The Work Is Not You

May 15, 2013

We flew home from Seattle late Sunday night, and I got ready to dive into rehearsal the next morning. It reminded me far too much of almost exactly two years ago, when we arrived home from our Oregon honeymoon and I started into the final month of rehearsals for I Like You. Except that I Like You was over an hour long, and this little ditty I'm making is just ten minutes. Still: I felt the same creeping sense of panic. The OH-MY-GAWD-I-DONT-HAVE-ENOUGH-TIME message, combined with a certainty that I would fail and 'people' (who are these people?) would mock me out of ever making a dance again.


What can I say? Brains are strange. 

Luckily the past two years have provided me with the skills to talk myself down from the rafters. It's not that I don't care about the outcome of this dance, or the other half dozen other projects I'm working on. I do-- probably too much. But I'm now smart enough to remember in these times that the failure or success of what I'm working is not a direct reflection of how smart or capable or creative I am. If I was banking on one project to illustrate my self-worth, I'd be in trouble, which is exactly what caused me to have a anxiety-ridden creative process with I Like You. Imagine how much more comfortable we'd all be with risk if we didn't continually worry about failing? If we lower the stakes, our chance of success is so much higher.

Steven Pressfield writes about this in The War of Art (an essential read for all creative people):

The pro stands at one remove from her instrument- meaning her person, her body, her voice, her talent; the physical, mental, emotional, and psychological being she uses in her work. She does not identify with this instrument...it's simply what she has to work with. She assesses it coolly, impersonally, objectively... The professional loves her work. She is invested in it wholeheartedly. But she does not forget that the work is not her. Her artistic self contains many works and many performances. Already the next is percolating inside her. The next will be better, and the one after that better still.

I probably should consider getting this tattooed on my butt cheek, right?

SWALLOW will be performed a week from today. I'm enjoying this creative process (and my kickass dancers!) so much-- probably because it's happening without heart arrhythmia and night sweats. Who knew that staying calm could be so satisfying? 

So, whether you are making a dance or writing a neuroscience paper or teaching a yoga class, I invite you to release the pressure (YOU'RE GOING TO LOVE IT!), because the work is not you. Sweet.

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