Labels are for Canned Peaches, Not People.
The following is an expert from Your Inner Critic is a Big Jerk by Danielle Krysa.
Labels are sticky. They’re great for organizing your cupboard; but when people put clingy, hard-to-remove labels on themselves, it can prevent creative growth. And sometimes labels have incorrect information! That’s why what’s inside the can matters. Your inner critic may have slapped on any number of labels: “Imposter,” “Just a Mom,” “Cubicle-Dweller,” “Self-Taught Amateur,” “Art School Dropout.” It’s time to get some warm, soapy water and start peeling those limiting labels off, so that we can see what’s actually inside.
WARNING: THIS LABEL MAY STOP YOU BEFORE YOU START.
Before we talk about the contents of the canned goods, let’s take a closer look at some of the most common labels. These are a handful of the stickiest culprits who, for some misguided reason, think they get to cover the entire surface of the can. Well, I’m sorry, but labels can’t have that kind of real estate. You can be more than one thing at a time! You’re not “just” a mom, a student, an accountant, a retired schoolteacher. You’re so many things— including creative. Let’s take a peek at the fine print:
“I’m a parent.”
This is big. But wearing this very important label doesn’t mean that you can’t be other things, too. Being a parent can be all-consuming. It can also be—it will also be—exhausting. And when you’re consumed and exhausted, it’s likely that your art practice or even all your creative urges will get pushed to the back burner. It’s difficult to find time and energy for creative pursuits when you have your parental label on, but you will be a happier parent and a better one if you give yourself time and space to be a creative person, too. The key in this situation is speed! You don’t have time for huge creative projects (don’t worry, you will again), so finding quick hits of creativity is what you need. An Instagram a day is a great place to start, because let’s face it, you probably have your phone out to take zillions of photos of those sweet little faces in your life. (There is a list of thirty jump-starter ideas in chapter 8 if you need a little help deciding what to photograph each day.)
Another thing that your artist’s soul will thank you for: one hour a week that is just for you. Not one hour to catch up on errands, or sleep, but one hour to feed your creative needs. Ask your partner to stay with the kids, or get a sitter. Now leave the house! Spend that weekly hour in a place that inspires you creatively: a gallery, a beautiful bookshop, an artsy café, the beach. Bring a notebook and jot down any thoughts that come to mind. As the kids get older, these outings can happen more frequently and last longer. And then, when you emerge from the sleep-deprivation stage, you won’t be starting from scratch— you will have enough of these inspiring hours under your belt that when you do have a bit more time, you’ll be ready with an entire notebook full of starting points.
“I work in a cubicle.”
This just in: You can be a creative person who also works in a cubicle. It’s true. All sorts of people have “non-creative desk jobs” and are insanely creative the minute the clock strikes five. Whether you enjoy your day job or not, making time and space to be creative will bring you joy. You are probably tired at the end of a long day, and the weight of your “I work in a cubicle” label may be dragging you down, but it should not be used as an excuse. It’s as simple as this: If you want to create, make time to create. Schedule it. Use the program you book meetings with to book creative meetings with yourself. Thirty minutes a day, one hour a day, whatever you can fit into that week. Mark Bradley-Shoup, a practicing artist and lecturer at the University of Tennessee, has some really smart advice for his students who are about to graduate. He tells them that, even once they have a full-time job, they also need to treat their studio practice like a job. It’s not frivolous; it’s important. He advises them to block off as many hours each week as can fit into their schedules, and then commit to being in the studio for that amount of time. No excuses. You show up on time for your desk job every day, and you need to show up on time for your creative life, too.
“I live in a tiny town.”
Hey, me too! And also, who cares? Thanks to the Internet, the world has gotten a whole lot smaller. Publishers in New York can find you through your blog, and galleries in Paris can find you through your Instagram feed. I have to be honest: For a long time, I worried that I wouldn’t be taken seriously as an artist or curator unless I lived in a cool loft in Brooklyn. As much as I love New York, that delusional excuse isn’t even close to the truth. Can you imagine if every creative person in the world lived on the same corner of the planet? Different places give different perspectives. No matter where you are, own that perspective, and see it as a strength.
“It’s too late.”
You don’t have to drop everything you’ve been doing for the last however many years, go back to college, write the next great fiction novel or paint a masterpiece for the Louvre by next week. Start by adding thirty minutes of creativity to each day. That may mean one drawing per day, one photo per day, or even plating the perfect meal each evening—whatever it is, make a tiny bit of time for this new creative endeavor. It may lead to an entirely new life that you didn’t even know was waiting for you.
“I’m a fraud.”
No matter what field you’re in, you may feel this way; it doesn’t apply only to the creative world. Any time you push yourself to do something new, something out of your comfort zone, you run the risk of feeling like a fraud or an imposter. What if people do find out that you weren’t trained at the best culinary school in France? You just happen to be really good at making pastry. And this is not just an issue for self-taught people, either. Someone with a BFA in painting might feel like a giant imposter if he/she decided to take up photography, or wedding planning, or even art curating. I was walking around with a giant “Imposter” label on my forehead when I curated my first few shows. I don’t have a PhD in curatorial studies; what if someone found out? They did.
No one cared. I worked hard and loved what I was doing, and, slowly but surely, the imposter label slid right off (maybe it was all the sweat). Ask for help, or fake it till you make it—either way will work. If you love what you’re doing, keep doing it. Eventually you’ll become an expert.
These are a few of the most common labels that we slap on and may have a hard time seeing beyond; but, as you will see, there is so much more to each of us than these one-liners. Acknowledging, and owning, these labels is the first step in transforming them from creativity-halting excuses into a fascinating part of your unique story: You may be a parent from a small town who is also an insanely talented painter, or a self-taught musician who works in a cubicle by day and plays in blues clubs at night. Decide which part of the fine print you’re proud of and which bits are slowing you down. This is a description of you, after all. Make sure that all of your information is included and correct.
Your Inner Critic Is a Big Jerk: And Other Truths About Being Creative by Danielle Krysa | Chronicle Books | Out Now.