One of my favorite books on creativity is actually a children’s book called “What Do You Do With An Idea?” by Kobi Yamada. I’ve read it out loud at conferences (see cover photo by Birth Blessings Photography), on periscope… I feel it is must have for all creatives . It cleverly illustrates for both children and adults what it’s like to nurture your creative ideas. A small excerpt:
“This is MY idea. I thought. I decided to protect it, to care for it. I fed it good food. I worked with it, played with it. But most of all, I gave it my attention.”
Not many people think about “caring” for their creativity. We take it for granted, especially those who are blessed with it in abundance and don’t have to work as hard at it. We try to control it, force it to perform when we want it to, train it to do as we say. Unexpectedly good results from even one successful creative idea is often to blame for the notion that this works, and sends us into hunting mode for that next creative high. (Photographers, if you’ve ever gone viral, you know what I’m talking about!) But what is at stake when we adhere ONLY to the admonition to hustle hard? Case in point – do you ever take time off from your creative endeavors? Set the camera down? Or do you go 90 to nothing until you’re completely spent? Are you completely spent right now? As someone who’s tendency is pedal to the medal all the time, I am here to offer some encouragement to foster your creative endurance and nurture your creative flow. The New Year, after all, is the perfect time to infuse new life into your business!
Hungarian psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi (mee-hy cheek-sent-mə-hy-ee) talks of a state of creative process called FLOW. Flow is that state of being completely immersed in your creative ideas. Any artist, photographer, performer or creator knows this feeling. When flow happens, time stands still. We don’t eat. We don’t sleep. We don’t shower. WE WORK. And it doesn’t even feel like work because we are SO IMMERSED. The thing with flow is, you can’t chase it. It can be wooed, but not pursued. According to photographer David duChemin, author of A Beautiful Anarchy, “Flow is not just the coming of the muse, but when she arrives with such force that she blows the doors off. Flow is a groove that channels out energy and allows us to put our foot a little harder on the gas without spending quite so much energy worrying about the steering.” Creative flow comes and goes. Because the very essence of flow is temporary. We may think we are in a groove, but end up wearing down the path, because we are chasing flow… back and forth, back and forth. Where does that leave us? In a rut. Here’s where we realize that what we’ve been doing has gotten old, or lost it’s appeal, and we feel stuck. Excitement and motivation all but gone. Ruts are also caused by imbalance (or as I prefer to call it, a need to reprioritize). Are you putting yourself first? Your family? Work? They can’t all be first. They gotta take turns. Another rut? Feeling burned out. Something all photographers (and especially birth photographers) experience. Our lives are complex enough without the stress of being a small business owner who’s life is scheduled 24/7 around their clients. If we are giving away too much of ourselves all the time, be it at work or at home, then we are left with no time to nurture our creativity or ourselves. And the ruts win. We have to refuel and replenish what’s been used up. In an ideal world of course, you’re pacing yourself to avoid all this. The rules of hydration tell us that if you’re experiencing thirst, the harm is done. Thankfully there is a way to recover. A few, actually.
Time is the first and most obvious weapon against the dreaded rut. Time to myself, time with my family, time with my friends. Which means I have to schedule time off. I pick a few months each year where I don’t take any births, and try to be caught up on editing so I’m actually getting the space I need. This doesn’t mean I’m not working at all during those months. Sometimes I use them to get caught up on menial tasks (blogging, correspondence with former clients, price restructuring, marketing). But I take a legitimate amount of time off and have no guilt about it. It took me a long time to feel confident that time off would help rather than hurt me. Once I raised my prices, I didn’t have any excuses! Many photographers are just coming off of busy season right now and I can say with utmost certainty that if you have not scheduled some time off for the near future, you will hit a rut! So take some time to slow down and do some self care. When is the last time you read a book for pure enjoyment? Took a nap just because? Enjoyed your family? Exercised?
Inspiration is another effective weapon against ruts and comes, for me, from many sources (not all of them photography related). I can be out shopping and be struck by the ingenuity of a window display (I’m looking at you, Anthropologie). I can be at the movies and hear a line that really gets me thinking. I can be reading a book and have a total a-ha moment. Perhaps it’s the perfect cup of tea or a beautiful afternoon outdoors or music that refills my creative cup. Without the allotted time off however, I don’t notice much of what could be feeding me, nurturing me. I am nourished by the brilliance of other photographers/artists as well: GK Sholanke, Lennart Nilsson, Mark Mabry, Cory Richards, Joan Miro, and Dorothea Lange to name a few. I also find motivation in the work of my colleagues. I don’t believe in not looking at your competition’s work. It’s healthy to admire the work of those working earnestly alongside you! Especially in my niche, birth photography. We birth photographers are in the beginning stages of something big, and to keep things moving in the right direction I am reminded of the old African proverb that states “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.” Yes, there are piranhas in our corner just like there are in every other corner of the creative world; people who will mask themselves as friendly colleagues only to swoop in a try and take a piece of your precious commodity, or ride your coattails. It’s unfortunate and you will learn to figure out who those people are right away, and avoid them. But to rob yourself of the joy and renewing effects of collaborating or networking with others is a tragic thought. In my opinion, self preservation mode (as some may call it) does more harm than good.
David DuChemin reminds us that after we step back to refill our cups, we then must get right back to work. “Doing the work leads to new ideas and on those rare occasions when the idea comes out in the shower, its only because it couldn’t wait until you got around to the day’s work.” I know I rarely get ideas while sitting in front of paper, pen in hand. Again, creativity cannot be forced (it cannot be stifled either, so trust me you won’t miss it once it hits you). We must woo it. We must nurture it. And we must be kind to ourselves in the process. The power of positive self talk is huge and we do far too much of the opposite! “The words ‘this might not work’ are probably some of the healthiest words in the lexicon of anyone who wants to live creatively. They indicate a certain humility and openness to what comes next. Whether that is failure or success very much depends on how you define it. ‘This won’t work’ is defeatist. ‘This probably won’t work’, is self-fufilling. ‘Let’s see what happens’, is ripe with possibility.” Yes! How you speak to yourself can make a huge difference.
I know all too well the complexity of putting all this into practice. It takes a lot of planning ahead to get time off for example, particularly for birth photographers. Here are some small tips that might make a difference:
•Use a backup for your next birth. Do not try to be superwoman and shoot 3 births in 5 days. As your own boss you can say to yourself “Self, you deserve and need some down time.” It’s that simple!
•Give yourself a little more turn around time. An extra week or two so you can produce your BEST work for your clients is OK (once in a while).
•Revisit your boundaries with your clients. Are they taking advantage of you or your time? What about your hours? Perhaps you could reset them for a few weeks to give you a little time off.
•Take a step back from social media, or streamline it. Loop accounts together where possible so you’re not posting the same images in multiple places. This should save you some time.
These little things may add up to be just enough to get you through to your next slow period where you can actually relax. But be sure to schedule a legit period of time off as well. If you’re very depleted, a couple weeks just isn’t going to cut it.
And if fear of missing out, fear of falling off people’s radar, fear of losing momentum, fear of seeming lazy or selfish is stopping you… know this. Something with far greater impact on your business will suffer in the long run, if you don’t start pacing yourself now… be it the quality of your work, your client relationships, your family/personal life or worse, YOU. Trust me.
Interested in mentoring with Leilani? Email email@example.com to find out more!