We live in a precarious balance between truly caring about our [art] and not caring about anything, between feeling real desire and feeling empty and dull, between trusting our abilities and not trusting them at all.
— Eric Maisel, from “Creativity for Life”
Earlier today, when I read the passage above, I burst into tears.
I was having lunch in a crowded cafeteria, surrounded by people I didn’t know well. It was not a safe place to feel vulnerable. I left quickly, before anyone noticed.
For me, this was an unusual experience. Like everyone else, I have my ups and downs, but, on average, my emotional weather is more sunny than stormy. On a personal level, I’m happy. I love my husband. I love my home. I’m richly blessed … and deeply grateful.
It’s also true that, on a creative level, I’m lost.
* * * * *
Looking back over the past few months, I can see how much attention, time, and money I’ve spent suppressing and distracting myself from this truth.
– I’ve been buying books. Lots of them. Some, I don’t even read. Others, I read half-heartedly, skimming the text without absorbing a thing. I believe I’ve been buying these books in an attempt to fill an empty space inside my heart.
– I’ve been buying software. A lot of it. Software for brainstorming. Software for conducting research. Software for organizing ideas. Software for plotting novels. Software for screenwriters. I believe I’ve been buying this software in an attempt to fill an empty space inside my heart.
– I’ve been reading websites. Lots of them. Websites about creativity, about getting things done, about setting goals, about achievement. I can read these websites for hours on end. They are a fine distraction, you see, from the pain of that empty space inside my heart.
– I’ve been eating food. A lot of it. Even when I don’t really want it. Even when it’s not good for me. Even when it makes me sick. That artificial fullness, you see, is a fine distraction from the feeling of emptiness inside my heart.
– I’ve been giving advice. A lot of it. This is how you lose weight (even as I’m gaining it). This is how you run a business (even though I gave mine up). This is how you write a book (even though I’m avoiding mine). This is what you ought to do (even though I’m not doing what I ought to). Telling other people what to do about their work was a lot easier than doing the work that would fill up the empty space inside my heart.
– I’ve been wasting time. A lot of it. In the mornings — during the time I used to call my “writing hour,” I’ve been dragging my feet, getting to the computer late, convincing myself that answering email or reading the headlines or mindlessly surfing the ‘net is more somehow more important than doing the only work that can dispel the emptiness inside my heart.
All of this suppression, distraction, and denial takes its toll. Maisel’s right: when you’re creating the things you were meant to create, you feel “real desire” — a passion that adds vibrance and meaning to every facet of your life.
And when you’re not doing what you were meant to do, you feel “empty and dull.” That emptiness and dullness spreads outward, like a cancer, infecting other areas of your life, leeching the color and joy from your work, your relationships, your self-image, your world.
* * * * *
So … what do you do when you’ve lost your way?
You can fret over all the wrong turns and backtracking and wasted time … or you can get your bearings and get back on track.
It’s time to get back in touch with who I am, refocus on the work I was made to do, and start taking the small, daily steps needed to move me from where I am, creatively speaking, to where I want to be.
I want to have better habits. I want to make better choices. I want to be a better partner, a better co-worker, a better leader, a better friend.
And the first step toward doing all that, I think, is to do more of what matters and less of what doesn’t —
— or, in other words, to rededicate myself to the work.
What’s your work? Are you doing it? If not, why not?
How can better align yourself with your goals … and be more of the person you were meant to be?