Or, how the insights of Jessica Eley are helping me reframe my relationship to both procrastination and overwork.
So here’s one of my long-standing destructive habits as an artist and biz owner: Doing my best creative work in response to often avoidable emergencies (such as running out of time or money).
It’s the OH CRAP, MY TERM PAPER IS DUE TOMORROW syndrome. The WHOOPS, I SPENT SO MUCH TIME MAKING I FORGOT TO DO MY SELLING AND NOW THE BILLS ARE DUE syndrome.
I know I’m not alone with this one - put your hands in the air!
When this puppy's activated (which is only sometimes, but thats enough) it keeps my stress level high, and prevents consistency and smooth systems in my biz.
Of course, the connection between crisis and creation is deeeeep for many of us. There’s old baggage about survival and fear in it, and it also relates to how we grew up relating to power and authority. It takes a long time to untangle.
Various people have advised me in the past to gradually replace those habits with new ones - I’m sure you’ve heard all the advice. And most of it is good, if you can pull it off. Which I usually can’t.
Enter Jess. She’s a coach I’ve worked with on and off throughout the last few years, and she has an uncanny way of slicing through just about any kind of confusion I throw at her and finding the nugget of truth or inquiry right at the center, shifting the attention THERE, and stopping all the time-wasting.
What she taught me about this pattern is that trying to behave differently, as though I were someone without the pattern, will never work. These kinds of patterns are old, repetitive, persistent and baked into our central nervous systems. And we are committed to them on some level.
I mean, if I’m being honest: I love this pattern. I love the drama. I love the waves of inspired, courageous art that pours through on the eve of the perceived disaster. I drop all my other ways of functioning and just immerse in the work. The rare but potent times that my art becomes a PORTAL beyond me happen in those moments, and again, honesty: I’m not giving that up. (Sorry, lesser coaches.)
Thanks to Jess, I’m learning that these patterns have genius in them as well as harm. And since there’s no sense pretending they can be replaced, I might as well maximize the results of the genius while creating ways to minimize the negative impacts (Tara McMullin called this “operationalizing your faults.”)
This year I’m exploring how to make the most of this pattern, in ways that are easier on my body and get the results I actually want. I may never be that person who has a rock solid daily set of non-negotiable practices that create machine-like consistency in my biz, and admire those who love that and do that. But I have other superpowers that, when harnessed right, can bring me as much reward.
So here's my solution:
Let SOME of my creative processes ebb and flow on their own rambling continuum from deep gestation to inspired overproduction (which creates great art and content, is how much of my biz has been built so far, but which, on its own, doesn't create the consistency in sleep and income that I need) --
But also build a FOUNDATION to support that creative process, so the crashes aren't hard ones and the heights aren't so dizzying. The foundation is made of mini ”crisis” situations on a regular basis - ones that light a little fire under my butt and MAKE me show up, activating that urgent creativity that has historically produced by best work.
In other words, rather than attempting to change my behind-the-scenes habits in isolation, I can plan for public appearances that are regular and require me to create new content continually. The threat of messing up in a small public situation is a great mini-crisis. There's no wriggling out of it when people are waiting for you in the Zoom room at 3pm, but its not big enough to create destructive stress. It just opens that sweet spot of inspired, time-sensitive creating that works so well for me.
This has helped me start creating new plans that I’m REALLY excited about, of course, because I can feel that “birth” energy in them.
I can see the waves of INSPIRED ACTION and RESTFUL GESTATION roll out before me, taking advantage of my need for urgent creation, and letting myself off the hook in between . But the peaks and valleys of those waves are closer together now, as I explore and embrace their function in my life, rather than judging or attempting to change them.
So now I offer this question to YOU as you reflect on your habits and patterns and how they affect your business building:
What's a habit or pattern in your work that you think is unhealthy or destructive?
What if you stop trying to change your ways, and go ahead and embrace some of the patterns and habits you have deemed as “unfit” or “destructive” to your business, and adjust your systems and operations to take advantage of them? How can you rig them to bring you successes?
If you assume they will never change, how can you make sure they don't get in the way -and how can you craft a more gentle assessment of your strengths and struggles?
I would love to hear your response - here or in the Tactical Imagination Club.