Choosing: It’s the ticket price to the creative life

Jan 31, 2017

Fear camouflages itself as confusion and keeps brilliant creative women from the pleasures and successes of a fully expressed life.

And fear’s number one choice when trying to trip you up?

Your inability to choose.

Your refusal to take a seat at the table of desire. To say, “I want this! And I am willing to work for it!”

Let’s scope out exactly how fear hides behind not choosing:

Fear loves…
… planning and then planning some more.
So much better than trying things!

… not having a system that works for you to capture and organize your ideas, getting scattered and frustrated
And then quitting.

…keeping your life filled to overflowing, running from one thing to the next, barely time to pay bills let let alone focus.
Then you never notice you aren’t choosing or sticking with your creative desires!

… telling yourself your idea has already been done.
Fear and Comparison are best friends.

… “I need to learn more first.”
Yes yes go take another course or get another certification!

… going into a big bookstore / museum / multiplex theater / walking down Broadway and thinking “Who the hell cares if I ever create anything?”
Nobody is what Fear wants you to believe.

…sitting down to work on your project and then looking up two hours later from the internet, dazed and fuzzy from doing research and then the doubt sets in…
Fear loves distractions.

…choosing! focusing! getting to work! and then getting bogged down in minutia, losing all perspective and momentum (as in moving the comma, putting the comma back).
Fear and Perfectionism were roommates in college.

… setting up a war between head and heart as in heart says, “travel the world,” while head yells, “But remember your budget and credit score!”
Fear thinks black and white thinking looks good on everybody.

…working flat out for a week or a month, then everybody in your life getting pissed at you and maybe you forget to pay the electric bill and the power got cut off so you swear off creating forever. It’s too dangerous.
Fear adores the all-or-nothing approach and abhors regularity and balance.

…believing that a creative commitment is permanent and thus defines you and your interests for all time (terrifying).
Fear wants you to believe there is only one right way to choose and be successful.

…believing that any less-than-ideal results from said creative commitment – like failure, rejection, or choosing the “wrong” thing – are permanent and a total loss.
Learning and growing don’t happen in Fear’s world.

… confusing beginning with knowing the right place to begin.
Don’t start if you don’t know where to start Fear heckles.

…starting and then realizing the beginning you first chose a few days or weeks ago is not the right one and so going back to redo that beginning…and then starting from there… and then in a few weeks realizing the new beginning doesn’t work so you need to go back again…
Or Fear sends you back, again and again, until you get it right… which happens only never.

…copying other creative working styles that don’t work for you and thinking you are undisciplined and a loser.
Fear loves the articles on the internet about how Marie Forleo or Tim Ferriss get so much done.

…confusing knowing the whole arc of the project with knowing the next step to try.
Fear loves the big picture and hates the small incremental human scaled steps.

…always putting time monsters first (things that need to be done but you do them before you work or make them a bigger deal i.e. visit elderly mom everyday first thing instead of writing; volunteer for kid’s school when you need that precious time to paint).
Fear loves you to do the little stuff forever and ever.

… refusing to forgive yourself for ______ (fill in the blank).
Fear, most of all, worships being cruel to yourself.

Fear is crafty, right! An amazing little part of your brain, whose mission is to keep you defended and living in the zone of certainty, even if that zone has a view of a garbage strewn alley and gunfire popping off every five minutes.

Cause that what’s really happening when you don’t choose – you’re allowing – through no fault of your own! – your well-worn neural pathways, your conditioned nervous system, your very normal tangle of experiences and beliefs, to determine the course of your creative life.

Welcome to being human!

And also welcome to another moment to begin again. To decide that your attention can be trained to follow your intention to create what you most care about no matter what.

Because here’s the truth, a truth I have lived into for 30 years as I’ve supported myself and my family as a creative:

Choosing is the ticket price to the creative life

And it’s not nearly as expensive a price to pay as you may imagine it is.

Is it possible you’ve made choosing and committing a scary monster that slavers under your bed and if you turn on the lights – by getting into action and using the ideas I’ll share with you next – you might find nothing more than a bunch of dust bunnies and maybe one tiny monster who simply needs a little love and attention?

I say let’s find out!

Support for choosing

These are offered in no particular order so choose one and dive in. Whatever you choose will be lovely and you will already be strengthening your choosing muscle by… choosing!

Tucking away your stories about the right way to choose or the cost you might pay by writing each down briefly (a few words will suffice, no need for a novel).

  • “It means I can never change my mind”
  • “There will be no time for knitting and contra dancing ever again”
  • “Sister Mary said I had to decide between art and writing once and for all.”

Place them in an envelope and bury them in your garden or a patch of woods. Mark with a stone or object you care about and ask it to keep watch over your old stories. Consider them cared for and tucked in.

Or mail them to a friend and ask her to watch over them for you. No need to open the envelope.

By inquiring, “What does choosing ______ look like for me?”

Fill in the blank with one (1!!!) at a time project idea and then create a brief scenario of how you will know what you chose and are working on it. Describe the process, the enjoyment, the act of committing. If you don’t have a clear project in mind, make one up! If you want to do a few, grand.

For example, “What does choosing to write my memoir look like for me? Getting up and getting to the computer with a latte in hand between 6:00 and 6:30 and working for one hour without interruption four days a week.”

You could:
Inquire: “What does finishing ______ mean for me when it’s dependent only on me?”

This is not an invitation to write a story of your future big triumph (studies show that focusing on the end result can be demotivating) but instead to define what finished looks like on your terms.

For example, “I will consider myself finished with my memoir when I have had four writing friends read each draft and I have worked on improving what I agree needs to be improved given their notes. I will also listen for what done feels like in my body.”

Notice I did not say “I will be finished when the book is published or sells a billion copies,” but rather what I can do on my own, dependent on only me.

Be sure and ask yourself:
“What support would help me stay committed?”

Trying to create alone is such a silly move. Gather yourself some wind at your back! Be greedy in what you write because you will totally under dream on this one. I’m not saying go broke or move to Bali in pursuit of your creative dream, but rather let yourself imagine creating surrounded by care and love.

I keep a running list of creative friends to lean on. What will you call on?


I have too many interests to choose! You don’t understand. You are trying to make me like everybody else!

No I’m not. I really get the lots of interests thing. I have so struggled with this – and helped so many clients and students too.

You’re a renaissance soul, a multipotentialite, a super curious person with a zillion interests.

It hurts to leave any of your desires out in the cold, undeveloped.

And if you don’t choose in your own way (see above questions) you can become paralyzed by all that you love and want to try and then do nothing.

And when you scatter yourself too thin, you don’t get far enough with any of your interests to feel satisfied. Life starts to feel dull and thin rather than vibrant and curious.

Here’s what you need to remind yourself of: choosing one thing for now is not the same as choosing one thing forever.

You are simply focusing to learn or create or earn for now. No one can trap you or shame you ever again for having a lot of interests. Your variety of interests and skills are a huge gift but not a permission slip to skip off when learning and growing gets tough.

Focus at an intersection of your interests to find a sufficiently engaging challenge that you can focus in on long enough to be satisfied.

Maybe you love to knit, paint murals, and learn languages and the project you could develop that involves them all is a pattern recognition app for kids?

Or say you love yoga, mathematical physics, and neuroeconomics, maybe the intersection could be a book on how the body affects our choices? (That’s kind of ironic!)

Look for what can encompass a number of passions or at a skill that can be used in a number of your passions, and focus there.

Remember the power of sequencing.

Embrace the truth you are human and have limits.

Which brings me to…

The Two Biggest Blocks to Choosing

I saved the best for last – ha.

The first block

To choose means to tolerate being frustrated and wanting to give up. To choose is to hit many points in a project where you can’t possibly go on. Where you have no idea what to do next. Where your skills have been exceeded. Where you face all that you don’t know or can’t do.

Our brains do not like that feeling. That’s when bright shiny objects start dancing in our peripheral vision – choose me choose me! I will be so much easier. Learn to contra dance instead! Write about ostriches instead!

Consider this an inevitable brain fart and inquire:

  • What do I need to learn next – one small thing – to move forward?
  • Do I need a real break, not a technology break but time outside moving my body or to do nothing?
  • Do I need a pep talk from my support team (see above?)
  • Am I still on point with this project or has it morphed into something I think I should do? (If so, correct course but without starting over!)

The second block

To choose means feeling sadness. Grieving the things you won’t get to do, at least not right now. And have never.

Choosing always involves letting something else go, even if temporarily.

Fear of feeling sad, dislike of feeling sad, hatred of feeling the very real limits of life, can stop you from choosing. Who wants to face the truth that life has limits? That you have limits? I am not going to be an Olympic marathon runner, make art collected by MOMA, be on the New York Times best-seller list and ride wild mustangs in this lifetime. And I really hate that.

You and I are human and thus we have human limits. To embrace those limits – of energy, of time, of life span – is the only way to create consistently over time.

Please do accept that you hate it or at least find it irritating or want to mask it in new age babble, but know that it’s very possible to accept your humanity and the limits that come with that humanity (gravity anybody?) will give you the shape and form you need to share your unique brilliance with the world.

That what you have to work within is trying to help you focus and choose and express.

A few final thoughts

I am not a huge fan of choosing. I stomp my foot and act like a three year old more than I would like to admit. And I can’t help but notice the more I train my mind to focus and choose, and the more I develop my own attention around what I really desire and what it will take to make those desires real in the world, the happier I am.

I hope you will take your seat at the table of your desires and own the life you want by deciding what matters most to you and making it so!

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