Yes this response is for you (and the hundreds of others who write me and I have not had time to respond to of late). I apologize for writing you back in this manner but it occurs to me that there may be others who might want to read it too. All too often I think that the blog medium has lost it’s value, and I question why I continue to do it even after I feel the medium as a whole has been devalued for a plethora of reasons (blog ads being one of them). But then I receive an email like yours telling me that the fact that I have shared some of my process as a human and an artist has really helped in some way, and I think “yes, there is merit in it after all.” Though I should probably post this tonight, before I have a chance to second guess it.
So what did I want to say to you? I suppose as I write this I think of the fact that I could be writing to my younger self, and what would I say to her? I confess that I don’t often like to give advice to people as I find advice a bit too dogmatic and personal, what works well for one might not for another. And who am I to say what is best for you? I also find that people who write me asking for advice probably are looking to hear something very specific, more like a quick fix, of which there are none. (Plus I am a rebellious human being by nature and tend to do the opposite of what people ask me.) But you didn’t write me for advice did you? Good. That is why I am writing you here.
So here is what I want to tell you. If we were sitting in the same room I would sit next to you, take your hand in mine, and look straight into your eyes and say, “I know that pressure you speak of very well. The “focus on self-promotion, competitiveness, networking and always attempting to be edgier and smarter than others at all costs”. I have felt that pressure too, still do on occasion. But here is what I know now, that I didn’t know before when I started out…
Creating work out of that pressure, doing all of the things that you have been taught by others, and listening to that voice in your head that tells you you need to be better is not what will create that success you are craving. The true work, (meaning the work you are here to do), comes from a completely different place than this. This energy of pressure actually does very little to move you ahead and into the place where you desire to go, and in some cases can even lead you in the complete opposite direction. I know your head is telling you you need to do it but really that is just dogma you have been taught by other people who are scared of going to their own true place (doing the work that they are really meant to do), so they go on repeating what they were told by other fearful people, and so on and so on.
There is a part of me that says, “it is silly to be telling someone these things because they have to figure it out on their own.” Which is quite true, I cannot save you from some of the hard learning, but at the very least I will give you “a lead”, something to hold onto and think about, (because if you have learned anything at all about me from reading my stuff, it should be that I like to make people think.)
So what I really want to share with you is this…the energy that you feel when you are creating is very important and will tell you if you are on the right path. Not that there is only one path, there are many, but I am referring to doing work that fulfills you and brings you “success”, and when I say success I really mean “work that is meaningful to you”, work that is aligned with your ideals. What do I mean by “energy” you might be asking? How do you feel when you are working, when you take on certain jobs? How does your body feel? I will refrain here from using words like “good” and “bad” as there are inherently judgmental, instead preferring “open” and “closed”.
Open energy: light, energized, ecstatic, inquisitive, curious, want to stay up all night, go for a run, feel like you can conquer the universe, tuned in, radiating, etc.
Closed energy: tired, small, sick to your stomach, tight, passive, unengaged, unmotivated, discouraged, overwhelmed, frustrated, fearful, uninspired, etc.
The difference might also be illustrated by thinking of how you would feel after having lunch with someone who you love to spend time with, someone who makes you feel excited and energized, contrasted with how you might feel if you watched TV for 12 hours straight while eating junk food. So the goal is to try to do as much work as you can that has the open energy attached to it. This is the source for all your best work.
Now I know you might be saying, “but it is hard to find paying work that has that kind of energy”. Yes, that may be true, AT FIRST. So you must try to make some time to do that kind of work on your own, (the kind that makes you want to stay up all night). The more of that you can do and share with the world, the sooner the world will see your brilliance and enlist you (and even pay you) to put more of it out there. It CAN happen.
Now I’m not saying that you won’t have many bad days where you feel incompetent and like you are flailing like a crazy person. As Kurt Vonnegut put it so perfectly, “When I write, I feel like an armless, legless man with a crayon in his mouth.” But at times you will also feel like you are able to leap over tall buildings with great ease if you go directly into that place you spent a lot of time when you were a kid, experimenting and making messes, and playing on the floor.
And before I go there are a couple of other things I want to tell you (while I still have your hand in mine), you are beautiful, and talented and you have something to say (I borrowed that one from Brenda Ueland). It doesn’t matter one iota if you are unsure of what it is that you want to say just yet. The more you try to trust the process, the more you will figure it out piece by piece. But I will give you one more clue, focus your energy equally on things that get you really excited and things that get you really riled up (angry). I believe that the purpose of this wild and crazy ride of ours is to become fully open and experience the full range of emotions that make us human, (not close them off). This seems like it would be easy, but it is actually quite hard to remain open, and requires us to constantly question our own behaviours and assumptions. But it makes for a much more interesting ride doesn’t it?
I hope I have not painted the picture that I have got it all figured out, because that is hardly the case. I am flailing right along with everyone else. But I now do it with as much open energy as I can muster, and I am much better at recognizing what is filling me up and what is sapping me.
I will close by saying Thank You so very much for your words. I value them greatly, and yes, I do read every letter I receive! Please hold fast to the honesty and directness with which you wrote to me, these qualities will help you immensely along the way!
Very sincerely yours,