Posts Tagged ‘fear’

The ‘Upside of Exile’… take 2

purplegrowthI wrote a post entitled ‘The Upside of Exile’ back in October, prompted by an article in the NY Times on the value of leaving the comforts of the place we call ‘home’— giving up former identities, leaving much of what we hold near and dear, moving out of our comfort zones—in the service of renewal and reinvention. I stressed the connection between this notion of exile and our ability to have ‘fresh eyes’  (previous post)—to see things anew, to be awake and alive, to have fresh perspectives. The post was also very personal as I had recently decided to ‘exile’ myself to a new home in Mexico—exciting on the one hand but not without plenty of questioning and self doubt.

Seven months later I can speak to another, more profound and somewhat ironic upside of exile: a deeper sense of home. Once all the dust and chaos of relocation settle and the initial excitement and fun of everything being new and different gives way to routine as it inevitably does; you find truth in the saying ‘Anywhere you go, there you are.’ Through the process of rebuilding your life in a new place you discover what aspects of your experience are a function of where you are and what aspects are with you no matter where you go. And that’s when the real work of renewal begins; the opportunity to shed old ways of being that no longer serve you; to learn how to be self reliant—not depending on outer circumstances for a sense of security, but most importantly you learn how to feel at home within yourself no matter where you are. That’s hugely empowering.

Many friends, old and new, have talked about the courage it must have taken to make this move. Up until recently it didn’t feel courageous, rather that I was stumbling along. Now it does feel a bit more like courage, aptly framed by this quote I recently came across: “Courage is not the absence of fear, but rather the judgment that something else is more important than fear.”–Ambrose Redmoon

Creativity is a Habit

Mason CurryWelcome to the new look of this blog. I always feel September to be the start of a new year; a time of renewed focus and, especially today, a time for reflection. Though hardly idle, (I really wish I was better at that); I did allow myself to drift a bit for the month of August. In addition to the redesign here and re-launching my photography website (more as a visual resume than anything else), I spent some time reconnecting with my original vision for this work around facilitating creativity. One challenge of being a solo-preneur is that we’re often operating in a vacuum—pushing our agendas in isolation, showing up each day and doing the work we think we’re supposed to be doing outside of any structure or system of validation. There are therefore days where we question the rightness of our efforts, which leads to questioning the questions—is this Resistance? Fear? Procrastination?—all those things we’re supposed to push past, daily. And yet….

Any creative effort is ever-evolving and organic with a life of its own. Unpredictability and uncertainty are essential components. Whether starting a new business, writing a book, a blog—pursuing any personal project—the trick is allowing for the evolution of the thing and adjust as we go along. What is true one day may not be true the next. The challenge is to see clearly every step of the way, pay attention to our motivations—Are they still valid?—and keep our energy up. Jonathan Fields has a great post which speaks to this, with some good questions to ask ourselves periodically about any pursuit we’re invested in.

And…once we’re clear….it’s about getting back to work. Creative productivity is a discipline. Countless books have been written on the routines of creative people. One of the best and most recent I’ve read is this one by Mason Curry. He documents the work habits of 161 people—from Benjamin Franklin to Woody Allen (the shower thing!) to Twyla Tharpe. It’s a great read for all the quirky anecdotes (headstand to clear the brain) and commonalities as well—massive amounts of coffee and long walks among the most common. The one thing that was common to almost every single subject was simply showing up everyday, for a period of time, no matter what. All the varieties of methods for summoning the muse were just that–methods based on knowing what worked for them, and that was all that mattered. They knew what they had-to-do and how-to-do-it, day in and day out, whether the muse was whispering to them or not. They knew how to be prepared…just in case. They knew how to get lucky.

Happy People Embrace Uncertainty

visualsmileThere’s a theory that true creative genius stems from a certain amount of unhappiness. Certainly there is ample evidence in the lives of many tortured artist-souls to support this. Without a doubt some unhappiness fuels the intense self-solving, searching, questioning, and re-interpreting of reality at the root of some of our great art, and certainly some of our greatest art has been produced by those at the extreme end of the spectrum. Two of my favorites, Mark Rothko and Virginia Woolf come to mind.

The link between creativity and happiness doesn’t end there however. With the relatively recent explosion of research into what makes people happy, given that globally it is ranked as the highest personal goal, new studies have shown that happiness boosts creativity, and vice-versa. Creativity as I refer to it here is not necessarily about producing works of art, rather, the ‘art’ of creating our life each day.

In the upcoming August issue of Psychology Today, well-being experts Todd Kashdan and Robert Biswas-Diener (known as The Indiana Jones of positive psychology), speak to this and turn some conventional thinking on its’ head. In an article entitled ‘What Happy People Do Differently’ the authors state: “Truly happy people seem to have an intuitive grasp of the fact that sustained happiness is not just about doing things that you like. It also requires growth and adventuring beyond the boundaries of your comfort zone. Happy people, it seems, engage in a wide range of counter-intuitive habits that seem well, downright unhappy. Curious people generally accept the notion that while being uncomfortable and vulnerable is not an easy path, it is the most direct route to becoming stronger and wiser….it’s worth seeking out an experience that is novel, complicated, uncertain or even upsetting, whether that means speaking in front of an audience, starting a blog, or engaging in a new sport. The happiest people opt for both activities that are comfortable and familiar as well as those that push them to evolve in new ways.”

How can you push your comfort zone? It’s about finding that sweet spot—just the right amount of challenge that you can build on to expand your possibilities.

Have you used up your future?

A few years ago, as I was heading into a period of sabbatical, soul searching and reinvention, I found myself feeling very lost and a little unhinged…..and yet a little excited at the same time.  I realized I had left behind so much that had identified and grounded me to that point—my career, home, friends, lifestyle—in order to create some space to explore new directions.  The words ‘lose yourself to find yourself’ resonated daily in my head. The ‘losing yourself’ part isn’t easy; much of it involves dis-identifying with so much comfort and ease….why would we choose that? In need of some guidance I reached out to an advisor of sorts–a spiritual ‘coach’ more or less. As I was grumbling about my career winding down, my empty nest, my dissatisfaction with just about everything in my life at that point—framing it all as some sort of failure on my part, he laughed. He said “Elizabeth, you haven’t failed at anything. That’s the problem… succeeded at all of it. You simply used up your future.”

Wow. That simple shift in perspective, that I had fulfilled my vision for my life up until that point and I simply needed a new script to follow…felt so empowering and relieving somehow. By choosing to operate from a place of abundance rather than lack changed my inner dialogue. It’s simply the ebb and flow of life. To choose to bloom again is not always the easiest choice….but it’s far richer and enlivening than staying tight within the bud.

Creativity = Vulnerability

Creating can be scary. Creating involves risk. A true creative act produces something which never existed before. Whether it be a new relationship, a painting, a poem, a freshly baked cake, the launch of a new business or simply a new direction in our lives there is a tremendous amount of vulnerability involved in putting ourselves out into the world in new ways, with no guarantee of acceptance or approval. It is in fact within this uncertainty that the real magic happens. To lean into this calls for a certain sort of wholeheartedness, and a sense that we are enough, regardless of the outcome. If, as I believe we are all artists in the creation of our lives each day, and ART is all just perfectly imperfect….then we must cut ourselves a lot more slack and be willing to fail, miserably if need be. This involves exposure and taking emotional risks. This is the only way to be truly alive. The opposite, staying safely (we think) within our comfort zones, is stagnation and decline.

Brene Brown states: “Vulnerability is the root of all emotions and experiences that we crave. Vulnerability is the birthplace of love, belonging, joy, courage, empathy and creativity. Vulnerability sounds like truth and feels like courage.” If you’re one of the few who haven’t seen her viral TED talks, I highly recommend both of them. She really gets to the heart of the matter.


A Call to…’Art’

My very wise, hip and creative 25 year old daughter refers to Seth Godin as the ‘prophet’ for the new age. I have to agree. I’ve been so inspired by his blog and books, Linchpin and Tribes among them, for years. Though his roots are in the world of marketing and business, Seth’s most recent book, The Icarus Deception, is a bold call to arms for all of us to ‘make art’. Art, as he refers to it, is not something we hang on a wall. He defines an artist as “someone who uses bravery, insight, creativity, and boldness to challenge the status quo. Art isn’t a result; it’s a journey. Art is what we do when we’re truly alive. The challenge of our time is to find a journey worthy of your heart and soul.” He says art is not a gene or a specific talent, it’s an attitude, available to anyone who has a vision others don’t and the guts to do something about it.

At his hugely entertaining launch of the Icarus Project and V is for Vulnerable: Life Outside the Comfort Zone at the FIT auditorium on Wednesday he talked about the difference between making a living and making a life. At the outset of his call for all of us to wake up to this new reality we’re living in, he highlighted the importance of SEEING—the need to see things as they really are, to forget the name of the thing you’re seeing, and see the world differently. Being busy is not what matters now.  Being human, vulnerable, taking a leap, and stepping forward despite our fears is what will carry the day.

As Karma would have it, I was the lucky holder of a purple ace, which won the humongous door prize pictured here, a massive compilation of his writings. Thank you Seth.

Creative Anxiety

It has been a while since my last post. I apologize! Life shifting—bit of creative chaos—has upset my blogging routine. It’s all good…and this post I had started months ago now seems particularly apt, as I have begun the process of writing a book tentatively titled  Fresh: The Art and Craft of Food Photography due out in October 2011. Suddenly I find my delving in to the psychology of creativity and creative process particularly resonant as I’m experiencing all sorts of fear, anxiety, procrastination, mental blocks, frequent trips to the refrigerator, compulsive checking my email, mind pops interrupting my sleep, words pouring out of nowhere onto the page one minute, blocked the next, and a general sense of ‘what have I gotten myself into?’ paralysis.

I have found that understanding the nature of RESISTANCE helps somewhat in pushing past it. As I head into this venture I’m very happy to have read Steven Pressfield’s book The War of Art that speaks to all forms of self-sabotage when we are creating. He names all the ways resistance shows up (see above) and shares his process which involves 3 parts discipline and 1 part magic…summoning the muse, allowing for grace: setting the scene for the interplay between left and right brain interplay. He also talks about the evolution of self and how the ego is constantly trying to undermine our personal journeys of evolution….be it a new fitness regime, a new diet or a new business venture.   And by the way, Pressfield’s experience in the Marine Corps in the 60’s and as a best selling author makes you want to follow his authoritative, good humored admonishments. Good handbook for the art of living.

The upside of Chaos….

“The scientific term ‘chaos’ refers to an underlying interconnectedness that exists in apparently random events.  Chaos science focuses on hidden patterns, nuance, the ‘sensitivity’ of things, and the ‘rules’ for how the unpredictable leads to the new.  It is an attempt to understand the movements that create thunderstorms, raging rivers, hurricanes, jagged peaks, gnarled coastlines, and complex patterns of all sorts, from river deltas to nerves and blood vessels in our bodies.”  This, and the following, is from The Seven Life Lessons of Chaos by John Briggs and David Peat, one of the most illuminating books I’ve ever read in relation to creativity. Using nature as a metaphor for ourselves, it speaks to the need to embrace life’s constant state of flux. It’s about letting go, accepting limits, and celebrating the magic and the mystery. Chaos theory suggests that instead of resisting life’s uncertainties we should embrace them; this is where creativity enters.

“Krishnamurti argued that a deep creative appreciation of life comes only when there is enormous uncertainty…In each moment we have the opportunity to die psychologically by letting go of prejudices, mechanical habits, isolation, precious ego, images of self and world, and conceptions of past and future.  In this way we set in motion the possibility of a self-organizing perception that puts us in touch with the magic that gave us birth.”

Most of us cling so desperately to the need for certainty; lately this feels like a bit of a slippery slope. It takes a bit of mental effort to shift and be open to change, but there are real creative opportunities in doing so.

On Fear

Several years ago I attended a photography workshop to boost my creative juices and move out of my comfort zone. It certainly did the trick, although not exactly the way I anticipated. It’s funny where you find the greatest value…not always where you expect. One of the biggest ‘takeaways’ for me was from a conversation I was having with one of my fellow students who, though a fledgling photographer, happened to be very smart. We were discussing the anxiety that comes with creating and what fuels it. He dropped this bit of wordplay on me and it has stuck with me ever since. Fear is present whenever we push ourselves into new territory—fear of failure, fear of criticism, fear of the unknown; the list is endless.  Everyone has it, some push through it, some let it paralyze them. Fear is often telling us exactly where we need to go…

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