Not everyone has the same level of control over their life. This post isn’t about pretending that the privileges and things I’ve had access to are available to everyone.
As a slim, healthy, white, cis-gender, heterosexual woman in the U.S. without disabilities, a lot of things have come to easy to me. At the same time, my life wasn’t laid out in front of me, and it took a lot of changes to end up living the way I am now. I grew up in the free lunch line at school and had an incarcerated parent. On top of that, I was a self-sabotaging perfectionist creatively stuck because I was so preoccupied with earning enough money to take care of myself. (Sound familiar?)
But, in the last several years, I’ve finally been able to break out of some of those old patterns and do things that I feel like I’m supposed to be doing here (if you believe in that kind of thing). Things like building a freelance career that I enjoy, making music, and writing.
Since I see so many other creative people struggling to do the work they really want to do, I wanted to talk about some things that helped me.
The cool thing is, the 4 things I’m going to talk about here don’t require you to suddenly be an heiress, have all the time in the world, or be anyone besides who you are now. Maybe they won’t all be within the realm of possibility for you, but maybe one of them will, and that will be enough!
If you are a creative person not currently doing the work that feels crucial to who you are, I hope one of these ideas will help you start to change that.
1. Change your beliefs
Sounds too easy, right? It’s actually pretty hard, but you can change it without changing any of your actual circumstances.
I spent years not doing the things that made me me, and I believed that was the case for a million reasons that were actually all in my head.
Here are some beliefs you might have:
Some people are talented and destined to be great and others aren’t.
Pursuing a creative career means I’ll be broke. I can’t have financial stability AND creative fulfillment.
At a certain point, you’re too old to take a creative risk and try something new.
Only a handful of people can make it in my field, and when someone else succeeds, there’s one less spot for me.
I used to take these kinds of statements for granted—I didn’t realize I could opt-out of believing them. That’s probably for two main reasons.
Firstly, people around me were touting negative beliefs about creativity as facts all the time.
Secondly, having pessimistic, negative beliefs is, in some ways, a cop out. If you can’t start writing music because you’re too old, there’s nothing you can do about it—it’s out of your control.
Having limiting beliefs shrinks your world.
The good news is that since your beliefs aren’t actually based in reality...you can change them!
The trick is to learn to change those beliefs to be less pessimistic, like this:
I don’t need to get rich or famous for my work to be valuable.
Everyone has something unique and special to offer the world.
Hard work and practice are more critical to artistic success than innate talent.
When other artists create amazing work, it makes more space for me to do the same.
But first, you need to identify the ones that are holding you back. The biggest thing that helped me do this was reading the book The Artist’s Way. It’s not for everyone, but if you’re in a creative rut, it’s a quick way to be forced to confront your limiting beliefs and actually change them.
2. Change your habits
For years, I beat myself that I wasn’t “a real musician” anymore. I’d gone from being in a band and making music all the time to a 5-year drought when I hardly picked up an instrument and never performed.
What I didn’t realize is that I didn’t need to book a show or get anyone’s approval to call myself a musician—all I needed to do was make music. And that’s as simple as forming a habit of making music.
For me, that meant that I reserved an hour every day to play guitar. Within a few months, I wasn’t just plucking away, I was in the groove of writing songs and playing every day, even outside of my designated hour.
If you really want to start a new habit, there are multitudes of resources out there, but a few simple things that made it click for me:
There will never be more time. If you want to add something to your life, the extra time will never appear—you have to make it, probably by setting your alarm earlier, blocking out time on your calendar, or even replacing something else (like Netflix). If you make an item last on your to-do list, it will never happen.
Forming a habit isn’t about the work you produce, it’s about the time you spent practicing. Don’t judge yourself based on results, just on hours logged.
Form the habit before you invest in the gear. Buying all the things you think you need for the thing is not the same thing as doing the thing, but it can trick your brain into feeling like you accomplished something. I.e., it’s better to draw for an hour each day with a ballpoint pen and printer paper than go out and buy fancy materials you never use.
3. Change your community
Sometimes your closest friends and family can be the biggest dream crushers out there. They think they’re helping you, but oftentimes they don’t know how.
When you want to bring something new into your life, it’s a good idea to seek out other people who are doing the same thing. Sharing your dream with people who don’t get it can be dangerous (they could reinforce those limiting beliefs from above).
If you don’t live in a city where you can find people doing the thing you do, find new friends online and share your new work with people you admire.
One big tip I have for finding community around your art form? It’s easier to connect with people if you’re already doing the thing. I.e., once you’ve been writing every day for a month, you’ll have a lot to talk about with a group of writers.
4. Change your location
Sometimes you just need a change of scene. Maybe that’s because you need to move to a place that literally has a music scene or an art scene. But sometimes it’s also because you just need to be in a new place. Changing where you live creates an opportunity for you to reinvent yourself. You don’t have habits formed yet, and since you’re new in town, you don’t feel you need to live up to anyone’s expectations of you \(they don’t have any yet).
I don’t mean you need to move to a big city, although that might be the case. My whole life changed when my husband and I moved from Waco, TX to New York City.
If actually moving isn’t a possibility for you, there are other things you can do:
Find your people where you currently are, and if a group doesn’t exist, form one.
Try visiting new places instead of your same old haunts.
Sometimes you can focus on your own small space too. Maybe you need to reconfigure your apartment or home to be conducive to the thing you want to do, like setting up a small desk that you only use for writing, emptying out a closet to record music, etc.
You know what I like about these types of changes? They make the prospect of Becoming an Artist less about talent and fate and more about the simple, everyday details, and the little decisions you make in your life.
Except moving. That’s a big decision. But it’s really fun! ^_^