Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Artist PlayDate: With Yours Truly!


This week, I'd like to take a few minutes to share an issue that means a great deal to me. I hope you don't mind. Thanks for letting me hang with you. Let's have an Artist PlayDate Powwow.

Recently, I had a chance to speak with several, fabulous artists who each shared a fear about going out on a limb and taking major risks with their art. There were so many things I wanted to say and that I did say. I spoke about the beauty I saw in their work and how I admired the risks that they were taking. However, there was one sentence I wanted to share, one sentence that changed my own life. I wanted to say, "Take ownership of your gorgeous work" and I'd like to explain why.

Not long ago, I had lunch with an editor I'd worked with once on an article. As we talked about writing, I asked her what it had been like to work with me. She said several complimentary things before admitting that throughout the process she'd had one major concern. "I wanted you to take ownership of your piece," she said.

Whenever she'd asked me to expand on certain parts of the story, she said I did just that. I expanded enough to answer her question without taking it any further. Although I did not completely comprehend her meaning, I nodded. Inside, I felt that little flicker of acknowledgement; there was a part of me that agreed with something she said but it would take some time for me to fully digest the meaning of those words.

"Ownership", as defined by Webster's Dictionary, is the state, relation, or fact of being an owner. So, I went home, printed out the piece, wrote my name on top like I had when I was in grammar school and stared at it accepting the fact that I was its owner. Then, I held up the manuscript and said aloud, "This is mine. I made this." However, writing and saying those words did nothing for me. I did not feel any more proud of the work I’d completed nor did I feel a greater sense of "ownership". Instead I felt like a young child awaiting the gold star and that’s when it hit me.

Throughout my life, when I've decided to go after something - a job, an article, a dream - I've put my best foot forward and gone after it with everything in me. With nothing to compare myself to, I would present my best self. For example, I remember a job I wanted that required applicants to write a mock press release as part of the application process. To be honest, once I read the application requirement I knew I could do it; I was more excited about rising to the challenge then I was about applying for the position. Knowing the company from seeing their products in stores and loving the originality of the creator, I drafted a press release that I thought represented the products well but also represented my own wit and humor as a writer. When I landed the position a short time later, I was beside myself. My writing had the power to open doors; I was walking on cloud nine.

Yet, that first day as I trailed the previous Director, I began to sabotage myself. As I watched this woman who knew the job inside and out, who had little time or patience for me and who made me feel as though I was lacking in everything from skill to general personality, I stopped thinking about what I had just accomplished as a writer and started believing that I was incapable of doing the job. It never occurred to me that she might have had a bone to pick with her former employer or that she was threatened by the writing talent she learned I had. Instead, I began to wonder whether I had any talent. I began to worry about whether or not my co-workers would like me and whether the owner was really the evil, raving lunatic this woman claimed she would be to me. And that’s not even the worst thing that happened. The worst part was that I lost confidence in myself. Comparison shopping and approval seeking combined with lack of self-belief were the torpedoes that sunk my "ownership" boat.

Although the job and writing the article were two very different experiences, my behavior in both had been the same. I had worked incredibly hard to land the piece in the magazine by pitching my idea and then proudly sharing pieces of writing that I was exceptionally proud of. “You have a distinct voice that reaches people,” said the Executive Editor when I first shared my work and I agreed with that assessment.

I knocked down that door at that magazine but the moment I was on the inside I turned into the “I hope she likes this” approval seeking person. I was more concerned with the editor liking my work than anything else. There are people who knock down doors and then once inside take the place by storm and rise to the top. Why was I not like that?

That’s when I had that “Oh, right I get it now” moment and realized that I can be like that; it just takes a little work. Ownership is about far more than stamping your name on your creation. It’s about more than calling yourself its owner and saying, “I made that". Ownership is about having a deep belief in yourself and trusting that there is room enough in this world for your voice to be heard. When I realized I needed to change my thinking and some of my behaviors in an effort to take ownership of my work, I decided to start my journey by asking myself the question, "Why do you write?" I write because I cannot help myself. If I don't I get jammed up. Life feels stale when I’m not experiencing it and then sharing my experience with you. I discovered that when I write and I am being true to myself, you can hear it. You will hear my “voice”, you will see me lying on the page as I share that which is in the center of my soul.

That thought led to my next question, "Why expose yourself and risk being vulnerable before others?" The answer is that I write from my heart, I share thoughts, ideas and lessons I've learned because I’m desperately interested – not in whether or not you like what I have to say – but in hearing your experience. I long for a conversation with you and whether you respond with a creation, a piece of writing or both, I cannot wait to see what ideas are sparked; I cannot wait to learn and grow with you. Writing, art, all of it is a search for connection with myself, my world and with you. I believe that good will come from sharing.

The next step in my ownership journey was eliminating my need for approval but there's more to that than meets the eye. I needed to eliminate my concern for whether people like something I've created or not which is hard. It's difficult to hear negative criticism because we all want to be liked. I've never heard anyone say, "I really hope they hate me." Then again, positive praise carries its own weight as its highly additive. But I did not want the things I created or the way I perceived myself to be based on positive or negative feedback; I simply wanted to create because that's what is inside of me. So, I strived to limit that effect.

When people share their words - good or bad - about my work, I hear it and acknowledge it but I try to keep my focus on creating. I want to remain free from the power that positive and negative words can have upon me but that’s no small feat. Although people's words are often more of a reflection on what's going on with them then a reflection on me, that didn't change the fact that I knew negative words had the potential to cut into me and seep inside like an infection. While the good ones had the power to lift me to new heights but I needed to remain cautious as to how high I soared. I never wanted to lose sight of my creation foundation. I don't want to start continually creating variations of the thing that brought about the praise because that's what people like to see. If I do, I'll no longer challenge myself to create new pieces and those piece allow growth and the ability to reach my full potential as an artist and a human being. So, I acknowledge the words but try to stay true to my art. There are some words I take with me and use them like water and sunlight to grow. There are some I carry in my heart because they keep me humble. Mainly, I just try to believe in myself and therein lies the hardest part.

There are many writers and artists out there creating exceptional works of beauty. Many times, I've found myself comparing and that always leads to a dry spell. I stop creating because I believe that my art simply doesn't measure up. However, I have other days when I can't wait to celebrate my creation and share it with you. Those are the days when I remember that there is enough room in the world for my voice. There is no magic potion, no trick to remembering to believe in yourself. It's just something you have to get up every single day and remind yourself. We are all so different; all you have to do is take a spin through here on a Thursday to see that. And that is something to be celebrated. We can all be given the same idea but our wonderfully unique minds will take it and create something brand new, something that's never been and something that's 100% born from our own mind and heart. I tell myself that everyday and then I start creating.

The journey of learning to take ownership of my work is long. I often lose my way, lose my nerve and forget to hold my own hand and trust my own heart. However, souls like you often help to guide me back to my first love and passion, creation. My work is not to be judged. It is simply to be done and then released. I believe that’s the final part of ownership. You need to trust that there is a time to let it go and let it begin its journey out into the world.

If I were to define "ownership", I would say that it's belief, trust, focus, love and letting go. I bet even car dealers would agree with me. We all have a "voice", it is ours; let us be its proud owners.

22 comments:

Amanda (Blake) Fall said...

Natasha, thank you so much for sharing this, from your heart. As a fellow artist AND writer, I recognize many of the struggles you mentioned. I still find myself, when looking at a piece of my artwork or a manuscript that has become successful, saying "I did that? That was ME?" I don't know where that unbelieving voice comes from, but I know that many of us have to deal with that. I think one huge step is talking about it with our colleagues--and you have done that here, fearlessly, and opened a dialogue. You've given me a lot to think about!

Natasha said...

Amanda - I think you are a tremendous writer and artist...truly so I think to myself, "How could she question herself? She's so talented". And yet we do - is it something we learn from family, society, etc? Is doubt a natural thing that makes us stronger, better? You know that idea that if we didn't face struggles either inner or outer would we wouldn't fully appreciate our art? It's interesting and something I really want to talk about...so thank YOU for sharing!

j.US.t chatter said...

Sweet Natasha,
I 100% enjoyed reading this and somewhat imagined a 'dear katie' at the top as if i were unfolding a letter just for me. Hearing these words allow me understanding to the relationship you hold with readers as a whole and each person whom you respond and interact with. I have a little habit of checking your 'followers' box because each time the number grows and I find it fascinating. Having said what you've said, it's clear that being you is the remedy for many.
The encouragement and words of self belief have made me go 'hmm' as I begin today. My thoughts this week reside on a roller coaster as the proceeds benefit this weekend will be my first public exposure to people who know me. Queue the fears, doubts, insecurities, etc. There are a few key thoughts you've shared that I should jot down on paper and stuff in my pocket through Saturday and even thereafter.
I love creating, creative projects in school were always my favorite. Especially since I could claim the work was a requirement and not a desire. Years later I'm climbing a little higher in my tree, and a little further (or ALOT further) on a limb that I feel is all too thin for my comfort. I am creating for the purpose of me. I smile for hours at a genuine compliment and mentally toil myself after a dismissal. You've given me positivity that will sit on my shoulder and help navigate through the uncertainties of the next few days. I'm committing myself to confidence regardless of public reaction or sales.
Your writing today has been a great blessing to me and I thank you. =) It's been great 'chatting' with you this morning.
.katie

Susan said...

Thank you!

FunkyMonkey Girls said...

WOW!!! This will help me in my job that I make money so I can have beads to do my creative half of my brain! I can also use this for my art and how I make it. You do get discouraged and see everyone succeding and you know you can to BUT what didn't I think of that idea yada, yada!

I will think & remember this article, thank you!

Funky Monkey Girl,
Jolene

Natasha said...

Dear Katie,

Thank you for sharing your thoughts so honestly. I want you to know that I will be cheering for you this weekend! I know that the proceeds benefit will be a success but YOU are already a success. Remember that - you are creating and putting your creations out there...those unique messages from you and that takes tremendous courage...you have that courage..you have proved that and you are a talented artist. I see, we see it here and many will have the lucky opportunity...what a wonderful gift. I can't wait to hear how it goes. This is one step on a long and beautiful journey ahead for your creations and for you...it's an honor to share in that with you..I can't wait to see what happens :)
Be you, celebrate you, remember you are supported, remember YOU believe in your work...and so do I
Hugs,
Natasha

Susan - thank YOU for reading and dropping by :)

Natasha said...

FunkyMonkey Girls - thank you for sharing!! Comparison shopping can seem intoxicating but really its just toxic...don't ever compare...your work is wonderful, unique and needed...keep creating and believing in you...I do (and I totally know how easy it can be to forget to do that but consider me your friendly reminder :) If you remember and keep creating I will to...deal?? Hugs and smiles :)

mkcphotography said...

Natasha, I can't even believe the timeliness of this piece (and thank you for sharing so much of yourself). I'm working on rewrites of my novel for an agent that I really want to impress...and I've lost something in the process and didn't realize it until I read your words. I shouldn't simply hand her what I think she wants to read...I need to write with the committment and power I delivered to the first draft, otherwise, my heart isn't in it. As you said, I need to own it! Thank you for giving me the words that eluded me up until now :-)

Natasha said...

mkcphotography - first, CONGRATULATIONS on completing your novel and being in re-writes!! That's a HUGE accomplishment! I wish you all the luck in the world as you gear up to submit it. Remember this is YOUR story...be it, own it and rock it. I'm cheering loudly for you..hugs :)

Patti said...

Thank you for the wonderful post! Sometimes it is scary to take "ownership" of one's work, but it has never let me down. I'ts good to hear that others have struggled as well!

lilacwoman said...

Wow! This is so important! Your timing (as usual) is absolutely perfect, this is THE topic in our household right now. Thanks again for sharing your self.

Felicia Kramer said...

Oh my - you opened my heart and saw what was there! There's lots of nods of self-recognition out there today, Natasha - thank you!

PinkWaterFairy said...

WOW! Natasha, that's very inspiring, thank you for taking the time and trouble to share your thoughts. I'm going to read it all again (and probably a few more times) to inwardly digest it all!
Penno

Natasha said...

Patti - thank you and it is good to hear that others have struggled...makes it all feel more normal right? I 100% agree taking ownership is scary but good without a doubt...big cheers for you!

lilacwoman - so nice to see you here!! This is an important topic for sure...I wish you much luk with it in your house...thank you for your words and for sharing :) BIG hugs!!

Felicia Kramer - great hearts think alike hahahaha...thank you for writing ...yes, it's nice to be able to connect and share...hugs to you!

PinkWaterFairy - I've missed you what a great surprise to see you here...how's everything?? Thank you for coming to visit and for commenting...that means so much to me...hugs :)

Mackin-Art said...

What an incredibly important essay; a lesson we must each come to and conquer (and reconquer) in out own unique way.

I have found your weekly challenge a wonderful way to take ownership of my work - but ONLY if I follow your directions to play and not consider others impressions of the work or it's commercial potential.

Your work in encouraging (and challenging) us is having huge ripple effects - Congratulations!

jodi said...

Natasha, you never cease to amaze me. A wonderful post today. It is hard not to compare ourselves to others. It's hard to surpress that voice in our heads that tells us we might not be that good or that people won't like me or what i've created. But the amazing part is that when we do create from our heart and ignore those voices the end product is what touches people most. And for the artist sometimes it is the process and not the product that makes us grow.

aquamaureen said...

oh Natasha . . . I think you have reached into the hearts of MANY of us and put words to our fears and worries. I would so love not only to take ownership of my work, but also consistently delight in it. To no longer measure my work against someone else's, but only against myself, as I answer: did I put my WHOLE heart into this piece? Did I risk everything?

Once again, Natasha, you have gifted us with your tender brave honest. As others have said, I will be re-reading this entry of yours for days to come.

Dawn said...

Natasha,

What a lovely, sincere breath of fresh air you are. Every time I visit here, I am drawn to your words; you effortlessly encourage, share, teach and so much more in a way that is so down to earth. You often share so much of yourself that I know we can all relate to.

Thank you so very much for being you. I love coming here... because I know that whatever I find, it will always be real and it will always give me just what I needed at just the right time.

Fondly,

Dawn xoxo

Ceridwen said...

Natasha -
Thank you! This really struck a chord with me today. It came at a time when I most needed it! Thanks for having the courage and compassion to give so much of yourself!
Ceridwen

Natasha said...

Mackin-Art - thank you so much for this amazing post...your work just continues to amaze me...you are just growing, flourishing as an artist. I learn from you all the time. Thank you for sharing here....for being a part of this...it means more than you'll ever know. You should embrace, celebrate and declare ownership of your work from the mountaintops!

jodi - oh thank you for this...you completely hit the nail on the head. When we create from the heart that's what people want in their life because it has meaning and it inspires them! Your work is inspiring...and I love sharing the journey!!

aquamaureen - when you ask yourself that question - did I put my whole heart into this?? You should dance around and sing YES! You put so much heart, passion and fire into your work...don't every compare and sell yourself short...the world needs your work, your unique vision...it's better because of it!! Thank you for your words and spirit!

Dawn - you officially rendered me speechless....thank you so much for such kindness...I cannot tell you what it means to me but I can tell you that I will carry your shining, gorgeous words with me..it warmed me and made me want to do more, share more...thank you for sharing...it is my sincere hope that YOU will continue to share, cheer, play, be a part of this...major hugs of thanks :)

Ceridwen- thank YOU for sharing ...your work, your heart...you always amaze and inspire me...thank you for sharing here ...

HUGS all around :) I'm so in awe of the beauty that exists in each of you

Lorrie Veasey said...

Did that former boss of yours end up being the evil witch you were warned she would be or was she just the sweetest thing who went on to be one of your biggest fans?

:)

Natasha said...

Lorrie - why yes I adore her and became an even bigger fan of said boss. The woman I trailed turned out to be ...well, completely wrong in man ways...it did not go the way I planned but it turned out MUCH better than I expected!