I’m currently reading The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron, and right in the beginning of the book, she says she believes that creativity is our true nature.
That resonated strongly with me. I believe it is true for me: creativity is my true nature. At least it’s a core part of me. I don’t know if this is true for anyone, but I’ve always been drawn to creative work. That said, I resisted that pull towards creative work for most of my life. Instead, I engaged in what Steven Pressfield called shadow careers. Here’s how he explained what a shadow career is:
Sometimes, when we’re terrified of embracing our true calling, we’ll pursue a shadow calling instead. The shadow career is a metaphor for our real career. Its shape is similar, its contours feel tantalizingly the same. But a shadow career entails no real risk. If we fail at a shadow career, the consequences are meaningless to us.
Are you pursuing a shadow career?
Are you getting your Ph.D. in Elizabethan Studies because you’re afraid to write the tragedies and comedies you know you have inside you? Are you living the drugs-and-booze half of the musician’s life, without actually writing the music? Are you working in a support capacity for an innovator because you’re afraid to risk being an innovator yourself?
If you’re dissatisfied with your current life, ask yourself what your current life is a metaphor for.
That metaphor will point you toward your true calling.
As much as creativity is my true nature, fear is what prevents me from living my true nature. It blocks my creativity.
What can we do about this?
2 paths to pursuing your creative calling: All in or part-time
Let’s look at both paths:
I think one way is to take crazy risks, to place a big bet and say: I’m going all in on this!
Quit your job and pursue your creative calling!
The other path is to simply follow your creative calling in your spare time. Wake up an hour earlier and write, or paint, or make music, or whatever your jam is. Spend 30 minutes less a day on social media, or stop watching your favorite show on Netflix. Instead of going to your favorite coffee shop to enjoy a good cup, which takes at least 30 minutes if you factor in everything (getting there, waiting for your coffee, drinking it, going to where you go next), spend that time writing. Yeah, I love coffee too, but if you truly feel that you’re meant to do creative work, then that’s an easy sacrifice to make. And if you think a good cup of coffee in your favorite cafe is more important than doing your work, well, then maybe there’s a lesson in that for you too.
Which path is better?
I was always attracted to going all in on whatever you want to do. But now I wonder.
Despite how risky, and seemingly more dangerous this is, I almost wonder if going all in actually is the best approach. There’s such a high chance of failure, that it might be fear’s more insidious way of getting you to a point where you ultimately give up your creative nature: If you try for a year to pursue your creative calling, and end up broke and destitute, failure will punch you in the face like Mike Tyson in his prime boxing years. A complete knockout, you might never recover.
On the other hand, if you do it part-time, you’ll give yourself more time to learn and explore. You don’t put so much pressure on your creative pursuit that this is the thing that has to work out, and actually make money for you. You are more free to engage in the creative activity simply for the sake of doing the activity itself, rather than for the sake of achieving a certain objective, reaching a certain outcome, whether it be making money or getting audience approval.
And creativity thrives in freedom.
Of course, you can also go all in and be free of expectations, do the creative activity simply for the sake of doing it, do your art purely. It’s all about your inner attitude—but it’s much harder to work with that mindset when you know there are bills to pay, and that the only place they can come from is your creative passion. It can easily corrupt your creativity, creep it, steal the joy of creative engagement.
The thing that matters most is that you do it. Don’t get stuck thinking about what the best way to do it is. Instead, just start doing—it’s the practice itself that matters.
Do your creative work. If you don’t feel ready to go all in yet, then just do it in your spare time. In those extra minutes. If you feel a creative spark, use it to light a fire, even if that fire is just on top of a little candle you keep in your room. Half an hour of truly engaged creative work every day contains so much more potential than forever thinking that one day you will make time for your creative pursuits.
Yeah, if you start now with 30 minutes a day, the truth is that the quality of your creative work will for a long time be amateurish and poor. What you actually create will not even come close to the vision that inspires and moves you within. But that too is part of creating art: Reality never matches imagination. That delta will always be there, even if you go all in, so you might as well learn to work with it now.