Why Reinventing Your Identity Is Hard, But Crucial to Your Success as a Creative

We’re afraid to step outside those walls to reinvent ourselves, to try new things, to prove that we can do more things than just one.

I recently wrote a post called Is Creativity the Healthy and Useful Way of Finding Yourself? that talks about artists and their primary need to discover who they are. Today, I will be talking about the dangers that may befall the artist who finally discovers who she is, but clings to that one identity too fervently.

A lot of creative people have a need to stand out from the crowd. They have a passionate need to discover their unique place in life

Why?

Because they never fit in. They were misunderstood. They never had the same social ease that most people seem to have been born with. Somehow, someway, they’ve felt different from the crowd—and this leads them to search for their true self.

(Not all creatives were once wandering soul-searchers, but a lot were. Some of the best were.)

If this search for self is not reconciled with creativity (which is what I believe is the useful method of finding yourself), then the artist will look in other areas. She will waste plenty of days scouring through books for answers, and constantly introspecting her experiences. More and more, the lost artist disengages with reality and spirals downhill.

That’s okay. If you read biographies of great creative people, you’ll recognize a pattern—most were adrift and nearly broken before they found their place in life, so keep your faith.

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Four Ways to Embrace the Tedious Process of Doing Creative Work

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If we get in the habit of relying on ourselves for entertainment, we can deal with solitude and boredom and drudgework much easier.

Do you often experience boredom and restlessness, like Lil’ Chimp? Do you search for endless ways to fill up your free hours, doing things like consuming alcohol or drugs, mindlessly surfing YouTube and watching the newest show on T.V?

If you’re a writer/ artist/ photographer/ singer, do you hate putting in the long, dull hours necessary to do your work?

You’re not alone. We all try escaping boredom and we all hate doing drudgework.

Ours is a society that caters to the lazy and the bored. There are endless activities to do, books to passively read, video games to play, and drugs to ingest. Society has developed to the point where, when left to our own devices, we don’t know what to do with ourselves.

(Thousands of years ago our ancestors never had the luxury of being bored—every day they struggled to find food and to survive.)

I can’t speak for you, but if you were born in North America, your basic needs—securing food, water, shelter, relationships and even luxuries—are probably already fulfilled. Most of us, then, are left with spare time to somehow to pass by. Corporations constantly build newer, weirder services and products that cater to the restless public—and we gladly consume them.

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Three Things I learned From Publishing My First Book

Art is a bird, not a kite. In other words, art is meant to be let go, not held on to.

I think the hardest (and most important) task of being creative is sending your work into the world to be judged. It’s relatively easy to dream up ideas, outline them, and even work on them. That’s the part of a project that creative artists enjoy – the process of engaging with your tools (books, brushes, instruments, cameras) and seeing where it all leads you. The hard part is finishing and sending off your book/ painting/ album for people to either praise, criticize, or ignore.

So what usually happens when artists (or writers, etc.) near their deadline? The uncertainty about how their work will be received might make them:

-Panic and make changes and revisions that don’t improve the piece.
-Overthink things, which can lead to over-explaining something or over-emphasizing a certain aspect that doesn’t need to be.
-Suddenly doubt the core premise of the work and start cutting and erasing until the entire piece is gutted and ruined.

For me, ‘finishing something and then shipping it’ seemed like an easy concept to grasp, but was very difficult to execute. I had been working on my book Lessons for Creative People on and off for about a year. And the creative part – going to the library, researching for hours, and coming home to write – was actually enjoyable.

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Does Inspiration or Desperation Motivate You?

What motivates you, inspiration or desperation?

What makes you show up to the easel or the blank page every day?

For me, that question is easy to answer. I’d like to be positive and rosy and say that I write everyday to connect with my creative source and realize my inner potential. But that’s only part of it. It’s a very important part, but nonetheless – it’s not the sole motivation that keeps me going.

Anthony Robbins once said, “There are two things that motivate people to success: inspiration or desperation.”

In a way, I’m also motivated by desperation. And more specifically, fear.

I fear returning to being the Blocked Creative that was once terrified to write.

I fear turning to a bottle of JD instead of to the blank page.

I fear the act of soaking in Negativity-this and Negativity-that, instead of turning it into fuel for creative action.

I fear not being able to construct the airy ideas in my head into real objects for other people to enjoy, to be inspired by, to learn from.

I fear being a Hopeless Romantic for the rest of my life; I want to be more of a Romantic-Doer.

I may be terrified to write, but I’m more terrified of the frustration and guilt and restlessness that embody my being when I don’t write.

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Is Creativity the Healthy and Useful Way of Finding Yourself?

It sounds counterintuitive, but the best way to find yourself, is to not find yourself

A lot of artists are a walking contradiction; they have two fundamental needs that move in opposite directions.

Self-Discovery

The first need is to find themselves. They can spend a lifetime searching for their ‘real self’. They have a burning need to become self-aware and to understand themselves so that they can, at last, figure out who they really are. This need may have manifested in grade school where they felt like an outsider who was missing something. They may have felt misunderstood and unrecognized, thus marking the entry point for a life-long search for the authentic self. (This can ultimately lead to a squandered life.)

Self-Transcendence

At the same time, they have a second need to move beyond themselves and beyond their self-awareness, so that they can get rid of their own self-consciousness.

The need for self-awareness and the need for self-transcendence contradict each other. When an artist attempts to satisfy need 1) and searches for her real self — by analyzing and ruminating on her experiences, pandering in her emotions, failing to hold down a real job so she can buy time to sort through her feelings, taking personality tests, and daydreaming her days away — she makes it difficult to satisfy need 2) and transcend herself.

On the other hand, when she attempts to satisfy need 2), she ends up placing so much focus on the outside that she makes it impossible to engage in the introspection needed for self-awareness.

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