Wanting vs. Contentment for Creatives

Many events and feelings have been coming to a head. My absence on this blog has been in part due to a creative paralysis. That’s what I want to explore tonight. Why it happened? How it happened? How I felt? And how can I move forward? Which brings me to a larger question. HOW CAN WE HEALTHFULLY AND SAFELY BALANCE THE DESIRE TO PROGRESS WITH CONTENTMENT?

I spend a lot of time thinking about this question and what the possibilities mean for the human psyche – especially when it comes to climbing towards a major career goal.  With job openings low and personal debt (with fluff degrees) high this is a pertinent question of the times. You can only apply for jobs for so many months before being left completely drained, depressed, and with an overall sense of worthlessness and low self-confidence. I would characterize myself as fairly confident, but over the last three months I couldn’t say that without crossing my fingers behind my back. When the paralyzing feeling of wanting happened I began to settle. Not because I was content with where I was. I’m not okay with being a server and not creative – but I was just exhausted and feeling low about the whole thing. Its not even the act of job applying, or the feeling of rejection that got to me. The larger beast was the constant feeling of wanting, or looking forward, wishing my life was something else than where it is at present, not being present, just wanting more every second of the day. Each job I applied to became an image of what could be – followed by the contrast of where I am. It’s the power of consumerism and capitalism that got to me. The emptiness you feel for not having this or that. I needed a break – there’s only so much you can take before being positively driven becomes having a breakdown. I have never felt this way of being stuck in limbo (in the wanting phase) and I needed a sense of peace, of contentment just for a second if I could get it. So I just chilled for a bit and tried to be happy with where I was at the moment.

So… I essentially did nothing at all. I stopped networking, stopped applying for jobs, stopped writing, auditioning, and blogging because I thought that I was doing all these things in hopes of achieving something that I didn’t already have. Quite frankly, I gave up. That’s what I thought I needed to gain breathing room. At the time I didn’t see it as giving up, but rather: allowing myself to be happy with the present. I viewed art-making in a consumerist sense (which I’ve learned can be dangerous and healthy). Maybe its what happens when you try to make a financially- sound living off of a creative field that you love. Anyways, back to the initial point. Now here I sit and I still feel a sense of longing. Go figure, I’m longing to be involved again, to be making something beautiful and expressing, creating, dreaming. You’re damned if you and damned if you don’t eh? The thing with artists is that the craft and the dream are so personal that when you’re out there trying “to make it” it can be heart-breaking if you view the process as “trying to make it.” The healthier trick perhaps is to think of it is “I’m making it.” That means you’re living in the present. To just do something – go to a dance class, write a blog post, sing a song, paint, draw, write a haiku – just do anything that transforms your wanting into doing.

Balancing contentment with the present and planning for the future has been a daunting task since I finished grad school. You go to grad school with big dreams and big “wants” out of life! You hit the grounds running and it can quickly get out of hand in this economic situation. Every time I try to wrap my head around my present circumstance it quickly becomes an endless list of everything I don’t have – no retirement, no savings, no benefits, no vacation time, no job in my field, no property, no marriage, no kids, no car, etc. etc. How can you be content with the cards stacked like that? The sentiment that goes hand in hand with these thoughts is “I need savings, I need retirement, I need a house, I need to be married, etc.” What’s more, when you focus on what you think you need, you have no energy to count your blessings and feel gratitude for what you have. More aggressively speaking, you completely bury what you do have with everything you hope to have in the future.

At present, I’m feeling another wave of getting back on track creatively. This time around, I’m going to focus on the day to day projects and creative expressions. What can I make each day without feeling overwhelmed by looking at the road ahead. Yes, I have larger career goals, but starting small and focusing on the day to day is the building blocks of an artistic career. Instead of “I want this, I need that,” let’s try “Today I’m DOING this and MAKING that and that is just enough for me today.” Looking back at the months we spent developing our cabaret and first play, I realize that even then I needed a retirement plan, a savings, and a 401K but I felt entirely full. I felt like I had everything and relished in every moment – I wished not a minute away. This is because when we’re in it, we’re in it. And when we’re not then we’re wanting it in the distance and left feeling hungry. Funny how it works, I feel a little more fulfilled already after writing this post. I conversation I had with a friend tonight and this poem I saw subsequently on Facebook lead me to this point.