Last month I went to an art opening. When one of the men I spoke to there found out I was a writer he told me about how he had loved writing when he was in his early 20s and had wanted to be an art reviewer, yet he received a sign from the universe that told him to go in another direction. When I asked him what the sign was that made him stop writing, he told me this story:
I used to write art reviews for free because I loved it so much. Then one time I spent days writing a review for pay that I was very proud of. I sent it to a magazine (these were the days before email) and it never arrived. Turns out it just disappeared in the mail. I took that as a sign that I wasn't meant to write and so never again wrote anything I really cared about.
I was moved by his story because it reminded me of one similar incident I'd lived through when I was about the same age. Here's my story:
I tried to get into a prestigious photography program at a university. The first step was a meeting with three professors. I sat down in front of them as they reviewed my portfolio pieces. They barely said a word to me, didn't even ask me any questions. I was devastated. Needless to say I didn't get in and from that point on considered that I wasn't meant to be a photographer.
Did I mention that the guy who wanted to be an art reviewer became a photographer instead?
Sometimes what we think is a sign from the universe might just be our own fears of failure and of being rejected. In Daring Greatly, How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent and Lead, Brené Brown talks about "creativity scars" that we get when, at some point in our lives someone tells us we're no good at art, writing or another creative passion, or we simply judge ourselves not to be, and that judgment sticks.
If I could go back in time here are some things I would love to tell my younger self:
- Just because you get rejected, doesn't mean your work is no good or that you're no good.
- Maybe the person who rejected you was having a bad day, maybe it's not the right fit for the publication, program or gallery, or maybe he or she doesn't know shit. Let's face it, lots of people don't!
- Art is made from failure upon failure; think of all the famous painters, writers and musicians who toiled in obscurity until one day they became a household name.
- Please don't ever forget that you are not the sum total of your failures. You are so much more.
After that conversation I started thinking about what needs to happen for us to create. I'm convinced that a big part of it is getting out of our heads and away from the negative stories we tell ourselves.
The other day I heard from a student who's taking my course Writing the Body—Awaken to the Body’s Wisdom and Connect to Your Creative Source. She said she loved the writing exercise where you go out and observe someone in a restaurant or cafe, watch their body language, then assess how his or her perceived emotional state makes you feel. The point of the exercise is to lead you to greater presence and connection; both necessary elements for creative work.
I have included the exercise here. I would love to hear how you get into the creative zone. How do you detach from daily worries and doubts, disengage from social media and email to show up for yourself?
If we want to make meaning, we need to make art. Cook, write, draw, doodle, paint, scrapbook, take pictures, collage, knit, rebuild an engine, sculpt, dance, decorate, act, sing—it doesn’t matter. As long as we’re creating, we’re cultivating meaning.
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