients in North America and Japan.  She currently resides in a “magic” cottage in Flesherton, painting, illustrating, creating, writing, and living out loud.  Her first children's books, entitled Story in a Box have just been published by Chronicle Books.