Many years ago, I had the pleasure of working with and for an amazing coach. It’s hard to classify exactly what Paul does, to be honest. He’s a bit therapist, life coach, career counselor, self-esteem booster and all around Unblocker of Negativity. A thousand years ago, he’d have been called a shaman, I’m sure.
I’ve been in a very transitional state lately. For some, taking the time to determine their next move is something they savor, like the last bite of cheesecake. For some, it’s pure hell. I am decidedly in the latter category. I enjoy structure; my OCD craves it. The first few days without it, I found myself simply repeating actions I had already done – scrubbing the bathroom, washing already clean dishes, re-organizing my sock drawer and the like. In the second and third weeks, I’d found other things to keep me busy.
But I could not write. I could not create. I could not sit down long enough and channel any of that energy into anything more useful than a maid service. Believe me when I tell you I tried. I would sit with my laptop open, a white screen of promise in front of me and a blinking cursor wreaking havoc on my psyche. The Boy I Love enticed me to try a writing exercise. I failed. Miserably. But like any supportive and encouraging partner, he hung it on the wall in my bedroom nonetheless. A reminder that at my core, I’m an artist.
A few days ago, Paul mentioned that he was rebuilding his coaching practice after a recent sabbatical. “Let’s talk,” I suggested. “I’m in a super transitional state and could really use the help.” So, we set up some time.
“What are your primary goals for our sessions,” he asked me straightaway.
“Well, I want my next move to be for the right reasons. I want my career to be enjoyable and successful. But I also really need to find that creative spark again. I need to find balance between the two.”
He reached into his Coaching Bag of Tricks and pulled out my nemesis: The visualization of your future self. “Sit quietly for a moment and imagine yourself thirty years from now,” he said. I managed to contain the negative emotions that were arising from the exercise I knew we were about to do. In fact, it had just been part of a discussion I’d had only two days prior with a friend who had also worked with Paul. “Okay,” he continued, “I want you to hear from that future you. What decision would the Future Lisa make in this situation?”
And so we began unraveling at least some of the threads that make up the complex creature on the other end of this keyboard. What I discovered is that I am so deeply entrenched in the battle between Career and Creativity that I just keep letting the loudest voice in the room win. That voice happens to be Career.
“Work harder,” she tells me. “Keep moving up the corporate ladder. Take the job that offers the most money. Money is just a means to do the things you enjoy doing so just work as hard as you have to to make as much of it as you can.”
On the other hand, Creativity reminds me that life is not all about money. That it is possible to carve out time to do what you love and, in fact, that at least in my case, it’s required. Career likes to put on her power suit and shout Creativity into a corner. Creativity, who is by no means meek, ties her scarf a little tighter around her head, grips a stylus and shoves it at Career daring her to do her best. Career fumes but Creativity doesn’t back down. Instead, she stands there with one hand firmly placed on her hip, her leg extended slightly outward. She leans back, still pointing the stylus at her and says, full of emotion, “I matter! And if you’d give me half the time you give yourself, you’d be amazed at the things I could provide.”
“If we’re sitting in a conference room,” Paul said, “And another person, let’s just call her the Team Leader heard this debate, what do you think she would say?”
I had no hesitation. “You two have to compromise. And that doesn’t mean that neither of you wins. It means that you both do. Now sit down and start respecting each other because you’re a team whether you like it or not.”
“How do you think Career and Creativity could work together,” he asked.
“Well, it’s hard for Career. She’s used to controlling everything and she is afraid to loosen the reigns because she doesn’t think that Creativity can contribute anything useful to the team.”
“How do you think she can start to do that?”
“Well,” I said, “Career is very results-oriented. If Creativity could start to show some results, she would begin trusting her and giving her more time. It’s a bit of a catch-22.”
“What are some ways that Creativity can do that?”
And then it hit me. A ton of bricks smacked me in the face. I needed Career to use her organizational and research skills to help Creativity find outlets for her work. It wasn’t that Creativity wasn’t any good at what she does, it’s that she simply doesn’t have the follow-through to do anything about it. On the other hand, Career has no patience for people that only do half a job and so she hasn’t been placing any value on anything that Creativity produces. In the meantime, Career needs to stop shouting down Creativity’s ideas, and give her more time to work on her projects because they are just as, if not more so, important in this girl’s life.
Despite the fact that this post makes me sound schizophrenic (which I assure you isn’t on the long list of personal disorders), this session made me realize that I have been the thing keeping me from reaching my potential. I have been standing in my own way. It’s not about needing to make as much money as possible, or seeing the world, or having a retirement account. Those things are great, sure, but not when they come at the detriment of who I am at the very core of my being. Not when I am neglecting the non-monetizing things that bring me happiness and make me feel whole.
On the other hand, I do have some intense personal responsibilities, so the idea of packing just the essentials into my SUV and riding off into the sunset, living off the land and free hotspots, just isn’t realistic. I’ve made so many excuses as to why I can’t find an hour a day to do something creative: I need to clean the house, I need to go to the post office, I need to run errands, I want to see a movie, this manicure needs to be re-done, I have to play Band Auntie tonight, etc. The truth is that I’ve just put other things ahead of myself and I have not placed the value of ‘work’ on any of my creative endeavors.
For the last two evenings, I have sat in bed, propped up against All The Pillows. I’ve not connected to the internet. I found that it’s distracting. Instead, I have sat in bed, a Red Bull by my side (someday they are going to give me a lifetime supply as I will fully credit the company for all of my successes) and wrote. And wrote. And wrote some more.
I put my memoirs on hold for another time. They’re still there and I carry those pieces with me every day, but there’s been a girl in there just begging me to let her out and I’ve decided it’s time to let her go. It’s time to let her put her little legs to work and stand on her own. So, I’ve been listening to the sounds of holiday festivities around me, engaging when and where I can, but mostly I’ve been channeling one of the bravest girls I know. I can’t wait for you to meet her. You’re going to love her. I promise.
In the meantime, Paul gave me some homework. My challenge before our session next week is to enlist Career’s help and find some publications that are accepting writing and for some galleries accepting work from new artists. Considering I live down the street from an art college, this should not – theoretically – be a difficult task. Letting Career take this responsibility from Creativity, even for a short while, and just to prove that she isn’t going to co-opt everything…well, that may be the toughest part of all.