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Issue 14

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In this issue ~~

* What Does Success Mean To You?

* Getting Through Creative Blocks

* Creative Tip

* Wise Words

* Bookshelf

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What Does Success Mean To You?

All of us want to succeed; that goes without saying. But what is success? According to the media, success means a busy and lucrative career, good relationship and family life, a great house, exciting vacations, lots of friends and, last but not least, plenty of money and material things.

But is this what feeds your soul? Your answer may be "yes," to some if not all of the above, but for many of us, the American Dream is a far cry from what we want deep in our hearts. You may be successful in the eyes of the world and have all the trappings that go with it, but if your path doesn't come from the heart, no matter how successful you are, you will always feel that something is missing. You need to stop and consider what success means specifically for you. What is it that, if you don't do it, will fill you with regret when you look back on your life?

Very early in life, we're sidetracked from our own dreams. Our parents and teachers see where our greatest skills lie and start steering us in that direction. They mold us in their own image, so to speak, and 'for our own good'. You may have an activity that brings you joy and fulfillment, but if you don't excel at it, you soon become discouraged and let it go. Or you may limit your choices based on what's "appropriate" for your gender or economic status. Dreams are soon relegated to the stuff of fantasy.

But dreams are real. Each of us is here to fulfill a unique purpose, and we usually find our way to it via our passions, the things we love to be and do. Living in an achievement-oriented world, though, by the time we're adults, our earliest dreams have been so covered by layers and layers of being told what we *should* want that we can hardly see them anymore, if at all. But dreams have a way of nagging at us until we pay attention.

Living someone else's dream for you simply doesn't work. You may have gone to law school or business school to appease your parents or make a lot of money, but if you hate your work and the accompanying lifestyle, you need to make some changes. You need to discover -- or rediscover -- your own dreams. This may lead to a major life change or a compromise, like practicing law in an arena that you love, such as arts law, or starting a business teaching artists how to set up their own companies and doing the paperwork for them.

One way of rediscovering your dreams is to recall what you loved as a small child. It may take a little digging, and your parents and other relatives can help by recounting their memories about you. Some of those childhood dreams may no longer be valid -- your longing to be an astronaut may now be relegated to watching Star Trek -- but some of them may still be seeking expression. Your youthful dream of being a painter or working with animals or children can easily be resurrected. The form it takes may be different at this stage of your life, but it's the function that matters.

If you have a well-paying job that you enjoy and that serves you, you can make time for your dream activity during evenings and weekends or on your vacations. Having to make a living at something can take away from the pure joy you feel when doing it just for fun, so doing it avocationally may prove the better choice for you. If you choose to go for it 100%, turning your dream into a new career, be sure that you're prepared emotionally and financially for the change. Create a plan that gives you adequate time to make the adjustments. You may even consider doing your dream job part-time and taking a lucrative second job to supplement the income.

Be open to different formats. If you're attracted to the healing arts but don't want to go through the many years it takes to become a doctor, you may choose instead to become a licensed masseuse or acupuncturist. If you want to contribute to children but don't want to go for a master's degree, you might sign on as a Big Brother or Sister. Or you may choose to apply your administrative skills at the animal hospital rather than the bank.

Look at the big picture of your life. Take into consideration what you love, what you need, your family, your finances, your age, etc. Even if you've been doing what you love, reevaluate periodically to make sure it's still serving you and perhaps redirect it a bit.

There's no better time to make a change than the present, whatever your age or circumstances. While you may have more freedom to change direction when you're younger, you may feel more driven to finally "do it" as you reach middle age and older. If you're in the middle of inescapable circumstances or commitments, then start with whatever steps you can take now and plan for the long term. Success is what's meaningful to you, not to your family or society. So turn off the TV, disconnect the phone, and allow yourself to dream and plan.

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Getting Through Creative Blocks

Sooner or later in our creative life, we encounter the dreaded creative block. You're faced with an empty screen, a blank canvas, a lump of clay, and don't have a single idea about what to do with it. Your mind itself is a blank.

Everything in life has its ebbs and flows, and like life, the path of creation also waxes and wanes. There are times when the work flows -- we're in sync with the universe, and it's fun and easy. And there are times when we feel like a dry well; our cup is not just half empty, but completely.

Take comfort from knowing that blockages are part of the process, rather than a deviation from it. Instead of turning it into a monolith and trying to knock it down or navigate around it, we can find ways of embracing and working through the block and learn something about ourselves in the process.

When you find yourself blocked...

~ Don't fight it. Stop. Meditate. Take a walk. Go to the gym. Get calm and focused, and give your ideas time to germinate. Then go back to work.

~ Think or meditate about why you're blocked. You may discover an underlying fear or anxiety that needs to be dealt with, or at least acknowledged, so that you can move beyond it.

~ Create a ritual to ease into your work time. Set up your tools, turn on soft music, fill the water pitcher, grab your favorite crystal or touchstone, say a prayer or invite the muse, and go to it. A ritual can help alleviate any anxiety or resistance you might be feeling as you face the day's work.

~ Find something that inspires you -- another artist's work, a favorite piece of music, a poem. Perhaps make this part of your ritual.

~ Don't judge yourself. If you're worrying about what others will think, you tie your creative hands. Focus on the work and forget about the audience. Once you get something down, *then* you can evaluate it and make adjustments.

~ Eliminate distractions. Turn off the phone. Close your studio door. Take your laptop to the library. Get someone to take the kids to the movies. Forget about the dishes piled in the sink until later.

~ Make sure you've set aside an adequate amount of time, so that you have time to focus and you're not distracted by the pressure of completing your work in the allotted time frame.

~ Break the project down into phases. Set up short-term goals and when you intend to achieve them -- deadlines can be a great motivator. Reward yourself upon completion of each goal and the whole project.

~ Have someone to be accountable to -- a writing partner, coach, friend, support group. Communicate your goal to them and then set a time to report back. It's often harder to let someone else down than yourself.

~ Consider whether you're stopped because you need to do more research or get more clarity on what you want from this work.

~ Work on something that's already in progress to get your juices flowing.

~ Just start. Take baby steps. Brainstorm ideas. Make a few false starts (some of which may blossom into future projects). Write one sentence; make one brush stroke. Ideas rarely come out fully formed, and it may take time to develop one. When I'm writing this newsletter, my first day's work often consists of a few random ideas jotted down, and I flesh it out from there over the course of several sittings.

Art, like any other endeavor, requires discipline. By pushing against a weight, we build a muscle. By actively working with our obstacle, we build our creative muscle. Treat your blockage as part of your process -- as a person as well as an artist -- and you'll find new creative depth and discover new layers of yourself in the bargain.

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Creative Tip

Having trouble coming up with ideas? Try getting quiet. Turn off the radio, TV, stereo. Close the door. Sit still. Allow yourself to go within and find the quiet space there. If you meditate, you're already familiar with this place. If you're new at this, give it time; it can sometimes take 20 minutes to still mind and body. Allow the ideas to emerge from the void. If it doesn't work the first time, try again later or tomorrow. Like "Field of Dreams," if you continue to provide the space, the ideas will come.

 

Wise Words

"From a higher point of view, success is creating something when you need it, making a contribution to others, and loving and respecting yourself and others."

~ Sanaya Roman & Duane Packer, Creating Money

"The director and the producers had me write a lot of dialogue both before I came to Toronto ... and especially after.... (Interesting to me was the fact that I had no writer's block, not even for one second; I often was asked, at two or three a.m., to produce something by the next day -- and I did it with no trouble whatever. It seems as if I'm not blocked when I can't afford to be.)"

~ Barbara Branden, author, The Passion of Ayn Rand, on the making of the film

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Bookshelf

(click on the book or tape graphic to see a description at Amazon.com)

Celebrating Success: Inspiring Personal Letters on the Meaning of Success . . . Gerard Smith, editor

Balancing Act: Create an Incredibly Healthy Life That Fulfills Your Dreams (audiocassette) ... David Essel

Live the Life You Love: In Ten Easy Step-by-Step Lessons . . . Barbara Sher

On Writer's Block . . . Victoria Nelson

Fearless Creating: A Step-By-Step Guide to Starting and Completing Your Work of Art . . . Eric Maisel

Trust the Process: An Artist's Guide to Letting Go . . . Shaun McNiff

Art & Fear: Observations on the Perils (and Rewards) of Artmaking . . . David Bayles, Ted Orland

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© 1999 Sharon Good. All rights reserved.

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