Let’s say you’ve been at this game for a while now. You might have even been listening to The Creative Introvert Podcast since it began, way back at the start of 2017. You might have even been doing some of the stuff I’ve been recommending. Taking action, journalling, finding a supportive community, showing your work.
But. Things aren’t moving as quickly as you hoped. In fact, they’ve stalled. They might look like they’re even moving backwards, like when planets go into what astrologers call ‘retrograde’. Planets never actually go backwards by the way, it just looks like it does from our perspective.
And that’s actually a great analogy here: I promise you, no matter what it looks like, you’re not going backwards. Everything that happens is more data. More information for you to use and move forward real soon.
But I’ll admit it might look bad.
You might have set a goal months ago, a SMART goal: it was specific, measurable, actionable, realistic AND time bound. Or so you thought. That deadline has come and gone and you haven’t achieved that goal.
No doubt, that sucks. As an avid goal setter, I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve missed the mark. And it sucks. It does. I won’t try and sugar coat that one.
The only upside – and actually, it’s quite a big upside – is that in every case, in every missed goal or disappointment – I learned something or I grew in some way – more confidence, more skilis, or just something totally batshit crazy came out of left field.
So yes, there’s the silver lining. But more importantly, what are those lessons that we can learn in our failures, disappointments and mistakes?
Here are a collection of my lessons, that I’ve learned from these times, and hopefully they can help you, should you find that you’re not making progress. You can return to this checklist and get to the root of the problem that’s playing out, and hopefully find yourself an antidote to your deceleration.
1) You aren’t clear enough
This is something that happens a lot to some of us creatives, particularly the highly imaginative, intuitive types. You might be an INFP on the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator. The Mystical Dreamer, if you’ve taken my Creative Type Quiz. You love big pictures. Thinking big lights you up – the details can come later, right?
Well… Sometimes, my fellow dreamers, we need to buckle down and actually look at those pesky details. We need clarity. I know that can seem boring, even redundant – I mean, we know the future is uncertain, don’t we? Doesn’t art, true creativity, originate from the darkness?
The problem with this blurry thinking – or feeling – is that it makes focussing taking action and measuring our results really, really hard. How can you tell you aren’t making progress if you don’t know what the fuck you want??
You don’t get into a taxi without telling the driver where to go. Or get into an Uber without setting the destination first, I guess. You certainly can’t yell at the driver for not taking you to where you want to go if they don’t know.
There are times for winging it, and going with the flow, but there are also times for getting super clear on what you want to do, be or have – and only THEN can you be a fair judge of where you’re at.
Check out episodes:
How To Set Kinesthetic Goals
Goal Getting For Introverts Part 1
Goal Getting For Introverts Part 2
7 Reasons You Might Not Be Achieving Your Creative Goals
2) You aren’t eating a frog a day
Frog? You want us to eat frogs!? Well, apparently they’re a delicacy but I do want to respect the vegans out there and stress the point that this frog is indeed metaphorical. It’s actually a reference to the book, ‘Eat That Frog’ by Brian Tracy, personal-development extraordinaire, who talks about an old saying that if the first thing you do each morning is to eat a live frog, you’ll have the satisfaction of knowing that it’s probably the worst thing you’ll do all day.
“The idea is to use ‘eat that frog’ as a metaphor for tackling the most challenging task of your day – the one you are most likely to procrastinate on, but also probably the one that can have the greatest positive impact on your life – Eat That Frog shows you how to zero in on these critical tasks and organise your day. You’ll not only get more done faster, but get the right things done.”
Other great books on this are The ONE Thing by Gary Keller, a book I both praise AND attack – and I’ll link to my reasons for that here – but I can sum this up here:
You need to get suuuuper clear on your priorities here. And really, I mean priority – your ONE thing. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, and again, but having one point of focus doesn’t mean you don’t do anything else – it just means it’s the one thing you don’t sacrifice FOR anything else. Got it?
So for the last 8 months my book has been my frog, and I’m happy to say is at first-ish draft stage – but I certainly haven’t been doing ONLY this.
What I’ve done is made it my daily priority. I’ve promised myself one hour, in the morning, in a coffee shop, 5 days a week. That’s it. That’s my ONE thing. The deal I’ve made with myself is that NOTHING can get in the way of that. And I won’t lie – it’s been tough. And it wa much tougher before I got clearer on this priority.
When writing a book was just one of my many dreams, it simply wasn’t happening. Of course more urgent or more exciting things took precedent, and of course the book got delayed. As soon as I committed to this small but consistent daily book-writing session, I started making PROGRESS.
So go on, eat that frog!
3) You’re sabotaging yourself
Oh boy this is a bugger. Self-sabotage. We all have our reasons as to why we sabotage ourselves: just know that this is SUPER common and SUPER annoying.
I cover this more in depth in episode #37: Self Sabotage, Excuses and Procrastination (Oh My) but since recording that episode, I’ve learned a bit more about my own inner saboteur, so I’ll share some more advanced level stuff with you now.
Like… What if you saw your inner saboteur as a friend? A shitty friend may be, but one with the best intentions. I like using the analogy of Chuckie in the Rugrats: he was such a wet blanket! And I always had to pretend to be him if we played Rugrats because of the hair.
As annoying as he was, Chuckie was only ever trying to protect his best buddy Tommy and the others. As creatives, we are constantly taking risks. We risk people judging us, we risk rejection, we risk wasting time, energy, money, resources, we risk letting ourselves and others down.
If I’m being really honest with you: these aren’t just risks. They’re CERTAINTIES, if you decide to play this game for real.
The more we play the game, the bigger the risks get. Wouldn’t it be safer, to stay at level 1? Chuckie would likely say yes. And I bet your inner saboteur has the smart idea to keep you at level 1, where it’s safe and you can handle the bad guys.
If you aren’t making progress, there’s a good chance you’re payng too much attention to your inner scaredy cat – and I want to encourage you to listen to your inner courageous cat! Yeah. May be make a wrist band: What Would Courageous Cat Do?
Of course, this doesn’t mean ignoring the voice that keeps you safe, it just means practising both. See what happens when you listen to the one that sounds brave, even a bit foolhardy. Just see what happens.
Again, even if you risk something and fall on your face, you’ll have learned something. You’ll know what didn’t work, and you’ll have a clearer idea of what to do next time. That is in fact moving forward, making much more progress than you would have done if you’d have stayed stuck where you were, with Chuckie your inner saboteur.
4) Someone else is sabotaging you
In the words of Julia Cameron,
“Crazymakers are those personalities that create storm centers. They are often charismatic, frequently charming… and for the creative person in their vicinity, they are enormously destructive.”
Crazymakers are the people in your life who, even if they also mean well, are just keeping you small, tired and fed up.
Naturally, if you’re trying to make serious progress in your creative career or any life area for that matter, and someone close to you isn’t… it’s going to be hard for them. You’re constantly highlighting where they’re falling short. And naturally, they’re going to want to take you down to their level, even if they aren’t aware of it consciously.
I had a crazy maker in my life once, and my biggest mistake was letting it go on for so long. In hindsight, I can see that she didn’t mean to be stifling, and I’ll admit I played my role in feeding her dependency. I let myself stay down, stay small, in order to accomodate her ego and be a classic people pleaser.
Can you relate?
If so, it might be time to start getting super clear on your boundaries. If your crazy maker is always dragging you out to the pub and encouraging you to stay out and get another round in, and then the next day you’re too hungover to get up early and work on that creative project… then you know what you have to do. Check your prioriities, and make it clear. Be honest with yourself, and with them.
I’ll link to my favourite episode on boundaries and handling crazy makers here.
5) You don’t care enough
Oooh, this is a harsh one. I kind of hated this lesson when I first learned it, and trust me I’ve had to learn it a few times before I softened to it and actually learned to accept it.
There are some things in life we think we want. And may be we do want them, a good amount. But. They come with sacrifices. Oh yeah – I might have forgot to tell you that one. This stuff we want? Our creative dreams and goals? They come at a sacrifice.
Which is totally fine, in fact it’s a really good deal, when we want something enough and we’re willing to pay the price. But… if the price is higher than our desire? Agh. You’ve got yourself a problem.
I experienced this in my bout as a pet portrait artist. You’ve probably heard bits of this story before, but in short: my dream, what I thought I wanted, to draw people’s fur babies for a living, sounded SO great!
Until I started doing it. I realised quite quickly that for me, it was destroying my love for what was my favourite past-time, like a sledgehammer to fine china.
I realised it was something I loved, but the price to pay – it wasn’t worth it. Whereas web design or writing or podcasting or teaching or coaching – well, those are things I love just as much, but the price I pay is lower, much lower in some cases, than what I paid to bend over backwards for my dickish portrait clients.
And that’s just me: we all have our price. What it costs me to stand up on stage and speak might be a way higher price in relation to it’s value to you, and you might find the price of dealing with your illustration clients way lower than I did. We ALL different.
The question you need to ask yourself in the most ladylike way possible is: WHAT’S YOUR FLAVOUR OF SH*T SANDWICH?
In short: do you want it enough, and if so – what are you willing to pay?
If you’re not willing to pay the price, don’t be surprised if your so-called dreams aren’t being realised.
6) You are making progress, you just don’t know it
I have one last analogy for you: we’re like thermostats. Not super original, but stick with me. We’re like thermostats in that we adjust: we have our goals, we make plans, and can only find out they’re stupid when we start taking action. At which point we adjust.
That’s what everyone who’s ever done anything interesting will tell you: they learnt as they went along. They adjusted. They course corrected. Sure, they did their research, sucked up some know-how, asked lots of questions but at some point: they said screw it, I’ll do it. Richard Branson ACTUALLY said that.
So may be you are making progress, you’re just in the adjustment phase. Stick with it, you. If you want it, it WILL be so, SO worth it when you get there.