Making Your Own Way

Yesterday, My friend Jeff Finlin and I gave the pilot session of a new workshop called Making Your Own Way. In the last year my focus in coaching has largely become helping creative people to find direction, get things started and finished, and mostly to identify the real impact they are making with their work. Creative professionals frequently wonder to themselves and out loud just what the value of their work is. I know that's been a regular inner dialog for me. Some great discussions in yesterday's workshop helped to bring some clarity to the subject, and a comment in a message at church this morning also brought it home to me. Creative work matters for two huge reasons; it connects us on deeper levels and it feeds our soul.

A big part of the workshop is about the distinction that I see between a person's gift and their talents. We talk about that often we lump the two into the same definition. I don't think that quite captures the essence of your gift. I've written about gifts and talents before, so for some of you this may seem familiar. Your talents are the capabilities that you've practiced to the point of mastery. They've captured your time, energy and devotion for years of your life, and sometimes just the very practice is enough to satisfy your creative yearnings. But I'm now becoming more sure that they are about delivering something bigger into the world. That's where we need to make the distinction between talent and gift.

I define your gift as the qualitative difference that you make in the world. Your talents are the modalities through which this difference is made. Anyone who creates knows that when you get into an extended time of practice that you enter into a space within yourself that is vast; deeper and wider even than your imagination. This inner space  is where your gift emerges from and it wants to find it's way through you and into the world. In fact, on an unconscious level this is probably being invoked in you all the time.

Now, the funny thing about your gift is that it's probably so much a part of who you are so as not to be immediately obvious. When I finally landed on mine, which is emotional healing through creativity, it was not as much an aha moment as it was an "Oh yeah, that" moment. The amazing thing is that inherent gift of mine is something that I take for granted as being pretty uninteresting and normal, and yet that is the one thing in all of my work that seems to most frequently be looking for a way out. And it changes lives often with me not having any idea. Your gift is what makes your work inherently valuable.

Crippling self doubt seems to be a hallmark for many people who devote their lives to creative pursuits. Much of this self doubt is a mirror of the projections that we receive from the people around us. Here's the conversation:

What do you do?

I'm a professional musician.

Really? What's your day job?

I'm a professional musician.

But, how do you make money?

I'm a professional musician.

This kind of conversation happens with such frequency that ultimately some of the projected disbelief gets internalized into our own thinking and we ourselves begin to wonder "what the hell do I do?"

Understanding and naming your gift sounds like this:

What do you do?

I help people heal emotionally through music, coaching and deep listening.

Get the picture?

I want every artist, musician, author, dancer, actor, teacher, potter, sculptor, and anyone else who will hear me to know: Your talents are amazing and wonderful, but your gift is what you need to be telling people about. Some among them will have been waiting for you to show up.

Next insight. My friend Liz Barnez posted a link on Facebook recently to an article that put forth the idea that artists shouldn't even try to be entrepreneurs. I found some things to disagree with in that article, but one nugget started to take shape in my own thinking. There's been a good bit of thinking in recent years that artists should adopt entrepreneurial concepts and practices in order to be more successful in a business sense. I've bought into that line of thought quite a bit, until yesterday. I still think that creative people can be successful in a business sense, but it's not about entrepreneurship.

I realize that entrepreneurs base their business model primarily on solving problems, ultimately for profit. While we could look at art in that light, I now see that as misguided. Rather than solving a problem, art continues to be a way that we meet some important human needs. Needs that coincidentally have been thrown under the bus of life in recent years. Art has always and forever been a way for us to connect with each other on deeper emotional and spiritual levels. Art is soul food.

I believe that one of the primary reasons that we live in such polarized and fractious times is that we've been routinely disconnecting with each other rather than connecting. It's no coincidence that we are also seeing artistic creativity being pulled from school curricula, devalued in the marketplace, seen as worthy of only being a hobby instead of a profession, and the subject of derision in other professional circles. All this time we're not seeing the injury that this disconnection is bringing into our collective presence.

Our gifts don't solve problems. Our gifts heal and restore our relationships with each other, which ultimately prevents many problems from taking form. One of my favorite books of all time is The Space Between Us, by Ruthellen Josselson. This groundbreaking book deserves a lot more attention and praise than it ever received. Josselson developed a survey that asked people to identify the different kinds of connection that they found in their relationships and the qualities that they found in those connections. For the first time that I was ever aware of, the author gave us a language of relationship that helps us to see the multi-dimensionality of our human connections. It's a very powerful read.

Artistic creativity makes these connections between us and for us. These connections make up what we might call a collective soul. We can begin to see that humanity itself is an organism that lives and breathes as one thing. ARTISTRY OF EVERY KIND SERVES THAT! It is the stuff of community. That's all that real community is made of, connections.

This morning in her message at Unity of Fort Collins, my beloved friend and co worker Peggy Christiansen was speaking about flowers. In her talk she was telling the story of planting her flower garden and she made the comment that she felt some sense of guilt that she wasn't planting the more practical vegetable garden. Her statement sums up exactly what I think is going on. We don't see feeding the soul with the same level of importance as feeding the body. That needs to change, or we will all perish.

Creatives, you are here to make a difference in the world on the soul level. Never forget that.

Thanks to Jeff Finlin, the wonderful folks at Artspace who participated in the pilot, Peggy and my Unity community, and every one of you who has the courage to create.

If you'd like more information about Making Your Own Way, or if you'd like to host a workshop or invite me to speak for your organization, please get in touch.