Hello SOTGC community,
I don’t know anyone who would send their kid to art school to become a leader. But despite what you’d expect, being an artist is training in fearlessness. It made me trust myself, and gave me more confidence with the bumpy process of creating than most.
We artists have practiced going into the unknown. We’ve traveled in and out of it so many times, it doesn’t freak us out. And in a world of non-stop change, this knowledge-base is pretty darned useful.
If you’re a leader-in-the-making, you’re here to make an impact. I don’t want you getting sidetracked by fear of the unknown, or resistance to change.
Here are 6 insights from the art world, to help you develop trust and resilience:
- You’ll do your best work when you’re not trying.
You know when you’re so set on succeeding, finding a solution to a problem, or the right way to do something that all you do is go in circles? You watch yourself, amazed at your inability to think of anything new, and then you start beating yourself up.
You tell yourself you’re just not good at this, and wonder: “how did I ever get this job in the first place?”
Stop. Stop right there.
Right now, you think you’re on a solo mission, and in complete control of what happens, but you’re not. And that’s by design. The universe will give you everything you want if you just agree to accept its help.
And that’s why this block is here: to remind you that you’re not running the world, kiddo. You’re participating in it. So you’ve got to cooperate.
Cooperating means suspending judgment of yourself and of what’s happening, so you can relax and be open to possibilities. It means trusting that the right solution is around the corner, and playfully trying new approaches.
And when you’ve finally given in, and opened yourself to change, your aha will come, and it will be better than anything that would have come from being overly-purposeful.
So take a break. Call a friend. Ask for help. Go for a walk. Do the dishes. Take a shower. Fall asleep. Have some fun.
Do anything but the thing that’s driving you crazy.
You’ll see. Your solution was always going to find you. You just had to get out of the way.
- Be willing to look like a fool.
No great work of art -or major life change- was ever made in someone’s head.
At some point, when we’ve let an idea gestate enough, we’re ready to act. But we’ll very much want to stay in our heads because exposing our hopes to reality isn’t safe. We’d rather plan it all out. We want to get it right, and skip to the part where we succeed.
It’s our habit to find a way around the real-life process of facing our humanness, feeling awkward, and trying something that makes us look foolish. But we can’t. We can’t because we’re human.
Making is dangerous. It gets us into trouble, and it can change us. It’s messy, and it usually causes some kind of problem (and so does anything worth doing). Crossing that precipice into action takes courage.
The minute we get out of our heads, stop letting fear set the soundtrack, and make any movement forward, we commit to believing in something.
In that moment, we choose our heart’s desire over looking good. And when we let that risk resonate with excitement in our bodies- when we’ve decided it’s worth it to put our ego in danger- that’s when we know we’re really up to something.
We remember: we do this because we love it, and because it makes us feel alive, and looking good is only a byproduct that we actually have no control over.
When you’re leading others, stakes are high. You’ll want to play it safe. You may even want to hide behind your status. But don’t. Do the opposite of that. Be vulnerable, play, act on what you believe in, and trust in your resilience.
- Say yes before it “makes sense”.
Masterworks are built on a bedrock of obeyed creative impulses. Artists don’t plan greatness, and proceed with a linear plan. They practice the game of yes, without thinking too far ahead.
At the beginning of a creative cycle, artists don’t know why they choose to do something. They don’t know how it will turn out, or where the action will lead.
All they know is they have an urge, and they don’t need any justification other than curiosity to say yes to it.
Saying yes to inspiration keeps the line open to our instincts and intuition. Nurturing that connection strengthens our ability to trust ourselves. Over time, we accumulate wisdom and build mastery.
We learn that logical reasoning doesn’t happen at the beginning of a process, it happens at the end. Once everything comes together, our work will make sense as if it was all planned out. But it almost never does at the beginning.
When you obey your creative urges, and suspend your need to make sense, your’e innovating. Your curiosity is nursing an original thought, from birth to being. A tadpole looks nothing like a frog, but it grows into one. And you’d never predict that unless you’d seen it before.
So you’ve got stop judging your ideas before they’ve had time to mature. Act on them now and nurture their development. Practice saying yes.
- Look through the eyes of non-judgement.
When you’re a beginner, you learn that when you try to draw someone’s face, and you draw what you think a face looks like, you’ll fail. But if you consciously look at a face so that what you see is lines intersecting lines in space, and you draw those lines, you’ll get it right.
That’s what we learned in drawing class.
Our idea of things get in the way of seeing them clearly. This is one of the most useful tools I learned in art school. Ignoring thoughts and suspending judgment is the fastest way to see something anew.
In life, judgment often clouds reality, and feeds into stories based on emotional reaction or anticipation. Removing judgment also removes drama.
What does the person next to you look like when you ignore your judgments or assumptions about who they are? What does your current stress-inducing situation look like when you stop judging it as bad?
Recognizing that we judge- and purposely sidestepping those thoughts- keeps us open. Openness keeps us attuned to possibility. And possibility draws us forward.
If you want to be nimble, quick to recover, and calm in the midst of chaos, learn to look through the eyes of non-judgement.
- Blow it up.
There’s always a point in the making process where we discover we’re playing small.
You finish the piece, or the draft, and you pin it on the wall and stand back. First you think: “It’s good.” But that first, low-level satisfaction is just ego confirmation that you’re not a complete failure.
You’re not here to just make something acceptable, or to make it into the club. You’re here to break new ground. When you’ve gotten beyond thinking “its good,” you start to wonder- how could it be better?
That’s when you check yourself. What limits have you randomly imposed without questioning until now? Step aside and get out of your own way. What would it look like blown up in scale- ten times bigger? What if you reduced the color scale to monochrome? Cut out what’s unnecessary and get to what’s great about the piece.
By trial and error, imagine each adjustment and hold it up honestly to the original: is it better or worse? Now this one: Better or worse?
If you’re gonna do it, go all the way. No great work of art was created with 99% commitment. Don’t tiptoe. Leave your preferences behind in service of what you are creating.
This is where you start making beyond yourself.
It’s not your ability to think up stuff that will make a work (or your leadership capacity) great- it’s your willingness to let go. Be ruthlessly willing to scratch your initial expectations, if it opens the possibility for something greater.
Be that devoted to your craft.
- You can’t go back, so find the courage to move forward.
Once you’ve taken a risk and opened your heart to greater possibility, you can’t go back, and that’s a good thing.
In graduate school, I remember a colleague of mine who had just made a giant turn in his work was hung-up in self-doubt. He asked his critique panel if he had done the wrong thing. Clearly he was breaking new ground, he just hadn’t gone very far with it yet, and he was having second thoughts.
One of the panelists said “Well, what are you going to do? You can’t go back.”
It’s true. When you follow your heart and make the first move toward change, by that time you’ve changed. You can’t undo growth. There’s no pretending you aren’t who you are. And you might have to hang out in murky water for a while.
Find the courage to move forward. Accept that you are in a newborn state, that you might suck at this new way of being (at first), whether it’s caused by a new position at work, a wedding, or decision to change your career path.
This is humility. You don’t know what’s ahead. You are experiencing all the vulnerability and excitement of what it is to be human!
Years from now, you will look back with incredible fondness for yourself at this time, when all you had was your earnest, innocent willingness to do your best.
And you’ll know that’s all you really needed.