Taking Time for the Big Picture

June 16, 2014


About a week ago I read this great interview that Nancy Rosenbaum did with photographer Jenn Ackerman. There's a lot to love about the interview, but one section I was particularly drawn to was where Jenn talks about taking a seven-month retreat to the Outer Banks of North Carolina with her husband to essentially figure out what they want to do with their careers and lives. They ask a lot of important questions; they write lists about what makes them happy; they wrestle with uncomfortable truths (maybe I don't actually want to be a traveling nomad). It reminded me a lot of the questions I was beginning to ask myself three years ago, when I was just starting to write in the this blog space. My questions were something like:

What if I'm tired of bring an artist? Can I just quit? If I quit, do the past 10 years that I've invested in this career just become meaningless?
What brings me joy?
Where do I see myself in 5 years and then in 10; what kind of life do I want to create?
What's been bringing me the most satisfaction?
How do I build a career?
How do I survive as an artist without burning out?

They were hard questions to ask, because I was afraid of what I might discover; I took the better part of 6 months to focus on pondering them. Now I find myself checking in every 3-6 months for a day or two (sometimes a bit more) to ask different versions of the questions. I highly recommend this: zooming out, reevaluating, interrupting the go-go-go of routine to determine whether or not its proving satisfying; finding places to make tweaks as necessary. I'm not just talking about career, but also about life. Are you liking it? Are you exhausted? Why? How can you adjust?

As I've been diving into more coaching work lately, I've realized that most creative people have this dance they do between big picture and small: zooming in to rehearse and produce and make (Get Shit Done), zooming out to do a bit of strategic planning, write about what they do, and attempt to get funding and grants so that they can take care of the making things.

Both are incredibly important, and it seems like all of us are challenged by either 1) needing more of one or the other or 2) not knowing how to move smoothly from big picture to action (thinking too much and getting paralyzed).
------- Anyway -------

It's June, and even though things like, say, work are trucking away at full speed, I feel a sense of leisure in the air. It's sit-on-the-patio-with-a-cocktail weather, and maybe that lends itself to good question asking. I also recommend pondering questions while riding a bicycle or walking or doing movement improvisation, because sometimes your body is smarter than your brain, and the answers surface more smoothly while moving instead of thinking. Good questions to ask in these big-picture moments are

1) What have I been doing or working on that's been fantastic?What has been less fantastic? (Why?) What lessons can I take away from these things?
2) What are some dreams for the future that are in the back of my head?
3) What would I like more of in my life? Less of? What action can I take towards making this happen?
4) What am I trying to do in my creative practice? (aka, your mission statement as it stands today)
5) Why am I trying to do this?
6) What do I need to feel like my daily life and creative life are balanced?

Certainly don't ponder all of those questions at once. Take some time-- maybe a couple of hours a week over the course of a month? In between, take deep breaths and remember that the stakes are only as high as you make them. This question asking can be fun; remember that the answers are helpful, regardless of where they lead you. If you get to a place where you're hitting a wall and getting frustrated, chances are you should stop and return to making. Sometimes making things (and taking action) leads us to answering these questions in a much better way. 

What kinds of big-picture questions do you ask yourself? How often do you find yourself zooming out?

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