So what to do when you’re just not feelin’ it? Creative types tend to view work through an emotional lens. When we’re blocked, it’s frustrating and discouraging, and giving up is easily justified. I’m here to say don’t give up- don’t fall victim to a common blunder. One huge difference between a professional and a hobbyist is the simple fact that professionals keep at it. Why? One easy answer is that sometimes they have no choice. Another more cerebral answer, and one I believe in, is that a professional trusts in his ability and knows that, when skill is applied, results come. Some days, results come slower, but they do come. Results follow action; if you give up, the result will follow suit.
So back to the original question: What to do? I tend to head outside, where I find creativity on constant display. A walk, a ride, or a run will work wonders, as this diversion creates margin. The key is to change your perspective, or better yet, to completely forget the task at hand. Your brain needs time to recoil. Yes, you are taking time out of an already busy day, but your work will be more efficient after the pause.
The artists’ quest is a struggle for discovery, but not in the obvious sense. Ultimately, the successful artist is not one who has been discovered, but one who has discovered self. After years of wandering, I am finally in the discovery phase. The key for me was (and is) gaining confidence.
Rewind the time clock five or so years from today and you will find me a man with little vision, unfocused goals, and no confidence- a deadly combination. Granted, most musicians start out in similar fashion, doing anything possible to make ends meet, but my career was barely above water- I was slowly climbing the rope but hanging myself at the same time.
I was talking with a manager one day, complaining about my lack of work. He gave me a swift kick by saying: “You do great work; you aren’t working more because you have no confidence. Who’s gonna believe in you if you don’t believe in yourself? You need to learn confidence”. Was it hard to hear? Yes. Was he right? Yes. Thus began the process of learning confidence.
Learn confidence? Is it not a strength we either have or lack? Perhaps. Some are born with a fully formed sense of confidence. Others, myself included, must dig a bit to unearth it. Like other disciplines, it can be nurtured and strengthened. Confidence can be learned. Once learned, it transforms our thought process, our words, and our actions. How then, do we learn?
Learning begins in the mind; learning confidence is no exception. An entire self-help industry exists for those longing for confidence, but it boils down to this truth: You were made for specific purposes, you have a unique combination of abilities, and someone somewhere needs that thing you do. Yes, that sounds like a motivational speech, but here’s the rub: it’s easy to say, but terribly hard to believe. Most stop at the saying part.
Coming to grips with this truth can be tough as it requires a release of expectations we have placed on ourselves. Even harder still, it requires we rid ourselves of expectations placed on us by others. Are you following a pre-conceived checklist for reaching your goals? I was. I had ideas, a chronology of sorts that, if followed, would lead to success. The time I wasted chasing these ideas!
Ideas are made of strong substance, and a bad idea can have the same hold as a good one. Whether bad ideas are self-imposed or imposed by others makes little difference; they are dangerous either way. When we give them value they cling to us, and ridding ourselves of them becomes even more troublesome. Yes- I had ideas: what I should be, what would impress my peers and what my career should look like. As a result, I had little idea as to who I really was.
We are each unique and are created for specific purpose. Furthermore, life is not pre-set. Through action or inaction, we hold power to advance or derail these purposes. The moment we take ownership of the idea that we are here for specific reasons is the moment we begin seeing life from a different perspective. I don’t know when it happened, but I finally made the vital connection: If we are created for specific purpose, then we’ve also been given the required skills. These skills must be refined and developed, but they are there, sometimes underneath the surface but longing to be brought to life.
As I stated earlier, my sense of self was almost non-existent. What was changing was my mind: I was armed with belief, with new truth. But like belief with no action, truth alone is useless.
Action is required; it is the embodiment and proof of belief. Action gives power to knowledge. Conversely, inaction renders knowledge powerless. The question is, with little vision, what do we do? In a word, we change. Change is hard, but worth the effort.
I would be remiss if I failed to mention the vital nature of perspective. In many ways, I was starting from scratch, and because of good advice or timely suggestions, I made fewer mistakes along the way. There is wisdom in the counsel of many; seek out those who have gone before you. Most will be happy to expose potential pitfalls. Yes- the first order of business: if you haven’t already, find people who will help. Here are four other suggestions, based on my own experience:
Grow a spine. I was brought up in a wonderful home, by wonderful parents. I was taught to be hard-working, helpful and unselfish, and I’m a laid-back kind of guy. There is absolutely nothing wrong with this, but at some point, a laid-back approach to life can lead to passivity- it did in me.
I wasn’t afraid of hard work, but I had this idea that earlier successes would automatically lead to continued results. I also thought that anything resembling self-promotion was greasy and low. I was so afraid of becoming a lame, finger-gunning, let’s do lunch type of guy that I overcompensated. I did nothing- and nothing was happening. I’ll pass along advice I received: to learn confidence, you must practice. If you know you are the one for something, fight for it.
I fooled a few people those first times- I knew I could rock the project, and in no uncertain terms I made it known, but I felt completely out of my element. It may feel awkward and foreign, but you’ll quickly learn that a lot people are as unsure as you are. They want someone to take responsibility. People need leadership, and what’s more, they respond to it.
Learn the word “no”. It takes courage to say no, but if you aren’t the right person, pass it on to someone else. There’s an unwritten rule that says you must take everything that comes your way. I disagree with this rule. If it’s not for you, you’ll do the work but it won’t be your best. You may also miss out on something better.
Stop copying. This may not hold true for all, but one of my first actions was to stop copying. Obvious? It’s harder than it seems. When copying we have some sense of direction. How quickly we choose shallow direction over true sense of self.
I was copying the guys who were doing all the work and I was stuck in the muck. Now, there is much to be learned by listening, dissecting, and studying. These guys were busy because they were putting out amazing work- and they continue to. A valuable lesson: I am capable of equal greatness, but by default it will look (sound) different, because 1)I am not them and 2)they have already claimed their land. Mine is yet unclaimed. Stop copying.
Start dreaming. Dreaming is vital, for at the start, there may be no successes to drive us forward. Answer for me these questions: What do you want to be doing in five years? Where do you want to be? What are the steps to get there? When do you feel close to God? For me, it is when I play the piano. I give of myself: of emotion and time and energy, but I walk away- sometimes inspired, always refreshed. What is it for you? Natural pursuits and skills are clues that should not be ignored. On the contrary: they should feed our dreams.
Whilst dreams may be specific, the nature of dreaming is abstract. Time must be allowed for dreaming, waiting and processing the results thereof. The dreaming/planning/plotting stage should not be rushed- it is a time of inspiration, assembly, and aim. Gradually, thought takes shape. Ideas surface. Some are refined and embraced as vision, others should be set aside- even good ideas, for a good idea can prove itself as powerfully distracting as it is noble. Confidence gains ground when we set aside the good, for we begin to realize we are creating space for something great. As confidence builds, so does the power of dreams.
We then reach that crossroads where our dreams demand an investment of physical energy, emotion, and time. Behind us live the perpetual dreamers; before us stand the accomplishers.
The final action is literal effort. Dreaming leads to seasons of concerted effort and focused re-direction of time. Pulling away from certain avenues is natural; some are easily let go of, others prove harder to part with. Areas where we have experienced success are the hardest to release. Valuable though they may be, we move forward with more grace when not encumbered by past successes. For some, dreaming is the most difficult stage; for others, following with real action is the challenge. Whatever the case may be, work is involved. True action will most likely require trading relaxation for long nights and weekend work. It is akin to an extra job, or better yet, an internship that leads to a paid position. The saying “If it were easy, everyone would be doing it” is a cheeky adage, but it rings true nonetheless. Excellence takes time and effort, at least for me. Mediocrity is easy.
Confidence is learned through effort, and effort results in one of two outcomes: success or failure. Success is easily welcomed, and should be, as reward and strength often follow close behind. It should be welcomed at arm’s length and kept separate from your identity, for it leaves as quickly as it comes. Failure is a harder pill to swallow but is good, necessary medicine. No one enjoys a good failure; we are so frightened by it that we tend to abandon worthy pursuits the moment anything appears amiss. But when it does come, failure should be embraced. Failure is that annoying teacher who tells us when something isn’t working. Listen. Learn. Failure intensifies effort and refines vision. It sweetens success.
Closing thoughts, or, what happens next. The initial effect of confidence is a general sense of purpose and belief in self, not unlike the feeling one receives from a sip of Felix Felicis. Confidence creeps into the mix, and with it comes focus- a second, more acute effect. You see, as confidence increases, the desire to impress decreases. We become more aware of the rare and unique, and we stop emulating. Imitation is part of the learning process but longevity comes when we find our niche. Confidence helps us focus on who we are, not who we are expected to be.
This focus, in time, leads to discovery. Try to find one small town on a world map- it’s almost impossible. Now zoom in. Vague outlines are replaced by more detailed drawing. As we narrow our focus even further, the lines become sharper still, until we find ourselves exactly where we are supposed to be. Focus works in a like manner: as we shed pursuits that are distractions, our actions and time become more efficient.
Remember- truth leads to action. Start dreaming. Be patient. Learn confidence. This is where discovery begins.