Though new year’s resolutions can be cliche and oft forgotten, using the turning of a year as an opportunity to refocus can’t hurt. My ongoing goal for this year is to not let the fear of others’ perceptions make me question my decisions either in art or as a leader. Not that I should never question why I am doing what I’m doing; questioning oneself is healthy and necessary, but only if done for the right reasons.
A quick background blurb for those new to the blog – My day job is running an inclusive creative classes program geared towards adults with disabilities and mental health, and I am also a freelance artist.
I was hit with this the other day when I came home from the first week of the program’s new semester on a high, because a new student had taken me aside and let me know that they had not been out in public to participate in group activities in a long time, and that I had been a stabilizing presence that kept them calm and made them feel safe. As I was browsing through facebook while waiting for dinner to cook, I came across an article (mainly aimed at women) that stated that being called reliable, stabilizing, nice, or accommodating were not compliments and were basically code for being a complete doormat. As an independent minded person, this horrified me. Immediately, every time I’d been called any of those adjectives by others rushed through my head and halfway through creating a plan to deconstruct and rebuild my entire personality, I suddenly stopped and asked myself why I was doing this. I don’t know the person who wrote this article personally, nor do they know me. Why does this opinion suddenly hold so much weight? Should I instead be unkind, stubborn, leave a path of division and stress in my wake? It makes no sense for either women or men to live their life that way.
Though it may not be fierce or glamorous or fit neatly within an awe-inspiring superhero persona, I don’t really want to be the leader who is kicking ass and taking names ;). I don’t want to be the leader that refuses to see the progress and can only focus on past mistakes in the people I work with. I don’t want to be the leader that kicks an employee when they’re down; I don’t want people to come to me with vulnerability, saying “Hey, I may need some extra support this week because I’m having a tough time with____________, or this hard thing just happened in my life, or I’m having this mental health struggle right now,” etc. and my response is, “That’s not my problem, leave your issues at home.” I can still hold people accountable without tearing down their self worth, and I don’t need the approval of those that are on the outside looking in that don’t know my group like I do.
I realized that without knowing it, I’d slipped into these same bad habits with my art … I’ve mentioned before how it was hard knowing what direction to go in after completing my last big 12 part series I’d worked on for around 2 years. When trying to come up with new concepts, I found myself constantly questioning myself based on how a new project may be perceived, and getting nowhere. If I start using more bright colors than usual will people think I’ve lost my edge, if I use my more dark imagery will I come across as an aging Hot Topic shopper, Will men feel left out since I draw mostly women, If I draw men will they think I’m trying to speak for them … ??? I’d gotten a lot of commissions done in the time since and some just-for-fun personal projects, but nothing with a strong direction.
When beginning your next creative endeavor for 2019, whether on your own or leading/educating a group, keep yourself in check by asking the right questions:
What kind of creator do I want to be? This question sounds simple, but is an ongoing process. I remember taking a fascinating hybrid philosophy/law class in college to fulfill one of my freshman year gen eds, and we started by discussing the tombstone question, basically when you’re gone, what do you want written on your tombstone? How do you want to be remembered? Now let that answer be in the back of your mind and guide your decisions, because our daily choices determine who we will become. Once you decide what kind of creator you want to be, the steps you need to take as a creative, the events you need to participate in, the programs you need to donate your time to, will no longer seem so up in the air, and won’t be so susceptible to changing with the wind the minute you hear a bit of noise.
Who am I trying to reach with this project? Oftentimes creative projects won’t be all about you, so there are indeed times you need to consider others’ possible responses to your work. But, if you are trying to appease everyone you will end up running yourself in circles, leading to a sub-par result that in trying to say everything to everyone, says nothing. Think of who you want to speak to with your project – It’s ok for you to create something that isn’t intended to resonate with everyone. Chances are, there will be others outside of your target that will end up getting something out of it, too.
What experiences am I drawing my ideas from? Creation flows most easily when it comes from the fount of something that the creator is passionate or knowledgeable about. Think about what in the world gets you stirred up, either positively or negatively. Think about what experiences you’ve had that have impacted you, that you remember every detail of; again, positive or negative. There may be an artist out there whose aesthetic and ideas you really admire, an artist you wish you could create exactly like, but it likely isn’t possible since they have a different story than you. Find your own voice rather than trying to retell another person’s story. And, if in the end you do want to use your voice to tell the stories of others, make sure you do your research and ask questions!
How would I want to be guided? Methods of leadership or teaching aren’t one size fits all as different styles are more effective for certain personality types, but this question is a good starting point. It pretty much boils down to the golden rule, and asking in each situation, “How would I want to be treated?” I’ve heard horror stories of art instructors sending students away in tears after a critique of their work. Yes, the work of a student or a fellow artist you are collaborating with may not meet your expectations, but how is destroying their enthusiasm for creation or any hope in them that they can improve going to help them get to where you want them to be? In leadership, treat others how you would hope they’d treat you, it’s really that simple.
What is distracting me from my purpose right now? Be mindful of what is going on when you feel yourself getting derailed like I described happening to me earlier … Stop yourself and note what activity was going on when the switch occurred, and what stimuli you were taking in. Is it criticism from toxic people in your life, comparing yourself to others on social media, taking opposing views personally without the lens of evaluation, forcing yourself into a box that is antithetical to who you are … Write it down if you have to, and when you start to notice a pattern do your best to remove or lessen that thing in your life, whether it means taking a break from certain friends or family members or spending less time putzing about online.
I have to decide for myself what kind of leader, and what type of creator I want to be… and so do you!