Most of my life I’ve flitted this way and that between creative pursuits, never choosing a single one.
My imagination took hold when I was very little, transporting me to bright and beautiful worlds. Vibrant in their realism, the real world drifted away as my senses let go.
Later, still as a child, I adopted art. Drawing, in particular, held a special place in my heart. When I saw how it made others happy to see my pictures, it became part of my identity as well.
When I entered high school, I fell in love with writing. I had always written bits and pieces of things. However, it was difficult for me to get what was in my imagination down into actual words on a page. With the help of my creative writing teacher, though, something opened up inside me and words began to pour out. The stories I created finally held semblance to the worlds I could see in my mind.
In college, when I decided to pursue a technical route in favor of practicality (and not wanting to starve as I worked my way through unfinished manuscripts as a professional writer), I didn’t entirely lose my creativity. There was something about solving mathematical problems that gave me what I needed: a sandbox to play in and something to keep my mind fresh, bright, and excited about the next puzzle to solve.
The Real World
After I left college, the technical work became just that again: work. After a mild identity crisis (which lasted quite longer than I care to admit) I decided to go back and pursue one of my old creative passions. After all, I already knew from childhood that I could find a source of meaning there.
To start, I took up painting for the first time. The feeling of spreading color across canvas was wonderful. The joy of it lasted right up until I decided I wanted to write again. At this point, I abandoned painting and started a manuscript. I got two chapters in before I quit and bounced back to painting, which went in fits and starts over the next few years. This time period was interspersed with other random, half-finished creative pursuits.
It might sound like a magical mix of creative fun, but inside I felt guilty for being unable to commit to anything. I had developed an inability to choose what to do with my time, whether it be writing or painting, or even some other pursuit I had tried along the way such as music or photography. I couldn’t stick with any one thing for longer than a few months. Every time I switched gears, I felt like a failure. Not only that, being unable to choose one thing often put me in a state of paralysis. It ultimately left me creatively blocked in every single one of my interests, no matter what I tried to do.
I knew that I should give myself compassion rather than self-criticism for this behavior, but I also knew that in order to really make progress on something, I’d have to focus for longer than a few months. I’d need to persevere in a single topic. This, I thought, would require me to stop doing every other creative pursuit on my plate at the time.
This additional self-imposed pressure of only being able to do one thing made it nearly impossible to choose what I wanted to focus on. Did I want to learn about aperture and f-stop on my camera? Or perhaps I wanted to finally learn how to decipher those odd little squiggly marks on sheets of music? Or maybe I really wanted to learn how to paint with oils, finally learning to layer and mix and even how to properly clean the brushes once a painting was finished?
With each choice I presented myself, I felt the loss of the others. So much for the feeling I had as a child when I delved deep into whatever topic interested me at the time, without any worry that I was missing out on something else.
Identifying My Fears
Looking back, I can see that I was afraid of two things. Commitment was one of them. What if I chose the wrong thing, then got so far into that creative pursuit that I couldn’t remember how to do any of my others?
The fear of not being true to myself was another. What activity was most associated with my identity? Was it the drawings I did as a young child or the stories I wrote in high school? Would I lose parts of myself if I chose one over the other? Would the younger versions of me feel abandoned if I didn’t choose their particular creative love?
In the end, I realized that all of this boiled down to poor beliefs about creativity, such as how it’s a limited resource or how each facet of my creative life is somehow compartmentalized away from the others. These things are just not true.
In choosing one topic, there was no need to lose the others. It’s not like I can write during every little bit of free time I have. My writing would fall flat and boring. And if I chose painting, well, that didn’t mean I’d never write again. It just meant that writing would be what filled the gaps when my back was too tired to labor over a canvas any longer.
The Beauty of Choosing
I had to let go of these beliefs in order to truly dive deep. I couldn’t keep bouncing between things. I’d never get anything of substance done, and it would mean a lot to me to actually complete something: a meaningful project that would speak to my soul and touch others.
So I chose writing.
I did this two weeks ago exactly. It was a long time coming, but I think I made the right choice. The moment I settled on this decision, I felt a weight lift off me. I was finally free to pursue my chosen craft guilt-free for the first time since childhood.
Amazingly, I’m already going strong! I started plotting my novel again, I wrote this blog post (the first in a few months!), and I even happened upon a writing opportunity that combines my love of personal development with behavioral analysis. I’ll be applying to that in a few weeks from now, and even if I don’t get the position, it will not have been for nothing. I will have single-mindedly pursued something meaningful to me, followed it right up until the end, and given it all I had.
That’s all I could ask for in my creative life.