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It happens to all creative people, especially the most ambitious among us. You begin a creative project with a sense of optimism and a clear idea of where you want to go. You have a map at hand, happily start the journey, and are eager to reach the final destination. And most times, it works. You keep on plugging away and you get there, even when it's not easy, even when the last few steps might feel like a slog.
Oftentimes, when things don't work as planned, when we're sidetracked by some unexpected event in our life (ill health, the loss of a friend, a natural disaster), when the creative work itself presents obstacles we hadn't anticipated, we need to fall back upon our reserves of resilience. It's not a question of "if" you'll get stuck, but "when." And then an even more important question arises. What will you do to get unstuck, to get out of the creative quagmire you find yourself sinking in?
Here are three steps I follow to develop my resilience:
For me, it starts with slowing down and going back to fundamental values and beliefs. I sit and think, reflecting on the obstacles in front of me and how to overcome them. Next, I go for a long walk and continue to reflect, boosting my energy and re-framing my problem-solving perspective. I do all I can to change a negative frame, mostly by slowing down to find out how I’ve gotten here and to figure out how to get out. The ability to get things out of our mind may be as important as putting things into it.
If none of that works, I start talking to friends and family on the phone. I'll tell them what I'm trying to do, and what's getting in the way. If things are really bad, I arrange lunch or coffee meetings (of course I pick up the tab, they are helping me).
I'm lucky enough–actually, it's not luck but the result of careful and constant nurturing–to have good, smart, and caring friends who help me when I need it (and vice versa–you need to help others to get help). Nearly always, the intervention of an objective third-party/friend (not the writer, not the client) does the trick and breaks the creative logjam.
Sometimes, by just allowing me to talk through what's happening, my friends solve the problem. They reflect back what I'm saying and ask me a few simple questions: Can you approach that in a different way? Have you considered moving that part or eliminating it? Do you really need that for the story? They help me re-map my creative journey, circumnavigating the obstacle that had blocked me before.
Develop a learning mindset
Life will never be perfect, nor will you or your work. To be resilient, you need to first accept the messiness of life and the creative process. You can sometimes take one step back yet rebound by taking two (or more) steps forward. The key here is acceptance and being open to learning about yourself along the way. The creative life is iterative. Don’t assume you have all the answers, but instead reach out for help from friends, books, and from medical professionals, when needed.
You will never stop learning, so be compassionate and kind to yourself as you make mistakes. Find people who will be compassionate and kind to you as you make mistakes. The great British playwright Oscar Wilde once said, “Experience is simply the name we give to our mistakes.” The goal is not to avoid making mistakes, that is impossible, but to learn the most from them and keep growing. Mostly, you learn about yourself and your emotions, which (no shock here) will help you creatively.
Thriving creatively depends on resilience
All creative professionals, and all people, need to develop resilience. No matter how brilliant, rich, smart, talented, beautiful, deserving, generous, etc. you are, you will inevitably face obstacles that have the potential to negatively impact you and the work you create.
I often say that the most essential tool in any creative professional's toolbox isn't talent (talent is distributed everywhere, actually) or "potential" (ex-Patriots head coach Bill Parcells used to say, "Potential means you haven't done it yet"). It's the ability to overcome obstacles as they arise: i.e., resilience.
Your most essential tool
You should develop resilience in your own way, dear reader, or borrow my three step-process above, but you'll need resilience to succeed in anything in life. Not just at creating stories and designs, but at work, at relationships, at parenting, and whenever times are toughest.
My favorite people in life aren't the most talented, but the most determined and the most resilient ones. Resilient people inspire me. Grit may be the single most undervalued and essential keys to success in the creative life (and all life is the creative life).
Boston-based Chuck Leddy is a freelance B2B Brand Storyteller who connects brands and customers through engaging stories. His clients include ADP, Catalant Technologies, The Boston Globe's BG Brand Lab, and The National Center for the Middle Market. His website is www.ChuckLeddy.com.