October 16, 2011

Taking the Leap—A Reality Check

Gravity never misses an opportunity.

If you are on the sidelines trying to figure out how to jump into the swift and treacherous currents of the creative life, you already know what Outside the lines is about.

There's no payroll check, no health insurance, no pension plan, no safety net, and no task master (except you) in the creative life. Before you leap from the edge, you must make your peace with this reality. That doesn't mean you have to have the answers worked out. But it does mean you must know your tolerance for risk and uncertainty. Risk and uncertainty are your constant companions in the creative life, and if you have a low tolerance for them, you are probably best advised to either increase that tolerance or limit your art to the level of hobby.

Fish Jumping

How does one increase tolerance for risk, you ask? The only way I know is to take the first step. Risk aversion is fear of the unknown. This is an insidious problem because in reality, nearly everything about the future is unknown. How can you know that you will get a show if you spend every dime and all your time making art? How can you be sure you'll get a performance if you write and practice your music endlessly? How can you count on getting that publisher if you pound the keyboard day after day? How can you know that if you do the work you will even sell anythng?

The only thing you really know for sure is that if you don't do the work, you most definitely will not succeed. No one will hand you an opportunity based on your unsupported insistence that you are an artist. Nothing else is for sure. And yet I can tell you that those who step out move forward. And sometimes, stepping out has surprising and dramatic results. It sometimes seems as if the entire universe was just waiting for you to stop obsessing on the possibility of failure and do something.

Another aspect of the creative life that is not well understood by many beginners is that having "made it" doesn't mean you get to fall back into those security loving, risk averse patterns. In fact, once you "make it" the pressure is turned up a notch. You're good, and everybody knows it. Now you have to actually demonstrate that you're not a one hit wonder. Success is simply the platform from which to make the next, scarier, and higher leap.

The point I am making here is that risk aversion never works with creativity. If you cannot get past that, move along. there's nothing to see here. But that's not you! You're reading this precisely because the safe predictable 9-to-5 life doesn't quite do it for you. and you are definitely not alone! Nearly everyone who ventures into the creative life does so in the face of these very same obstacles. Outside the lines is all about making it work. If you start with your eyes wide open, and with a realistic assessment of the risks as well as the rewards, you can do it!

Your Mission—Should You Choose to Accept It

This is where we send you home with a challenge—something to do that will move you forward this month.

Take a few moments to list the things that you are doing now to propel yourself along in the creative lifestyle that you have chosen.

Place a mark by the item on the list that seems least productive. Spend some time reflecting on why it might not be working. Are there obvious reasons? Can you change them? Is there really a benefit to spending your time and energy on that activity?

Stuck In a Rut

If the answer to any of these questions is "No", think about whether or not it's worth the effort you are devoting to that activity. If the reasons are obvious, write out a simple list of changes you can make to address those reasons and get right on it. Make time each week this month to check up on your progress. The point of this exercise is to become more conscious of where your energy is going and to make it more intentional and focused. We tend to get into ruts, wasting time on things that aren't really productive, or that were once productive but are not now. Make this process a regular part of your creative work week. Make it a habit!

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Peggy Sonoda

Michael Reddell
PO Box 160
Cambria, CA 93428

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Goldfish image courtesy of digitalart / FreeDigitalPhotos.net
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