My friend Amy asked me to write a post with the title “When everything you do feels like something you have to do, not something you want to do,” so here it is. This is for you, Amy.
Honestly, whole years of my life have seemed this way, struggling to pay the bills and do piles of stuff other people expect or need from me, with not nearly enough time for the stuff that makes life worth living.
For maybe a decade, as I built up my ketubah business, my motto was “this is not how I want my life to be!”
My other motto was “I wish I had time to make the art I really want to make!”
In fact, the only time I made art for me was for 4 1/2 days once a year, at the Friends of Calligraphy Annual Retreat.
You may not be surprised to learn that I was not a very happy camper during this part of my life.
Year after year at the Retreat I would swear to myself that this time I’d go home and set aside one weekend a month as a “staycation,” cover my computer with a sheet, and spend Friday to Sunday making art. This would be the year I’d set aside one afternoon a week to play in my studio.
It never happened.
Instead, the days, weeks and months would slip away, and I’d find myself back at the opening circle of the Retreat once again, astonished that the only art I’d made over the preceding 12 months was commissioned by clients.
I just never seemed to have the time to make art for me.
Somehow I managed to do other creative things in those art-deprived years — I learned to play the guitar, I dove into jazz singing, I learned Argentine tango — but it wasn’t until last year that I finally realized that what was different about my doing those other creative things was simply this:
I made the time for them.
It wasn’t until last year that I finally got it that if I waited until I had the time I’d be waiting my entire lifetime.
I had to make the time.
But how in the world does someone as busy as I am make the time??!! Honestly, it seems impossible.
In fact, it was simply a matter of shifting my paradigm.
If 4 1/2 days in a row of uninterrupted time for art-making is the only way to make art, then yeah, it’s probably only going to happen once a year at the Retreat. But if I open my mind to the idea of tiny baby steps, of tipping my toe into the Creative Stream in bits and snatches — say, for 15 minutes a day, perhaps — suddenly the world opens up.
Yes, it seems impossibly tiny. “15 minutes? What the hell can you possibly do in just 15 minutes??”
Actually, a lot more than you might expect. 15 minutes is enough to start to get into flow. And if you truly give yourself that time every day (or if not daily, on some regular schedule), it’s amazing how connected you start to feel to your creative spirit.
Even if you only spend 15 minutes doing your creative thing, you may find yourself thinking about your creative thing throughout the day. Don’t underestimate this!
When you think about your creative thing all day long, even if you’re only doing it for a few minutes, you’re more consistently connected to that nourishing Creative Stream than if you do your creative thing for 4 1/2 days in one go, and then abandon it for the other 360 1/2 days of the year!
Plus there’s this: if you’re anything like me (and just about every client I’ve ever worked with), if you set a tiny goal like 15 minutes for your creative thing, on some days you’ll end up creating for a lot more than that 15 minutes.
The truth is, the hardest thing is starting. If you can take care of that part, continuing usually takes care of itself. (Not always true with finishing, but that’s another blog post…)
In fact, I’m coming to believe that an even smaller goal may lead to even more creative-thing-doing success. Can’t get yourself to do 15 minutes? How about 10? Or 5? Or one?
It may sound ridiculous, but I’ve extended a one-minute-a-day challenge to clients whose stuckness was too sticky to allow them to sneak in even 15 minutes. And miracle of miracles, people who couldn’t manage 15 minutes a day were suddenly putting in 20, 30, 45 minutes playing in the Creative Sandbox!!!
My philosophy: whatever works.
And though one minute a day may mean you can’t clean up your studio, pull out your paints, or use your optimal tools, it might just force you to be more creative! It will almost certainly force you to let go of some perfectionist tendencies that only get in your way anyway.
“I only have X minutes? Okay, I guess I’d better focus on process and let go of attachment to an outstanding end product…”
Yep. I guess you’d better. (And isn’t that what you’ve secretly been wanting to do anyway? Imperfectionism is a helluva lot more fun, after all.) And/or work inside a different structure.
Don’t want to try to spend a meager 5 minutes working on your novel? Well, what kind of story can you write in 5 minutes then? You might even find yourself discovering a passion for a new genre!
At Jazz Camp West last year (which, if you have even the slightest interest in playing jazz music, you really MUST go to), I took a songwriting class, where the teacher gave us 5 minutes at the start of each day’s session in which to write a song.
Five freakin’ minutes!
Did I finish a song that I was proud of in any of those 5 minute bursts? No, but I wrote some interesting stuff I never would have written without the prompt. And the exercise made me realize that even writing (even songwriting, which I’m notoriously slow at) can be done in short bursts. And those short bursts can even “force” you to try things you’d never do if you had the luxury of uninterrupted hours or days.
So what do you do when everything you do feels like something you have to do, not something you want to do? Figure out where you can hornswaggle in 15 minutes (or 10, or 5, or 1) for something you DO want to do. Make it happen, and commit to making it happen consistently.
It could change your life.
What can you do in 5 minutes today? Or 15 minutes? Or one minute? How can you challenge yourself to play in the Creative Sandbox today?
PS — Pssst! Know someone who might benefit from seeing this today? Pass it on! Share, tweet, G+. You know the drill.