Have you ever seen someone do something skillful or create something great and wish you could too?
I do all the time. Envy is one of the worst emotions - but if someone else is doing it, it means it's humanly possible. And if it's humanly possible, you can do it too.
This is for everyone who wants to start a creative project, make something that doesn't exist yet, or learn a new skill, but is unsure whether it's worth the bother. It doesn't matter if it's painting, photography, drawing, design, styling, poetry, animation, dancing, filmmaking, writing, coding - anything you feel an itch for is relevant and worth investigating.
The truth is that learning a new skill, trying something out of your comfort zone, and devoting time to a pursuit takes EFFORT. And when you start, you are going to SUCK. Good news is, it's the same for everyone. We aren't born as experts, besides at pooping and crying.
So WHY occupy yourself with difficult creative endeavours? The verdicts are in and they're all GOOD:
- Creative projects, whatever form they come in, give you an outlet for self-expression. Even if you never share your work, or no one sees it anyway, creating is therapeutic. There needn't be a reason for a new hobby or venture other than that you enjoy it. Creativity is for everyone - there's total bullshit in pigeonholing people as 'creatives' and 'non-creatives', left and right brain rubbish, and in saying that certain personality types are artistic while sidelining others. Everyone can foster their creativity in a way that works for them. Creativity is vulnerability, loving, meaningful, important, and circulates new ideas, perspectives and ways of seeing. Follow your internal compass - direction is more important than destination.
- It's healthy to have hobbies, especially those outside of eating, drinking, passive consumption and spending money. Hobbies aren't the way to happiness, but they do make things far more interesting.
- Skills are valuable, so develop yours. Sure, you may be years behind that child prodigy in *insert area of interest*, but you have a good many decades ahead. Your life has just started. Even at 50 years old, you're only half way. Thinking about in your life as a bigger picture helps develop a growth mindset that encourages life-long learning. You're in it for the long haul, after all.
- Side hustles are growing in popularity and importance. It's smart and liberating to have sources of income outside your primary one. You absolutely don't have to make money from your creative work (actually it's advisable not to make money a motivator, end goal or indicator of success for many reasons), but diversifying your skills can be healthy for your bank account as well as your soul.
- You have something worth sharing. Everything that happens to you is YOURS and you get to express it in your own way. Everyone has something of value to say, do or create. Your silence serves no one.
- Regret looks awful at age 80. If you have a hunch to start something, stop overthinking it. Life's short y'all - days are slow but years are quick. You never know how good you could be until you START TRYING.
- There is nothing like the high you feel after creating something you're proud of. Having something to show for your time and effort is pretty darn cool.
- DOWNSIDES to spending time creating for yourself: legit none? Just don't neglect your family or your health or go into debt, I guess. It's a jungle out there.
So, convinced that you need to start chasing THAT THING? Great!
Or maybe you have difficulty deciding what that thing is.
Don't worry - it's normal. In school I always envied people like my friend Fran. Ever since she was tiny she wanted to be a fashion designer, so pursued that ambition with everything she had. HECK - why couldn't I be like Fran? If only I knew EXACTLY what I wanted to do, I could chase it too! It's easy to forget the privilege that comes with being able to choose how you spend your working life, but that doesn't mean it's not overwhelming when motivational speakers shout rubbish like 'FOLLOW YOUR PASSION!' and 'DO WHAT YOU LOVE AND YOU WILL NEVER WORK A DAY IN YOUR LIFE!'
Thankfully, the argument for pre-existing passion, like having inherent 'creativity', is also bullshit. Sure, there are cases when people forge a seemingly easy path fusing passion with monetary compensation, but for the most part 'passion' builds as your skills develop. It's a snowball process that Cal Newport examines in his book 'So Good They Can't Ignore You', explaining that those who are world class at what they do don't start with a pre-existing passion or talent, but build it as their skills grow through positive feedback and persistence. When someone complimented my iPhone photos it gave me the courage to try with a DSLR. When someone appreciated how I framed people in the best light and composition, I thought WOW, maybe I AM good at that, and focused on portraits. When someone said they found relatability in my writing it gave me the confidence to keep writing, even if it was only that one person reading. Life is not about 'finding' anything, it is about constructing the best version of yourself through trial and error.
If you're struggling about where to begin, think about the things you've seen others do that give you envy, about the art that resonates with you, or about the moments you've felt the most bliss. Why did you feel that why? What gets you out of the bed in the morning? What would you do for free? What could you talk about for hours? What would you do if money wasn't an issue? What do you wish existed? What can you offer the world? Finding out what excites you may take lots of self-reflection, but it's better than zombie-ing through life not knowing what motivates you or why you're here.
Once you have a inkling about something you want to try/learn/create, HOW do you go about it?
- Accept you're going to be shit. Everyone's been there. Have a pre-arrangement with yourself to not self-flagellate when you can't bring the vision in your head to life on the first attempt. Or fifth, or hundredth. If you're not failing, you're not working hard enough. Will this blog post be as amazing as I wish it could be? Nope. But I'm going to give it a red hot go and publish it for your eyeballs anyway, and I'll be a slightly better writer having done so. You have to keep going.
- Carve out a chunk of distraction free time and sit your ass down. Starting is the hardest part. It's well known that writers don't enjoy writing, they enjoy having written, and it's the same for everything. The mundane act of sitting at a desk starts a mysterious process. Newton's law rings true - an object in motion will stay in motion - and once you start working you will wonder why you didn't start sooner. Create a peaceful environment, put your phone on airplane mode, and get to it. Your goofy self might need some discipline, e.g. it taken me far too long this week to decide to write this post, I kept putting it off by inventing other things to do. Now I'm typing these words, and everything I want to say is finally flowing (albeit in the clumsy manner that first drafts do). It'll hopefully get better (I'll probably edit this part out...)
- You have all the tools you need. Have a desk, pen, paper? If you're reading this you definitely have access to the internet - no excuses. With all the tutorials and workshops and classes online there has been no better time to start learning, making and getting your stuff out there. Whatever you have, begin with that. When I started taking photos all I used was an iPhone, and with no scary settings or intimidating buttons I was forced to only focus on lighting and composition, developing my eye. As my skills have upgraded, so has my gear (slowly). Many authors started writing shitty prose on Tumblr, artists started sharing on DeviantArt, filmmakers began on Youtube. Read books, watch classes, make a mood board of what inspires you and get going, you probably have everything you need.
- Stop overthinking it. You're either going to work at 8:00pm after dinner, or never. Too much overthinking is actually just under thinking - your mind spinning in circles of uncertainty as you fail to actually do anything. Dreams don't come true, decisions do. Stop waiting for "inspiration" (you will be waiting forever), set simple goals, get working and ideas will come. Presenting yourself is the most important part.
- Great things don't happen overnight. They happen one day at a time, one decision at a time. How are you going to spend your afternoon? Working on that project or watching Friends for the 8th time? There is value in consistency, so keep learning, making, repeating and you WILL get better. Have the confidence of a kindergartener, willing to screw things up for the fun of it and not take rough learning curves personally.
- Stop caring about what others think - other people care less about us than we'd like to think, anyway. It's easy to criticise, it's not easy to put effort into making something. To paraphrase Theodore Roosevelt, it is not the critic who counts, but the man who is actually in the arena. Do your thing, it's not about winning or losing, it's about showing up.
- YOU HAVE THE TIME. That's right, you do - even if you have a full time job or a family or homework or commitments. If you seriously want to start a new pursuit, you will. Debbie Millman - designer extraordinaire - sums it up eloquently:
“Of the many excuses people use to rationalise why they can’t do something, the excuse ‘I am too busy’ is not only the most inauthentic, it is also the laziest. I don’t believe in too busy. Busy is a decision. We do the things we want to do, period. If we say we are too busy, I believe it is shorthand for not important enough. It means you would rather be doing something else that you consider more important. That thing could be sleep, sex or watching Game of Thrones. If we use busy as an excuse, what we are really saying is that it is not a priority - it’s not as important to us. Simply put, you don’t find the time to do something, you make the time to do things. If you let yourself off the hook for not doing something for whatever reason, you won’t ever do it. If you want to do something you can’t let being busy stand in the way, even if you are busy. Make the time to do the things you want to do, and then follow through and do them.”
It's easy to get stuck in a fixed mindset and limit ourselves, thinking we aren't good enough, so how about this: let's be kids again and try something new. Let's create. Let's shake things up, punch conformity in the face, get messy, construct the best versions of ourselves and let our creativity loose, however we want to and however we feel.
After all, we're only here for about 100 years (if we're lucky), so if you want to do something, get to it. Starting is the hardest part.
Let whatever is inside you, out. The world will be better for it.
Thanks for reading, your attention means the world. If you have any thoughts / reflections / comments / personal experiences about getting started in creative endeavours let's chat in the comments below!