I wonder what you think of when you hear the words “creative life”?
Like, what does that actually mean to you?
For me, the definition has changed dramatically in the last handful of years. I spent most of my life genuinely believing that I wasn’t a creative person. I wasn’t even mad about it, really. It just “wasn’t my bag, baby” (name that movie).
I can’t act or sing or dance. I don’t “do” crafts. I can’t paint or draw or even sketch. I always put “Art” in a box, and when I didn’t see myself fitting into that box I assumed I had no place in the Creatives Club. I mean, it’s not like I was moping around all the time, bereft over my lack of artistic flair. To borrow a quote from Melanie Shankle, I fell more in the camp of, “It’s fine! I have other gifts”…
I’ve always been someone keenly aware of other people’s feelings and for as long as I can remember I’ve had a built-in desire to make other women feel understood, encouraged, and included. I can find the humor in just about any situation. I’m good at home design. I’ve written weird personal stories and extremely indulgent cards for everyone in my life since I was 7 years old. I have an uncanny ability remember obscure movie quotes.
I mean, this is not an all-inclusive list but I HAVE STUFF, is what I’m saying. Stuff I know I’m good at. Stuff that makes me feel alive and awake and excited.
But maybe I’m just a bit slow on the uptake because it honestly wasn’t until my early 30’s that it dawned on me that my “stuff” might actually be useful. That it might matter, and not just to me. It might even count as “creativity”, which led to the bigger realization that my creativity is intimately linked with my passion, calling, and purpose. My dreams, even.
It wasn’t until I began intentionally moving towards those pieces of myself that I’d always tucked away in a drawer marked “Inconsequential” that I finally woke up to my creative self. Maybe it sounds dramatic to say I “woke up” but that’s honestly the only way I know how to describe it.
It’s like I finally started coming home to myself and in that process I found the courage to believe God might actually have plans for all those parts of me.
All those hidden places that ached because they felt unimportant and overlooked for so long.
I think what I’m trying to say here, is that before we dive in to HOW to get unstuck in your creative life, we should probably establish that your “creative life” is really just your actual life.
Creativity isn’t just reserved for arts and crafts, y’all. Our natural creative bent spills over to every aspect of our life. It defines the unique way we show up in the life we’re building. It’s the lense, filter, and gauge for how we process and contribute to the world around us.
But there’s this tricky thing that happens whenever we decide to level up in life and reach for something we want, whether it’s a new project, an idea we’re developing, a dream we’re working towards, our health & fitness, or even a stronger relationship- that decision usually starts from a positive place- a place of love and excitement.
This is good! This is where it SHOULD start.
But there will inevitably come a point at which it gets hard.
Maybe the progress is just slower than you hoped, maybe you started strong but you’ve lost momentum and you’re tired, or maybe you find yourself in the middle and realize you can’t see your target so clearly anymore.
Maybe where you once held crystal clear vision and actionable steps you suddenly feel confusion, fogginess, impatience, or even despair.
Because, let’s be honest- this stuff is hard, right?!
We know that creativity is equal parts work & play. We know it in our knowers, but it’s so easy to forget when we find ourselves in the middle of a thing.
The hard part. The underbelly.
So if you happen to find yourself in that difficult place, the good news is that this is normal and you’re not alone.
Every creative endeavor, every project, every plan is going to have an underbelly.
Expect it, wait for it, and partner with it when it comes!
HOW do we partner with it?
Well I’m so glad you asked. I’ve been thinking about this a lot actually. Because I’ve been in the middle place on a creative project for waaaay longer than I anticipated. I’ve learned a few things that help… and a few things that don’t. And since I’m a person who’s basically incapable of processing anything privately, I thought I’d share them with you. I’m sorry and you’re welcome. 🙂
- DON’T FIGHT THE FUNK
When you feel that tension start to rise, that discomfort, or even pain, allow yourself to sit in that tension instead of struggle against it. It’s a normal part of the process, and I’d go so far as to say it’s even helpful too. The more you resent the tension the more you’ll wear yourself out. Be willing to be present with the discomfort, to listen to it, and to give it time to sort itself out.
- KNOW YOURSELF
Are you the kind of person who performs well under pressure? Are you a procrastinator? Does a looming deadline make you work more efficiently or does it cause you shut down? Take your own soul and personality into account and Plan Ahead for it. Which brings me to my next tip:
- HAVE A PLAN
If you’re aiming at nothing in particular you’ll hit your goal 100% of the time. We have to be able to SEE and envision where we want to go. We need to see it in as much detail as possible so we can create a plan of how to get there. Start with the end goal and reverse-engineer.
- Good job. You have a plan. You are smart! You are already ahead of the game! NOW HOLD THAT PLAN LOOSELY.
If (when) you get to a place where you feel stuck, give yourself permission to go slowly instead of stopping. In order to push through the underbelly you’re going to have to let go of (or at least loosen the reigns on) your own expectations & timelines, pressure to hurry up and try, or of having a clear linear line from A to Z. Your point A might only be two inches on the map from Z but the route to get there might be 20 feet of loops and circles- especially if your particular end goal is somewhere entirely new. If you’re in uncharted territory, it’s okay to give yourself grace when you get off course, turned around, or delayed.
- USE YOUR INNER COMPASS
Uncharted territory is exciting but it’s also a little scary. Sometimes being stuck looks a lot like feeling lost, like you’re out in your boat in the middle of the ocean and you know where you wanted to go but you can’t see the shoreline yet and you aren’t sure how to find it. Use your inner compass. Stop and remind yourself of that clear vision and plan you had in the beginning. When you saw the finish line in your mind, how did it look? How did it feel? Get back to the basics of what you actually want out of this and why you’re doing it. Somewhere in your gut you have those answers or you wouldn’t have set out in the first place. Your gut has it’s own compass and it’s okay to trust it- even if it’s all you’ve got at the moment.
Once you’ve reminded yourself of where you’re going, it’s okay to try a new approach, to reroute your map, or even to pivot. Come at it from another angle. Maybe you’ve been stuck because you just need to see your project or goal in a new light. Maybe there’s a whole side to your dream/idea/work that you haven’t even seen yet.
- FIND YOUR OPENING
We just watched Mission Impossible with the kids and there’s this classic scene with Tom Cruise where he’s like hanging off the side of a mountain- not even a mountain- a cliff! And he’s about to fall but he finds this teeny tiny little opening for his hand, and then one for his foot, and the next thing your know he’s pulled himself all the way to the top.
Sometimes when it feels the darkest or most dire, we’re actually much closer to the top of our mountain than we realize.
This is not the time for big picture thinking.
This is the time for laser focus, when you zoom in and just look at the 1 square foot in front of you. This is when you only worry about small, measurable goals.
Find that one little opening.
It’s there somewhere.
Those steps that are so small they’re nearly indiscernible are almost more important than the big leaps. You’ll need both to get you where you want to go, but it’s the moments where progress is so small we can’t see it that it’s tempting to lose heart.
My friend Melissa likes to call these “measurable goals”. I like to call them “annoying”. I’m not a patient person, least of all with myself. I pile on heaps of pressure on myself to hurry and be amazing, to perform well, to finish on time. But the only way to actually DO any of that is by breaking it down into small goals. We’ve got think big but start small.
- PICK SOMETHING YOU CAN’T FAIL AT
Speaking of starting small, whenever you feel stuck or frustrated, it’s okay for your next step be something SO small you literally can’t fail at it. Maybe it’s making one phone-call to open the door for collaboration, or taking out your calendar and finding the path of least resistance for yourself before you start taking action, maybe it’s setting up a space, maybe it’s just allowing yourself to dream about it and let your love for the thing grow so that it can carry you through the hard part later, maybe it’s just speaking it out loud to someone. Or maybe you just have to jump in and start before you overthink it and lose your courage. Whatever your small step is, just pick one and do it.
- EMBRACE YOUR AMATEURISM
Remember that done is better than perfect. Say this to yourself. Make it your mantra. Put it on a post-it note where you’ll see it everyday. Done is better than perfect. If you wait for perfection, you’ll never be done. But if you just dive in with a willingness to practice & learn, that counts for something! At least you’re out there in the ring, with the dust and sweat on your face, fighting forward towards your goal. That’s a lot more most people can say.
I actually have a lot more ideas on how to get unstuck but I’m going to save those for my next letter, I’m going to hit pause, and I’m going to get super real with you for a minute. I’ve been feeling stuck and a little lost with my book proposal off and on for a long time now. It’s like I’m simultaneously SO close and SO far away from being “done”. It just might be the worst kind of discomfort because I’m so close to it I can almost taste it. But every time I try to sit down and fine-tune it, or scatter those dingaling chapter notecards all over my floor, it all just jumbles together and the outline slips through my fingers. I’ve struggled against that tension, I’ve tried to pretend like it wasn’t real, (never works), and I’ve tried to rush through this part of the process- but none of that actually helps.
So today my one little opening looked like writing this blog post. Sure, it’s a *little* too long and bullet points aren’t normally my style, but the words were swirling around and they needed out. I hope you find them helpful in some small way.
Sometimes getting unstuck looks a little messy but it still gets the job done.
Thanks for sitting in the tension with me, friends.
If you want to write me back and tell me where you’re feeling stuck, or what your next small step is, I’d love to hear it. I’m all ear. Literally. They’re very big.
Love you guys, mean it.