Growth and discomfort go hand in hand. We live in a world designed to push us towards certainty, stability and predictability. That’s not where growth lives, and there is nothing certain about where the world is going. Creativity has never been more in demand. For all its wonderful upsides, the Industrial Revolution had a little known downside. It separated the thinking from the doing. The assembly lines extended far beyond the factories, and it’s been a trap we’ve longed to escape for decades.
In times like these it's easy to stop creating, to stop contributing and to stop risking. An old acting coach used to call this ‘self sabotage’. We can always find a reason not to launch that project, write those words, learn that skill, reach out to that contact on LinkedIn or make that phone call. It’s never a convenient time to step outside our comfort zones.
No matter how incandescent your talent is, that’s not enough. There are aspects of our psyches hidden from ourselves. If we don’t shine some light on them and consciously work on them, they’ll sabotage our careers and our personal lives.
Here’s a simple framework. Three areas of life. Each of us habitually neglects one of them:
-Physical wellbeing. This is your diet, exercise, sleep habits, your ability to track and marshal your finances and other resources, your ability to maintain a home that recharges you. If you neglect this, you might not notice you’re overworked and underfed. You might live on junk food. You might ignore health problems, which’ll only get worse. You might have years of taxes you’ve never done. You might blast through the money you make as soon as you get it. You might live in a dump. The older you get, the more these things will take a toll on your body, your mind and the energy you need to be creative. You’ll diminish. Or you might be too broke and quit the biz. Or die too soon.
-Your inclination to get in the zone. This is risk taking, exploring new ground, creatively and otherwise. This is following impulses, putting yourself out there, owning your abilities and your successes, being able to promote yourself. This is immersing yourself in your work and the creations of others who inspire you. If you neglect this, you might stop your career before it even starts. You might avoid the work you need to do to create, or just do the minimum. You might downplay yourself, convincingly and chronically. In the long term you’ll keep avoiding the necessary act of diving into the messy, terrifying unknown and pulling out the richness you’re particularly suited to embody. The creative gifts you intuit will rot on the vine. Your day job will become your life.
-Your ability to connect with others. This is reading social cues - verbal and non-verbal, and calibrating your response to where people are in each moment. This is your inclination to check in, to banter, to reach out to people. This is the desire to participate and contribute, to be a part of. If you neglect this, you won’t meet people - friends to help you feel loved and sane, and contacts to give you opportunities. You might have a hard time letting your best creative energies come out when working with others. You won’t be enjoyable to work with. As time goes on, your unnecessary self-exclusion will make every belief you’ve had about how no one cares about you come true. You’ll turn your back on the arts altogether in bitter resentment.
Self-sabotage is a strange phenomenon. It’s insidious. It might be trying to convince you that none of this applies to you. That’s one of its best tricks.
You have something to give the world. When you work on your shit, you make it that much more possible for us to receive it. This world needs your work, your creativity and your contribution. Now is good.
-special thanks to TJ Dawe for the collaboration.