You probably don’t need an itemized list to tell you why your current conditions are sadly inadequate for the work you want to accomplish as a writer or artist.
But I’ve made one anyway. Just to keep things tidy.
Here are 5 signs that your life needs to be melted down and remade.
1. Work that used to intrigue or challenge you now feels dull and pointless.
You got into this work because you’re remarkably good at just about everything.
- You’re darn smart, but also open-minded enough to know you don’t have everything figured out.
- You’ve got a nice balance of right- and left-brain thinking: you can handle words and images as well as numbers and computers.
- You stick with a problem until you solve it, and you take your responsibilities seriously.
All of this makes you a fantastic employee or consultant.
But that doesn’t mean that the work you’re good at lines up with your values or plumbs the depths of your creativity. Once the thrill of figuring out a new task is over, it stops engaging you and starts bleeding you dry. But you’ve got seniority or student loans, so you stay.
There were times when I loved my job as a technical writer and editor. Mastering a software program, learning to follow a new documentation style, giving feedback on user interface design. But when all of that became old hat ~ bleah. I would end the day exhausted from forcing myself to pay attention.
2. You resent the people you mean to be helping.
Yes, you want to make the world a better place. As an artist, you’re sensitive and empathetic, so you really feel what others are going through. And you don’t want them to be deprived or to suffer.
But when you’re not meeting your own creative needs, even doing useful stuff makes you feel exasperated and put-upon. You can’t stop thinking about all the other things you’d rather be doing.
I spent three years as a university residence manager, and I loved managing and training the student staff. I could see I was making a big difference in their lives. But I was so overworked and starved for personal time that I started to fume whenever the phone would ring. By the end of my term I couldn’t wait to escape.
3. Your indulgence in the finer things no longer comforts you.
You are unwilling to live on rice and beans, so you’ve made sure that you’re well-provided for. Yes, there are artists who go the sacrificial route and get by on a pittance, but you decided to get established first: nice apartment, new-to-you car, money in the bank. You don’t want to pinch pennies.
But the extras now seem hollow when you consider the freedom you’ve traded for them. Freedom you could have used to pursue your creative interests.
Around the time that I was working two not-right-for-me jobs, my husband and I decided to spend a few thousand dollars on a stereo. We had the money, we loved listening to music, and we needed a replacement for the broken old ghetto blaster Shawn had since high school. But that purchase became an emblem for how out-of-whack my priorities were. All I could think about was how I could have traded that stereo for a month off work to write my novel.
4. Saying “Yes” to others is increasingly painful.
You are unfailingly polite. Your first impulse is to make people happy and keep up your end of things. You have a strong sense of civic duty.
But when you agree to what’s asked of you, you can feel a part of yourself dying. And you fear you’ll never get it back.
My schedule used to be packed with extra-curricular and volunteer activities ~ Ultimate frisbee games, music rehearsal, cohousing committee meetings ~ because I just couldn’t bring myself to say “No.” I enjoyed all of this stuff in the moment, and I loved my friends, but taken as a whole it meant betraying myself.
5. When you do have time to create, you can’t access the flow.
Certainly there are days when you assert yourself and carve out space for your personal projects. After all, your artist’s identity is important to you.
But either you’re too tired or distracted, or you doubt the worth of what little you can accomplish. And since creating is no fun, you avoid it all the more.
Even when I was working two jobs, I had mornings off to write. I did manage to complete a few stories and start a novel. But I was so disconnected and depleted that the writing process was frustratingly slow and difficult.
Oh, my dear reader, life is too short for you to stay in this state. You have so much to offer.
When you’re ready to enter the labyrinth and (re)design your life to revolve around your commitment to art, I’m here for you.
Tell me, where is this hitting home for you? I know you’re a joyful person with great things in your life, but where have you gotten hemmed in?
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