The last hazard of the road that Julia warns of in Chapter Eight is the danger of competition. What we consider a friendly rivalry can all too easily morph into a poisonous compare-and-contrast.
Like the longing for fame or recognition, gauging our work against the success of others is deadly to our process. It ultimately may be the root of more creative blockage than any other single problem.
“You pick up a magazine,” Julia writes, “or even your alumni news, and somebody, somebody you know, has gone further, faster, toward your dream. Instead of saying, ‘That proves it can be done,’ your fear will say, ‘He or she will succeed instead of me!’
“When we focus on competition, we poison our own well, impede our own progress. When we are ogling the accomplishments of others, we take our eye away from our own through line. We ask ourselves the wrong questions, and those wrong questions give us the wrong answers.”
She points out that more than likely, those questions center on ‘why them and not me,’ leading quite naturally to the unfairness of it all, poor me, and what’s the use. Instead, we should be asking ourselves, “Did I work on my play today?” “Did I make the deadline to mail off the manuscript?” “Have I done any networking to find an agent?”
“These are the hard questions,” she acknowledges, “and focusing on them can be hard for us. No wonder it is tempting to take the first emotional drink instead. No wonder so many of us read People magazine (or the New York Times Book Review, or International Artist, or Wired) and use them to wallow in a lot of unhealthy envy.”
I somehow doubt that many of us are really doing exactly this. But there are other, less personal forms of unhealthy competitive focus. Instead of fuming about some particular person, we can find ourselves caught up in a kind of contest that pits us against the marketplace, or certain reviewers’ opinions, or being on top of the “important” trends.
Just remember that “the desire to be better than can choke off the simple desire to be. As artists, we cannot afford this thinking. It leads us away from our own voices and choices and into a defensive game that centers outside of ourselves and our sphere of influence. It asks us to define our own creativity in terms of someone else’s.”
And really, our Divine Attendant Spirits are not going to be on board with that at all!
We are not in a competition with other artists, or history, or the fashion. We are here to find a way to live a creative life by our own vision. The “footrace mentality,” as Julia calls it, is “always the ego’s demand to be, not just good, but also first and best. It is the ego’s demand that our work be totally original – as if such a thing were possible…
“Never, ever judge a fledgling piece of work too quickly. Be willing to paint or write badly while your ego yelps resistance…The need to win – now! – is a need to win approval from others. As an antidote, we must learn to approve of ourselves. Showing up for the work is the win that matters.”
On that note, we begin to tackle some of the tasks that complete this chapter. Here’s the first one, with more for over the weekend.
Chapter Eight Final Tasks
The Deadlies: Take a piece of paper and cut seven long strips from it. On each one, label one of the following: alcohol, drugs, sex, work, money, food, family/friends. Fold these strips and place them into an envelope. These are The Deadlies. Now, draw one of the deadlies out of the envelope, and write five ways it has had a negative influence on your life. If the one you’ve chosen is difficult, or doesn’t seem relevant to you, consider closely the resistance you might be feeling.
Then put it back. Draw again and repeat: five ways the category has affected you in a bad way. You will do this seven times, each time putting back the slip of paper, so each time you are always drawing from seven possible choices. Yes, you may draw the same deadly repeatedly. Yes this is significant. But Julia writes, “Very often, it is the last impact on the final list of an annoying ‘Oh no, that again!’ that yields a break, through denial, into clarity.”
Please share your results if you would like to. Stay tuned for more tomorrow.