Turning Pro: embrace the calling of your soul

It doesn’t happen that often. But sometimes you meet someone or read a book that cuts through all your bullshit. And sometimes what they suggest is not that big a deal. Except that it is. To act in spite of what I’m thinking or feeling in the moment may seem straight-forward and easy. Until I’m thinking: no, the wind is blowing… it will not be nice outside when I go for my walk…. Just one more chapter before I go to sleep… I want to know what happens next even though I have to get up early tomorrow… Wow, I’m really craving something sweet now… let’s make something with lots of sugar in it… so what my clothes are tighter every time I put it on…

According to Steven Pressfield in Turning Pro there are two frameworks that we traditionally use to transform ourselves: We hate ourselves because we believe there’s something wrong with us that needs fixing or we hate ourselves because we believe we’ve done something wrong and need to be punished and forgiven to be fixed. Pressfield discusses a third option: we hate ourselves because we’re living life as amateurs. To change our minds, we need to turn pro. Similar to athletes turning professional (probably without receiving a big financial compensation, though).

As amateurs we have a few things “going” for us:

We’re terrified. We’re afraid of failure, of success, of looking foolish, of being excluded from the tribe, afraid, afraid, afraid. We permit that fear to stop us from acting. We take ourselves so seriously that we paralyse ourselves. We fear being different from others. And therefore end up being inauthentic. Because we remain someone other than who we really are. We continuously rate ourselves in relation to others. We lack compassion for ourselves. We live in denial and act by addiction.

Addiction doesn’t necessarily refer only to the usual culprits drugs and alcohol. Addiction is anything that you keep on doing without it moving you forward. What you get from your addiction, is an inability to do what needs to be done.

To feel ambition and to act on it is to embrace the unique calling of our souls. Not to act means you turn your back on yourself and the reason for your existence.
Steven Pressfield Turning Pro

How do you turn pro? Here are some of his ideas:

Show up and do the work every day. Do the work for the work’s sake, not expecting financial reward or future fame. Be committed over the long haul. Forget about instant gratification… Act despite fear. Accept no excuses. Be dedicated to master the techniques. Don’t take failure (or success!) personally. Don’t wait for inspiration. Do it.

It seems clear that having a habit of doing and acting is the best way of transforming oneself into the best version of oneself. I find it ironic that even though I get an enormous burst of energy when I follow that unique calling of the soul – be it going for that walk in the gushing wind or sitting down for a session in front of the computer despite a yearning for vegging in front of the television – I still some days turn my back on myself and give in to the resistance.

This is a battle that needs fighting every day. There is no finish line. When you turn pro you get to recommit to your decision every day.

Elizabeth Gilbert calls the trusty kitchen timer an important tool in a creative person’s life. Set the timer for 30 minutes and do some focused work for that period. Do it every day. That’s how you learn discipline.

Right, so I’ve done my 30 minutes writing. Off to do some quilting for 30 minutes! 🙂



Second fiddle-itis vs offering my contribution whether I think it makes a difference or not

Unbelievable the number of stuff I can find to do to prevent me from actually sitting on my butt and finishing this blog. Oh! To face that empty space where I don’t know what I’m going to write/paint/create … The battle of the blank page/canvass.

I’ve just made myself two ponytails, after French plaiting from the top and then from the bottom and making a variety of hair styles …

I also battle with “second fiddle-itis”, I think. It’s Ben and Ros Zander’s term (The art of possibility) for “the habit of thinking you make no difference”. So why bother? In one of the chapters they argue that if we think of the world in a competitive frame of mind, there is automatically a winning and a losing side. However, when you use a contributing framework, there is no other side. You are giving/contributing what you can and as such are making a difference even though you may not understand how or why.

So here is what I contribute today. Take it or leave it. 🙂

The more I read about writing, the more I get the impression that the creative process behind writing is similar to painting and making collages. And the crucial aspect is to show up. The stories/collages/art pretty much make themselves once you get past the plaiting of the hair, the cleaning of the toilet, the reorganising of the desk, another cup of coffee…

I don’t often show up for any type of creative process these days. I don’t find the time. But to rephrase Stephen King (On Writing): “How many JAG and CSI reruns does it take to make one South African life complete?” [*hanging my head in embarrassment*] Watching television seems to gobble up time as fast as the wink of an eye. Talk about wasted time.

Steven Pressfield (The War of Art) calls the watching of television and finding other stuff to do symptoms of Resistance. Resistance shows its head for anything that you want to do where you work against immediate gratification in favour of long-term plans such as writing, losing weight, working on improving your fitness…

Pressfield says with regard to writing: It is not the writing part that’s hard. What is hard is sitting down to write. So plait your hair, make your pony tails [men with short hair: substitute your own postponement devices here], but stay on your bum and do what needs to be done.

Use fear to know what you care about

I got these great perspectives on fear from “Creative is a verb” by Patti Digh:

It’s through knowing WHAT we fear that we know what we CARE about and how we measure our worth.


Fears about artmaking fall into two families: fear about YOURSELF, and fears about YOUR RECEPTION BY OTHERS. In a general way, fears about yourself prevent you from doing your best work, while fears about your reception by others prevent you from doing your own work.

You were born an original. Don’t die a copy.
John Mason.

Create yourself!

So I’ve found that I simply love doing collages and in the process of doing some cutting and pasting (and then often painting over it!) that sometimes you come to a point where you just want to throw your work away or scratch it and start fresh.
I’ve gone through this process four times now: starting with a very basic idea of what I wanted to do, cutting and pasting different materials, painting over it, wanting to throw it out, painting over everything or only some bits and somehow ending up with something that I am satisfied with.

Now I hope to transfer this ability to go with the flow – of living with the uncertainty of not knowing exactly what the end product is going to look like and somehow working through that icky stage – to real life.

George Bernard Shaw said
Life isn’t about finding yourself. Life is about creating yourself.

Locked into these words is the permission to sometimes mess up. To spill over. To not be satisfied with what you’ve got. To go with your hunches on the best way to proceed. Even when the hunch turns out to be in the wrong shade of colour.

Here’s to creating your best last week of 2011!

Have fun with it!

In any new thing that we start doing – be it training for your black belt :-), expressing yourself through art or dance – it’s helpful to remember that:

“The force with which we commit ourselves is the same force with which results come back.”

However, we don’t always have the time and resources to commit ourselves as fully as we would like. We can’t always show up. Life happens.
Sometimes we have a hundred reasons to begin, and perhaps a thousand more why we shouldn’t. There are many, many things that can interfere.
But we won’t beat ourselves up. We’ll do our best. Whatever we give our attention to grows.
We will not hold ourselves back with thoughts of limitation. Wherever we are is fine.  What we need to start is a willingness to step into the unknown.
These encouraging words came from Cat Bennett’s book The Confident Creative.

Whatever you do this week: HAVE FUN WITH IT!

Create, creation, creative, creativity, creature. Or: How to build your Confidence muscle.

When I went to university, I did some psychometric tests, which resulted in being told that I did not show enough creativity for my intelligence.

I did not really know what to do with this information, but ended up buying some colouring books to colour in. Sad, I know.

Fact of the matter is, though, because of that statement the course of my life had been altered. I suppose I tried harder to incorporate some aspect of creativity, even though it might have been some skewed personal kind of version. Like making a dress of discarded curtains or decorating a beige pinafore dress with old buttons. It went cling when I walked… nobody actually laughed at me, although I don’t know what happened behind my back.

But creativity is not only about what you are able to make with your hands or using interesting or appropriate colours. It is being able to adapt to whatever life throws at you. I think it might have more to do with a positive and courageous attitude to life than being able to draw lifelike pictures in charcoal.

Cat Bennett in The Confident Creative gives some practical ways to make quantum leaps in our creativity:

  • Work big – shed the shyness, be bold.
  • Exaggerate – see what you’re doing, then open your eyes again (*Terry Pratchett reference alert!!*) Consider all things and decide. Focus on one thing in all its detail or focus on relationship of all things. See clearly.
  • Buy pricey paper – this help us be bold and confident.
  • Rip it up – know when you’re going nowhere fast. Rip it up! Stop it! Throw it away!
  • Kiss perfection goodbye – simply explore. It’s ok to be wherever you are, even if you’re uncertain. You need to start somewhere.
  • Let go of control – allow the unknown to emerge…
  • Say farewell to feeling intimidated – don’t compare yourself to anyone! Rather note what turns us on in the work of others and what turns us on in our own work.
  • Breathe deeply – breath is energy. Relax and let go of tension and worry.
  • Be honest – things are as they are; we are as we are; just here, naked, vulnerable, open, a little (or a lot) rough around the edges…
  • Love – if we love ourselves, despite disappointments, it’s easy to keep moving forward.
  • Be foolish – go too far. That’s how you find out where the edge is!
  • Have courage – fear is imagining or expecting a negative outcome and feeling powerless. We can choose to imagine a positive outcome.

Bennett might have compiled this list with drawing and painting in mind, but they sure do apply to life in general (and for that matter, karate!) too. Except maybe the one on buying pricey paper!

Finding your power and getting out of your own way

Have you ever felt sick to the stomach before doing something that scares you? And if you then gave into that fear, how did you feel afterwards? And if you didn’t give in to the fear?

The week before last I experimented with doing scary things. I rode my new bicycle for the first to the beach. I exercised with the senior karate class (most of them black belts and everybody taller than me). I participated in a Skype taebo-karate class with Funakoshi karateka in Belgium. I drove to hubby’s work in the city with its hurried drivers, four lanes going in the same direction and taxi drivers with no regard for the rules of the road. I attended the senior karate class for a second time. I attended an art class conquering my fear of the blank page not to be filled up with words, but with shapes instead.

The great thing about doing things that you’re scared of is the amount of energy you get from having done it – a sense of power.

Danielle LaPorte wrote an interesting piece related to this sense of power. She proposes that instead of focusing on fixing what is assumedly wrong with you, you should rather see the issue as a way of accessing your power.

I learnt something else at the art class: to get out of my own way. Try the following: prepare yourself some sort of still life. You know: a few pieces of fruit, an assortment of glasses or a vase of flowers. [A beginner like me would prefer something simpler, maybe a bottle and a book :-D.] Then proceed to draw only the outer contours without lifting up the pencil and without taking your eyes off the physical objects. Do not look at what you’re drawing.

OK. So I’ll wait for you while you go and do it.

Ag, OK, I know you’re busy. I’ll tell you what happened to me and then when you have nothing better to do, you can test it yourself: The proportions and height and shapes of what I drew were more correct when I didn’t “watch” what I was doing.

When I was trying hard to get it JUST right, my shapes leaned, for some reason I could not explain, slightly to the left. And well, although you would have been able to recognise it as a glass, it did not really represent the glass I saw in the display.

My analytical, judging, overthinking self was in the way. Time for me to get out of my own way: artist coming through!