This is what The Venturous Life is all about. “Wanderers”. What a beautiful short film to get you ready for the weekend. Enjoy.
If you follow this list I can’t guarantee that you’ll be a millionaire or have a legacy like Picasso. You may not have incredible talent or mastery of your craft. But if you combine the following list of skills with talent there’s almost nothing you can’t achieve.
Now, perhaps a few people will complain and say that some of the choices I’ve made below aren’t exactly skills per se’ but are more like character traits. I would argue that a skill is anything you learn. Its something you practice and repeat over and over. By seeing health, or mental toughness, or protecting the downside as a skill to be learned, it gives you the freedom to not be perfect and learn as you go.
CHARACTER VS. COMPETENCE(SKILLS)
Too often, after some business or personal failure, people will beat themselves up for thinking they have ‘bad character’ when what they really have are underdeveloped skills. Character traits like loyalty, honesty, integrity etc will help you stay grounded and healthy as you move toward developing your competence and skills. You need both but I’m assuming and hoping you have good character. What you need are some skills to help you get to that next level as a creative person.
Here is my list of ten skills that you need to succeed in todays world as an artist.
1) Mental Toughness
Mental toughness is about handling pressure and not being impacted by what people think. As an artist there is already a lot of vulnerability as we expose our emotions, but in todays world, with social media, we open ourselves up to massive criticism from complete strangers. I’ve had friends who thought they were being funny with a silly comment to something I’ve shared online but actually it came out really hurtful. Just imagine how it feels when a complete stranger unloads their venom in a vicious attack? You have to be tough mentally and know how to keep going and ignore that criticism and comments. Even more so when its your own inner critic. Mental toughness helps you face the uphill climb and not give up when you want to quit.
You’d think this is pretty obvious, and it is, but its amazing how important follow through and work ethic are to success. Not so much the 4:30am workout routines or working 19 hours a day, although the evidence for early rising is pretty strong, I’m referring more to the discipline to see things through. Finish what you start. Even if it takes a year to finish something you should have been able to do in a couple days, the rewards of eventually completing is the greatest feeling in the world. Keep going.
3) Protect the Downside (make sure there’s a way out so you can walk away and try again).
This is super important and where most of my entrepreneurial mistakes have usually come from. Be sure to create an exit plan when you’re hatching up an idea or business. Before you make a huge investment ask yourself what the worst case scenario is and then protect yourself from those outcomes. In the early 80’s, when Richard Branson was running a successful record label, he decided to start an airline. Instead of putting his entire empire in jeopardy by buying an expensive plane and hoping he made money he negotiated with Boeing to let him lease one and if after a year he decided to shut the airline down he could return the plane no questions asked. Simple but very smart.
4) Willing to Experiment (and fail)
If you are afraid to try new things and possibly make a mistake here or there you’ll miss out on incredible opportunities. Maybe you are afraid of ruining your brand. Unless you try you’ll never know. Maybe you’re afraid people won’t like it. Its also possible you might find a new audience you didn’t know was there. There’s always a trade off. A willingness to experiment is fundamental to being an artist. Don’t be afraid of making crap. Everyone feels this way. Its healthy and important to do it anyway.
5) Have An Open Mind
Visit new places, try a new type of food, try a new experience, be willing to learn new things. You have to be open to the world around you. Its how you increase your archive of ideas in order to create. If you only listen to one kind of music then you’ll only copy that sound. Listen to a lot of different styles and you’ll combine them into something original.
What makes an artist relatable? Empathy. Why? Because it allows you to connect with your characters, your audience, your collaborators, in a way that is human and real. If you are portraying Hitler standing in the hot sun before a large crowd ready to give a speech, empathy allows you to understand that he got hot and sweaty too, and you wipe your brow. Now, an audience can relate to him as a human. A flawed, psycho, very real human. When we lack empathy we often create art that is flat and one dimensional. If we can be empathetic with our medium or expression the painting or music etc has more soul and life in it. Now we are connecting not just creating.
7) Discernment Of People
You need to know how to ‘read the air’ around people. Beyond what someone says, knowing what they are thinking or feeling is super important. This skill set will give you Jedi like abilities of knowing how to negotiate contracts, how to build trust and love among friends, and how to communicate with an audience.
8) Basic Money Management
If you can’t manage your money find someone who can. Make sure you know enough to be sure you aren’t getting ripped off. Your art is more important than your money but your money is important so you can keep making more art.
9) Ability to Network
This isn’t as big a deal as you might think but being able to find mentors, teachers, new friends and contacts is incredibly important. Learn to be interested in others. Ask questions. You’ll avoid countless mistakes by being curious about other people’s stories and learning from them. You’ll also find more work, build more relationships and expand your worldview.
10) Personal Health
If you aren’t healthy you have nothing. Physical, mental, emotional and spiritual health is fundamental to the life of an artist. You’ll live longer, be happier, and inspire more people. Don’t sacrifice your health for your art. Its not worth it.
For most of my life I struggled to create anything because I was always waiting for the conditions to be right. I was waiting for inspiration to strike, for the coffee to be brewed perfectly, for all my ideas to be worked out in my head, before I ever started. I felt this overwhelming sense that anything I created would never be as good as someone else’s. I was gripped with fear and self doubt and I was way too caught up in my head.
The problem was that I didn’t understand how creativity works. Instead of waiting for creativity and inspiration to strike I needed to learn to find a way to master the muse.
THERE ARE THREE WAYS TO DO THIS:
1) Narrow Your Options
Whether its time, materials or methods, finding a way to cut out all the possible options is key. One of the most successful musical albums I’ve ever created was produced in a week. Instead of endlessly wrestling with all the crazy ideas I had swimming around in my head for years I decided to simply record a solo piano album. I wrote, performed, mixed, and mastered the whole thing in seven days and people love it. By putting restrictions on myself it forced me to say no to a lot of decisions that could have normally caused me anxiety and wasted my time.
2) Make A Game Of It
Often times, creating our own deadlines or having someone who pushes us as a creative partner can help keep the juices flowing. Games are fun. When you’re playing a game the adrenaline kicks in and you get your mind off of being self conscious and all you care about is the game and winning. The reason so many successful business people call what they do a ‘game’ is because it dehumanizes it and allows them to make choices based on winning and not on how it affects the people around them. I’m not saying that’s right or wrong, but what I’m saying is that if you’re having trouble being creative, tricking your brain into thinking what you’re doing is simply a game will help you have way less anxiety about getting things ‘right or wrong’. It’s just a game, so let’s relax and have fun and watch the ideas start to flow.
3) Under Think It
You’ve heard it said, “don’t over think it”. Well, what does that mean? Over thinking is the curse we face where we take some information we’ve received and we start running down every potential scenario about what could go wrong. This is usually only a good idea for engineers at NASA and other dangerous professions where people’s lives are at stake. When it comes to brainstorming or trying to be creative don’t over think your options. Its easy to get analysis paralysis. Where you overanalyze so much you can’t actually make a decision. Instead, under think it. Stop considering that every idea is so valuable it has to be looked at through a microscope.
We often believe that creativity is this thing that comes out of nowhere that the gods impart to us. That in the midst of our boring uneventful day any moment some brilliant idea will come upon us and then that’s when we put in the work.
The truth is, creativity IS work. To create means to MAKE something. Creativity isn’t some abstract thing but its the process of making something. A creator is someone who brings things to life. Whether it be an idea, a project, a person, or a universe.
Too often, people will believe they aren’t creative. As though creativity is about having an original idea and everything they think of isn’t very ‘creative’.
Creativity is a byproduct of ‘the process’.
We tend to think creativity is some abstract thing but its no different than work. The more you do the easier it gets and the more ideas flow.
JUST DO IT
If you ever went to Sunday School as a kid you’ll remember the Bible talking about how God created the world in six days, and then rested from his work. It wasn’t that He ran out of ideas but that the creative act needed a break.
If we could show up everyday and put the work in ideas would show up. The reason you don’t have any ideas is because you’re probably over thinking things and not being active to discipline yourself everyday to put in the work. As John Maxwell says, you “have uphill hopes and downhill habits”.
If you wait to get inspired to work out you’ll never get in shape physically. But work out daily, whether you feel like it or not, and when those moments come when you’re excited about exercise you’ll be in shape and enjoy it even more.
If you’re a writer. Write. Anything. It doesn’t matter. Some guys will write about their morning bowel movement just to put thoughts on paper. If you’re a painter. Then paint. Paint the sky. Paint a flower. Don’t wait to be inspired. Most of what you make won’t be great. So what? If you don’t consider yourself a writer or a painter then do those things anyway. Let go. Draw a picture of a tree. Now you’re an artist. Its that easy. Stop worrying about the quality of your work or what people will think. Just make things. Of course it sucks. Its like cooking. The more you do it, the more higher quality meals you eat, the more your taste buds will develop. The more refined your pallet becomes the better chef you’ll be. Art is the same way. Increase your intake of quality and as you copy it and learn from it you’ll find your own tastes improving as you decide what you like and don’t like.
COPY THE MASTERS
For those that believe they aren’t creative enough you need to ask yourself if your definition of creativity is wrong. Maybe you’ve been thinking about making a Youtube video or a short film, but you ‘don’t have any ideas’. Perhaps you want to draw something or sew a quilt but you don’t have any ideas.
First of all, you probably lack the skill and craft to truly be original so stop worrying about it. Just copy others. Look at other artists or businesses or ideas out there and see what moves you emotionally. Get inspired that way. Copy everything you can. When you feel you’ve mastered one style of something change it up and explore another. Eventually, your skill and craft, and the time invested, will give you the tools needed to branch out on your own.
You’ll start thinking of a song you’ve been writing in the style of Elton John but you love this Stevie Wonder lick and how Metallica kicks off that anthem you’ve listening to. You’ll start combining and blending things. You’ll eventually find your own voice.
Sitting around and waiting for that epiphany to hit is the surest way to frustration. Your brain isn’t wired that way. It needs references and experiences like a well you draw from, to give you the resources to create. Fill your well from lots of different sources and you’ll never run out of water.
If creativity is the work, then your life experiences are the tools needed to bring that work to life. As you add to your life experiences and put in the work eventually you’ll start to find your own voice and begin coming up with something original and unique. Until then, just relax and play and have fun. Some people don’t do that. They are original geniuses who create masterpieces out of thin air. Those people are immortal gods that the rest of us just marvel at. That’s not you and that’s not me. We are mere mortals. Embrace it and go make your art.
For me, the three steps above have been a tremendous help in freeing up my mind to simply embrace the moment and put in the work. When I realized that creativity was simply the act of making something I no longer worried about the outcome but focused more on the journey. There is a huge metaphor for life here. Stop worrying about the goal and simply use it to chart the direction you walk.
The real joy is in the travel not the destination anyway.
Over the past few years I’ve been spending an enormous amount of time working through a series of books and materials on emotionally healthy spirituality by Peter Scazzero. Pete is a pastor in Queens, NY who wrote these books and training resources out of his own journey of finding his christian faith an unhealthy mess of contradictions and dysfunction.
At one point his own wife approached him and said, “Pete, I’d be happier single than married to you. I’m getting off this roller coaster. I love you but I refuse to live this way anymore. I have waited… I have tried talking to you. You aren’t listening. I can’t change you. That is up to you. But I am getting on with my life.” She was resolute: “Oh, yes, by the way, the church you pastor? I quit. Your leadership isn’t worth following.”
He says at first, jokingly, besides wanting to murder his wife, he was embarrassed and ashamed because she had exposed his own nakedness. It was too much for his weak ego. Nonetheless, it was the most loving thing she could have done for him. She understood, but couldn’t articulate yet, that emotional health and spiritual maturity are inseparable. It is not possible to be spiritually mature while remaining emotionally immature.
Pete continues with, “While I loved Jesus Christ and believed many truths about him, I was an emotional infant unwilling to look at my own immaturity. Geri’s leaving the church pushed me over the brink to look beneath the surface of my iceberg to depths that were, until this time, too frightening to consider. Pain has an amazing ability to open us to new truth and get us moving. I finally acknowledged the painful truth that huge areas of my life (or iceberg, if you prefer) remained untouched by Jesus Christ. My biblical knowledge, leadership position, seminary training, experience, and skills had not changed that embarrassing reality. I was engaged in what I now call emotionally unhealthy spirituality. I was the Senior Pastor of a church, but I longed to escape and join the ranks of church leavers.” (Excerpts taken from the book ‘Emotionally Healthy Spirituality’)
Reading his own story I saw some incredible parallels in my own life and have been really working hard to process as I grow in maturity.
Here are Pete’s top ten symptoms indicating if someone is suffering from a bad case of emotionally unhealthy spirituality:
1. Using God to run from God
2. Ignoring the emotions of anger, sadness and fear
3. Dying to the wrong things
4. Denying the past’s impact on the present
5. Dividing our lives into sacred and secular
6. Doing for God instead of being with God
7. Spiritualizing away conflict
8. Covering over brokenness, weakness and failure
9. Living without limits
10. Judging other people’s spiritual journey
And here is a list of things he says Emotional Health would be concerned about:
1. Naming, recognizing, and managing our own feelings
2. Identifying with and having active compassion for others
3. Initiating and maintaining close and meaningful relationships
4. Breaking free from self destructive patterns
5. Being aware of how our past impacts our present
6. Developing the capacity to express our thoughts and feelings clearly, both verbally and nonverbally
7. Respecting and loving others without having to change them
8. Asking for what we need, want, or prefer clearly, directly, and respectfully
9. Accurately self-assessing our strengths, limits, and weaknesses and freely sharing them with others
10. Learning the capacity to resolve conflict maturely and negotiate solutions that consider perspectives of others
11. Distinguishing and appropriately expressing our sexuality and sensuality
12. Grieving well
Maybe you are already operating in a place of deep emotionally healthy spirituality. For me, its been a process of uncovering a lot of false truths and lies I’ve told myself, or inherited from my past, and confronting them head on. I continue to work on these every day, but its been a journey of self discovery and also a deepening spiritual journey.
I realize now that much of what I thought being a Christian meant was simply unhealthy attitudes and lifestyles I had inherited from others, and from my own dysfunctions. Discovering these truths has been earth shattering to say the least and digging deep and getting healthy continues to be the single greatest journey I’ve been on since my conversion.
If you would like to check out the book series and more resources please go to http://www.emotionallyhealthy.org
Ever have moments where you feel like you’ve changed or outgrown your friends, place you live, or job? Maybe the clothes you wear no longer feel like a reflection of you and you’re beginning to wonder about making a fresh start. It’s possible you’re needing to reinvent your life. In this episode we discuss asking the right question to help you on that journey.