One of the reasons people don’t set themselves free doing what they love is that they are afraid their new path won’t meet with approval.
Approval is a biggie for most people. I struggle with this quite a bit. Facebook can be my own personal ring of hell – I’ll post a piece of art or an accomplishment that I’m excited about and I hear nothing but the echo of the return key after clicking “post”. I always have a few people that respond, usually the same ones. But the ones I’m looking to be acknowledged by – other artists or writers – can never seem to be bothered to click their “like” icon. They seem to see every post I’ve ever made about family or silly jokes, but the ones important to my artist’s soul go ignored. Strategically? Could these cherished individuals whom I fan and support actually have little haters in them that take over their social media connections?
To put yourself out there is one of the hardest things for a person to do. It is the very reason people rarely follow their dreams. And to continue to put things out there without the feedback of those we admire, tends to fray the edges of our hopes and dreams. But ultimately, I can tell myself and I can tell others, the truth. It’s not you, it’s them. But it still hurts.
I can say that incrementally it gets better. Slowly at first, and then as you begin to start shedding the guilt of – for example – what you are drawing vs. what society thinks you should draw (“This potted plant would make a lovely subject, don’t you think?” Puke.) things start to get really cool.
The rebellion of drawing stupid doodle monsters (and NOT potted plants) begins to feed you energy. Not a spiteful, angry energy, but a heeheeheee-I-snuck-an-extra-cookie-in-my-purse-from-the-buffet energy. A little smile starts to curl up around the sides of your mouth when you work. You love how brave you feel, and the added love makes the drawing that much better. You are focused on the awesome, not on the permission. You gave yourself the green light and you are the badass with the pen now!
As with all things, you will need to expend energy to become the best you can be – why waste it chasing other’s approval. In many cases, withholding attention is the same as receiving positive attention. But I’ll let you in on a secret. Strangers are usually much more supportive than professional peers you have known your whole life. Uploading snippets of your work issues, challenges, projects to collaborative sites frequented by others like you around the world will surprise you and restore your faith in your work and in humanity. Not that you should place all faith in the hands of others – this is something that has to come from you alone. But I have to say it really does help.
Gratitude. Another side of approval is gratitude. When we pour our hearts and souls into a project, we need to know we are appreciated. We need to know that our hard work is honored and cherished. Like handing off a creative being to adopting parents, we want to know that what we created is going to a good home. Sometimes this doesn’t end up being the case. The number of projects I’ve done for free, the hundreds of hours spent attempting to please another individual with my particular gift is mind boggling. And in the end, the ratio of free projects to people who never even take the time to say thank you is almost 1 to 1.
I’ve done a lot of soul-searching on this phenomena and it comes back to approval.
There was something about the individual requesting the project that I felt I needed my life validated by. I needed to know I was worth something to this person and drove myself crazy neglecting my own work or well-being to eek out some approval from them. I wanted to feel important to them or have them finally say they love what I do.
But it just doesn’t work that way. When people want creativity for free, they are already stating that they don’t think you are worth paying. Your gift is not of value. They still need the hole filled where the project is concerned, but make no mistake – they are using you.
Even the most needy human will give thanks and a smile to an angel offering them a hot meal. This is gratitude. This is approval. Someone who can’t give you money for your work will have already racked heir brains to find a way to repay you before they even ask you for help. If they honor you, that is. This is a tough lesson to learn, but its one that you will have to keep getting hit by until you get it.
If you find yourself repeatedly being crushed by lack of gratitude from people looking for free work, ask yourself what it is about this person that is so important to you. Are they family? A friend of a friend? Where is the disconnect that gets you in this same situation time and time again? Why is it so important that you get approval from this individual at all personal costs? Then release them. But again, not in spite, but because you have to honor and protect yourself in order to keep moving forward – this is your pact with your creative self.
If you choose their happiness over your own, it is probably safe to say this isn’t the path for you. An awesome fortune cookie message that I have taped to my computer screen reads “When your self-worth goes up, your net-worth goes up with it.”
Meditation On Releasing Approval. A helpful meditation (and this can mean daydream, you don’t need to get out candles and cushions) is to…
See yourself walking along a beautiful wooded path. The trees are old and friendly and the season is early fall. The sun is still warm, but the air is crisp as the light filters down through green and gold leaves. Your path is packed earth and stone, scattered with fallen leaves. Your way ahead seems to turn slightly and continues out of sight. You wear comfortable clothes and cary a medium sized backpack.
You pause a moment and stop to stretch, removing the backpack from your shoulders. Unzipping the backpack, you realize what was slowing you down. Inside the bag are several round stones, each with a person’s name carefully painted across the surface. Individually, they aren’t heavy at all, but together they are quite a burden. You begin to unpack them from your bag one at a time, recognizing each name individually and taking the time to see that person’s face in your mind.
Eventually, you finish your task and replace the pack on your shoulders. You feel the load across your back has become infinitely lighter. You take one last look at the stones discarded along the path and then continue your journey forward to the sound of the chirping birds and the warmth of a perfect afternoon filled with love and endless possibilities.
I can’t explain other people and why they do what they do, I just know that their actions are just outward manifestations of what they feel on the inside. It has nothing to do with us. Anyone could be standing in front of them and they would all get the same treatment. We are so quick to find answers in our own faults. To blame ourselves and go over and over what we could have done wrong or differently, but at the end of the day, it wasn’t us at all. And when we are gone from thier lives, they will find another person to take their own issues out on.
Award-winning author and illustrator of ten+ children’s books, member of Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators and The California Writers Club. Contributor to Story Monsters Ink magazine.