What story do you tell about your creative life?
Imagine this… you’re going out for dinner with a friend and they’re bringing along an out-of-town relative you haven’t met yet. Your find yourself sitting next to the new person and they say, “So, what do you do?”
How do you answer?
Do you dread this question; dread being sized up and boxed in depending on your answer? It can be especially difficult in our early stages of building a creative career – especially when we have one foot in the amateur hobby camp and one foot in the professional career camp.
“Who am I to call myself an artist?” We think.
There are lots of reasons we don’t give ourselves permission to talk about our work the way we someday hope to. Things like:
- I’m not very good yet. I don’t want them to ask to see my work.
- I’m not getting paid for it yet, at least not very much. It’s not a ‘real’ job.
- I don’t know my voice or what I’m trying to do with this yet.
So instead we talk about our ‘real’ job in advertising or the bank or retail.
If we mention our art at all, we’re apologetic or small about it. We explain that we’re not very good, that we’re just starting out, that we don’t really know if it’s what we want. We do this mainly because we think we know what they’re thinking and we think we can beat them to the punch because it hurts less than their judgement.
Yet, with likeminded creatives or behind closed doors in our own serene art practice our story might be very different. We likely give ourselves permission to experiment and try. We don’t expect to make a living from it and that’s rarely on our mind. It’s fun and we feel more ourselves when we do it. We feel quietly proud of our progress and appreciate this special time with our craft.
It’s so interesting to pay attention to what you say to others because it’s a great indication of what’s bubbling away under the surface.
You see, our words mirror our thoughts and our thoughts match our emotions. So if we’re feeling insecure, uncomfortable or judged, we will think thoughts that match these emotions. Things like “I’m not very good yet, I’m not a professional, I don’t really know what I’m doing…” And because we thought them, our words will reflect these thoughts. We might also have body language and tone that betrays our discomfort or we might try to justify ourselves and our choices.
I’m raising my hand here. I am so guilty of this.
When you catch ourselves talking down about your craft or your ability, it’s great feedback. It show you there’s something you’re worried about. It’s the symptom of a deeper cause.
When you’re aware of it, you can shine a light on it and decide if you want to keep it or change it.
Remember, our words reflect our inner thoughts and feelings. Most of these thoughts and feelings, about 95% of them, are automatic and happen without our awareness. So our words give us a window to view this unconscious part of ourselves.
Feeling insecure, uncomfortable or judged gets in the way of living your dream creative life. Telling yourself you’re not good enough yet or professional enough yet stops you from taking risks, making mistakes and ultimately progressing and getting better. It’s unhelpful.
Telling others you’re not good enough yet also robs them of the opportunity to appreciate your art and you accidentally judge their aesthetic. They might have been really moved by your piece, ready to ask how they can buy it, but hearing that you don’t sell it or that it’s not very good makes them feel like them feel shy about asking.
Let’s reframe telling your story
Firstly, let’s change the question that we hear them ask into a more interesting question.
So they say, “What do you do?”
People ask this question because of instinct (it’s what they always say) or insecurity (they don’t really know what to say) or judgement (they want to label you with a status attached to your job).
But really, they’re looking to learn a bit more about you and find some common ground to have a conversation.
So you can hear, “What are you working on at the moment?” or “What are you interested in right now?”
These questions are much less loaded and take the sting out of the judgement so that you can say what you actually want to say about your interests and what you’re working on or learning about. And, the other person still gets to learn something about you and find some common ground. It’s a win-win.
Then you’re free to say, “I’m working on some new paintings at the moment…” or “I’m really interested in story-telling and have been learning some really cool things.”
We’ve shifted the attention from ‘are we good enough’ and placed it on ‘what we’re interested in’.
What I love about this shift is that it is a more open starting place. Curiosity and interest are really open. They intrinsically have more questions than answers. They accept what is and look for something new to add.
Open can be a little more vulnerable, but even then, you can get curious about what happened and look for new ways around it. It is both the problem and the solution.
On the other hand, playing small, making excuses and worry are all really closed. Each justification builds a wall around possibility and closes you off from others. Walls protect you but they also block you in.
Jim Kwik says, “If you fight for your limitations you get to keep them.”
In other words, if you tell people you’re not good enough yet and you aren’t a professional yet because its not your full-time vocation – you are fighting for your limitations. No one is going to disagree with you or prove you wrong.
But, if you share your interests and your learnings, you talk about your hopes for the future and what you’re grateful about now – you’re unlimited. No one’s going to disagree with you or prove you wrong. In fact, they might really like your work or know someone who can help – a mentor or a potential customer… They might feel inspire by your persistence and vulnerability and admit something interesting and unusual about themselves too.
You’re a creative person. You have artist licence to play with the story you tell about yourself and your work.
So tell me, what story are you telling? Is it open or closed? Or is it like a chameleon, changing depending on who’s asking?