A Good Old Fashioned Kick In The Shorts

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As we become more practiced and experienced at our craft — whether we’re writers, artists, therapists, or bricklayers — we gradually develop our style and method. Some develop their identity quickly, but most of us have to work diligently and constantly refine our skills. Seldom do you hear of an accomplished professional who is 100% happy with their final product. Always room for improvement and never enough time to practice.

I leave my old blog posts on Psychology Today because, however unpolished some of them now seem, I want to recall how my writing has grown. Striving for better but not expecting perfection, because that’s an unrealistic and disappointing pursuit. That’s a message I have to tell myself over and over when the instinct is to only publish a perfect piece. Here’s what I was writing about two years ago:

 10 Stereotypes of Mental Health Professionals @ Psychology Today

If you’re an aspiring creative or any kind of professional who is just getting started, remember the top piece of advice from those who’ve come before you: you don’t necessarily need innate talent to be successful– it’s consistent time and effort paired with a willingness to learn from your mistakes that yields the best results. That’s probably not news to you.

Putting it into practice is a different matter altogether. Yet it’s practice that sets successful people apart. I doubt I could list all of the hobbies and interests that I dropped quickly because I didn’t want to put in the time to practice. Piano, drums, 35-mm photography, fly tying… I guess I did become skilled at something: buying supplies and selling them a few months later.

So how do we become better at practicing? How do we stay consistently interested and motivated? These topics are why I love studying the lives of successful creatives. From the writers who put in hours of word time every single morning to the painters who didn’t have a public exhibit until after retirement, from them I take lessons that I can incorporate into my coaching with other creatives. There is a science to motivation and success, but it’s not a perfect science. We learn what works and then we try it on for size. Everyone’s process of practice and growth is different.

So I encourage you aspiring creatives out there to look to those who’ve come before you. Learn their habits and keep practicing until you find a system that works for you. If you’re a writer, read and write. If you’re an artist, draw and visit galleries. Maybe you need to find an accountability partner who will hold you to reporting on your progress. Maybe you need to make a commitment to go public with your work so that you have a deadline to meet and an audience waiting.

Of course I might be biased, but I also suggest hiring a coach! And if you do work with a coach, make a commitment to allow that coach to lead you into action rather than getting stuck in the discussion. Coaching is a wonderful environment for brainstorming and exploration, but talking can become a comfortable place where we get stuck because we’re not willing to start acting.

Does Passion Equate To Career Choice? Two Artist Case Studies.

Artists practice their craft because they foremost have a deep need to create and express. Some people discover such a passion and stick with it regardless of recognition or pay. Some feel like they have not, and perhaps never will, stumble onto that one strong passion. There tends to be a lot of pressure to find our one true passion and morph it into a high paying job. But does it have to be so? Have we somehow failed if we reach retirement having never turned our craft into a career?

There is intrinsic value/reward in finding a hobby or passion and it’s healthy to pursue interests regardless of financial gain or end result. Often times people don’t want to ‘mix business with pleasure.’ They are perfectly content working a day job and then practicing their craft in their spare time. Two Chicago artists have posthumously gained critical acclaim in recent years for doing just that.

Henry Darger photo via Wikipedia

Henry Darger photo via Wikipedia

Henry Darger was a reclusive janitor living in a tiny studio apartment in Chicago’s Lincoln Park neighborhood. Outside of work, Darger entered into his imaginary world of the Vivian Girls and the Glandeco-Angelinnian War Storm. Upon his death, caretakers discovered a realm of the unrealin Darger’s apartment- an enormous collection of artwork and a fictional tome of over 19,000 typed pages. His works are now on display at major museums throughout the country and he’s the subject of a full-length documentary.

Not far from Darger’s world, Vivian Maier was a nanny in Chicago who took upwards of 100,000 photos during her lifetime. Nobody realized she’d created such an immense body of work until her photos were discovered in an unpaid storage locker. Now she’s the subject of a major photography exhibition and the subject of an upcoming documentary (watch the trailer below).

Vivian Maier via Wikipedia

Vivian Maier via Wikipedia

There’s a great mystique and profound respect surrounding these Chicagoans– neither of whom ever lived to see their fame. Neither of whom sought it in the first place.

UPDATE: If you’ve been following the Vivian Maier story, check out this podcast by WBEZ Chicago about legal process determining who rightfully owns her work.

This is the official trailer for the documentary film, Finding Vivian Maier, directed by John Maloof and Charlie Siskel. A film unraveling the life of the now famous Vivian Maier and John Maloof's journey to piece together Maier's past.