Let go of the outcome.
So often when we start a creative project our mind zooms past the act of creating to questions like, “Will other people like this?” or, “How can I earn money from what I’m writing?” or, even “Is this worth my time when no one is going to see it?”
Creativity has intrinsic value.
Those questions — if you must ask them — can wait until you’re done creating. Better still, dismiss them out of hand and go create more. The only thing we truly own are our thoughts and actions, so let’s talk about why that’s important to remember when you sit down to work on a project.
When I was in paralegal school, we all had to take a class on the power of positive thinking (peak 1990s when we cancel-cancel-canceled our stinkin’ thinkin’ and were all wondering who moved our cheese). Lordy, I could go on about that class led by Ms. Crystal, a self-help guru who hosted a positive thinking show on our local PBS station. She was a gem! A very woo-woo gem, which I wasn’t ready for back then, but a gem all the same.
Ms. Crystal often told us it was none of our business what other people thought of us. It didn’t make a lot of sense to me, either in hindsight or in the present moment.
When I was a child, it mattered to the adults around me that I conformed to behavioral expectations. When I worked hard in school or on the softball field, I was rewarded with good grades and getting my choice of positions on the field.
In college, it mattered very much what others thought of my work, especially my professors. It was either good or bad and graded accordingly. If I was likeable and diligent, people would hold open doors for me to start my new career. If I wasn’t, they’d slam those doors shut and weld bars across it.
In many ways, most of my life has been a feedback loop of work hard à get rewarded. Sure, there have been challenges and setbacks (so so many!) but chasing that forward momentum has been a driving force in my life for so long I barely notice it.
Except when I sit down in my craft room to paint or write a blog post.
You see, that feedback loop creates the illusion that you’re somehow in control of the outcome. When you go through life prioritizing other people’s expectations for you, your compass gets a little mixed up and it’s hard to find your North Star. You might even forget how to do something for the sheer joy of it.
This is a lifelong pattern of behavior that needs to be unlearned if we want to dive into creative projects with wild abandon.
One of the hardest things for mixed media artists and abstract painters to do is forget how to draw. Unless we’ve taken advanced art classes, most of what we’re taught is representational art. We try to make whatever we’re creating look like something real. In the process we lose our child-like imagination and ability to see.
When you look at art created by a child, it’s gestural and alive. It captures the essence of the subject without getting bogged down in what we grown-ups call accurate detail. There’s no hesitation or worry about approval – it’s just the joy of making marks on paper for the sake of it. The lines are bold and strong, confidently made. Children aren’t worried about whether their drawing of a giraffe fits in with their brand; whether they’ll be able to sell their drawing; or if their art will get likes on Instagram (unless we teach them to worry about those things).
We adults worry about those things because of that deeply-ingrained feedback loop: if we do x, we’ll get y result. We worry about whether our craft is trending on Etsy so we can sell it. We try to fit our art into our brand and close off paths to explore new interests. We worry about how we’ll feel when our illustration doesn’t get many likes on Instagram. We put a lot of energy into creating course launches and focusing on how much we need to sell in order to be happy and financially successful.
That’s creating with the outcome in mind rather focusing on and enjoying the process.
You can’t control whether people like your art.
You can’t control whether your painting will get picked up by a gallery.
You can’t control the number of people who will buy your course.
You can’t control blog stats, email list subscribers, social media followers, or literally anything else.
Even if we do all the right things and follow a blueprint that’s worked for someone else, there’s no straight line from action to result. Not in creativity. Not in love. Not in work. Not in parenting.
We can control our thoughts.
We can control our actions.
So we have to learn how to give up control of the outcome if we’re going to thrive in our creative process.
Creativity is not about the results you get. It’s about who you become in the process of creating. What you learn. Feeling proud of your efforts and growth. Nobody can give those things to you but YOU. Can you imagine how freeing it would feel to sit down to write without needing it to be something people will like? Or to make art without worrying about whether it’s The Painting that will finally get picked up by a gallery?
I’m doing it right now and I can tell you: it’s fantastic.
This is Vol. 2 of a 28-day series on how to dig out of a creative rut. For an index of all of the posts in this series, start at the beginning where there are links to all of the posts and you can pick whichever one you think might help you the most! 🙂