"There is no value in digging shallow wells in a hundred places. Decide on one place and dig deep. Even if you encounter a rock, use dynamite and keep going down. If you leave that to dig another well, all the first effort is wasted, and there is no proof that you won't hit rock again." -Swami Satchidananda
At the ripe age of 30, I’m noticing a pattern in my life.
I’ve spent my whole life running away from my work. Not the work that promises a secure paycheck and career path, but the work that asks me to put my whole heart on the table for the world to see. It’s a compulsive need to interpret the world around me and turn it into an object that others can experience, too.
Since I was a little girl, this creative expression has come to me in three forms: singing, artmaking and writing. Each outlet has come to the forefront at some time in my life, becoming my sole focus and desired avenue for “success.” Then this cycle starts:
- I’m drawn to a new art form “just for fun”
- It feels good so I put all my time and energy into it
- People start recognizing my work and the pressure builds
- Then I attach goals to make money and “be successful”
- Suddenly it stops feeling good to make the work
- I abandon the creative process, never questioning why it stopped feeling good or if it’s worth pushing through
- I crash and burn with disappointment, disillusionment, shame and avoidance
- A new creative outlet comes to pull my heart out of the depths
- Again I feel good in the creative flow (it’s a side project so it’s safe)
- Once it becomes my main focus, the pressure is back on
- Cycle repeats
The spirit has an infinite number of ways to express itself, but one thing is common: when I near the epicenter, something implodes. An invisible force tries to stop me, protect me and mess with my compass. It’s like the closer I get to entering a planet’s atmosphere and penetrating its core, the more systems go haywire. Navigational tools overheat and melt into themselves. The spaceship rattles. Fire and wind gush up against the ship’s nose, blinding the view. A whole hell of resistance rises against me until I’m ready to call it quits.
For years no one noticed the cycle, including me. It wasn’t until I challenged myself to write a book that I dug deep enough to break the pattern and find out what was on the other side. Now I’ve dedicated myself to the pursuit of this truth: what keeps me from my own heart and my purest calling? Is it worth finding out what’s on the other side? The investigation starts with three big failures: trying to become a musician, painter and writer.
First, I failed as a musician.
It all started when I was a little girl with a passion for music. There was always a song on my heart and I happily sang at home, in church and recitals. My third grade teacher once interrupted class to ask me to stop whistling, though I didn’t know I was making a sound. That’s how freely my voice flowed from my tiny body. Until I hit puberty. Suddenly I was thrown from a small private elementary school to a public junior high school full of strangers, and I became acutely aware of my voice. I shrank back to observe the other kids and see where I fit in. I measured my words carefully to secure my place in the tribe. I stopped singing in front of other people and I mysteriously came down with sore throats, strep throat and laryngitis on the regular. So my creative voice was suppressed, soon seeking another way to burst through the cracks.
Next, I failed as a painter.
By high school, I was so wrapped up in friends, boys and academic performance that I forgot my creative life. But then I took an art class that recalled something from my childhood: the raw desire to create and capture beauty. So I applied to a fine arts program with dreams of becoming a studio painter.
Something changed once I started the conceptual art program at UCSB. Creating art had always been a sweet escape from the pressures of growing up; now it was the main event. I internalized the societal message that making a living as an artist was too competitive and impractical. My studio classes focused more on crit than creativity. Instead of painting from the heart as I had always done, I now stopped to consider how my work fit into the art history canon and how it would sell. I became intimidated by more confident peers and didn’t take full advantage of the available equipment, studio space and mentorship. In short, I held myself back.
I showed up for class, turned in my assignments and partied like hell in between. Boys and booze and beach days were easy distractions. By the time I graduated, I had only put half my efforts into my dream and it was safer to get a job promoting other artists than to be one. Writing for magazines and working at an art gallery was comfortable and practical and kept me a safe distance from my real work. As painting joined music on the backburner, a new passion came to the forefront: writing.
I failed as a writer.
Now living in San Francisco working in the art industry, I started scribbling my own stories on an anonymous blog. Creative writing was just another avenue for the same voice. I enjoyed it so much that I finally found the guts to make my blog public. People started paying attention and asking for more. Then the same thing happened in writing as with visual art. I could create all day in private, finding solace in the discovery and relief that comes with self-expression. But once I opened the door to let my creative writing out into the world, I froze. And the more people seemed to be watching, the more I wanted to hide. So I stopped writing.
Now the cycle is crystal clear. It’s like there’s a gravitational pull that draws me near until I’m ready to pierce the atmosphere, and suddenly repels me back a million miles past where I came from. I bounced off this protective shield 100 times before I ever asked, what is this thing? Where did it come from, what’s its purpose and how do I get through?
To stop the cycle, I had to slow down to see it.
When it came to writing, something in me wouldn’t give up. My voice wanted to come through with such veracity that I kept trying in the face of resistance. That meant slowing down my career to look inward (including a weeklong silent meditation retreat), taking classes, joining a writing group, developing tools and practices and even hiring a coach. I've been taking the time to investigate this wall with all its old pains and hidden fears: What will people think? Will I lose control? What if things change? Any pursuit of the heart brings me to the bedrock of truth, and maybe I’ve feared the dormant power of my deepest self. Or maybe I’ve just been worried about paying the bills. Either way, the wall has got to go.
I’m determined to break the cycle.
I've spent the past several years building tools and support systems to hack away at this wall, chipping one piece at a time until light shines through. My resolve is more powerful than any cycle: with gentle tenacity I have already gotten as far as drafting my first book and launching my first coaching service. Committing the first hour of my day to writing my book has brought new energy, happiness and purpose to my life. The wall hasn’t disappeared, but I am breaking it down slowly but surely with daily efforts toward my creative dream. And I will not give up, because I truly believe what’s on the other side is worth the effort tenfold.
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