In the amazing book The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron, she discusses the concept that all of us have an “art” that runs deep within us yearning to break out. This art can literally be an artistic talent like painting, writing, or performing, but it could also be something else entirely. It can be connecting, teaching, being funny, etc. For some people, they find this art at a very young age, and they build a career and a life around it. For others, they may find this art, but decide not to do anything with it, or fight it tooth and nail. Some abandon it, never to let it come to the surface again. The people that bury their art often wind up being extremely unhappy in their careers and their lives. The ones that pursue it wholeheartedly are usually profoundly happy and feel they are living out their calling.
But is there an in between? I believe so. There are some people that do not pursue their art directly, but indirectly it becomes a part of their life or career. Cameron calls this being a shadow artist. For example, the class clown who decides not to pursue a career using humor directly as a stand-up comedian, but becomes a professional speaker whose humor is a big part of how he connects so deeply with his audiences. The painter or sculptor that decides that she doesn’t want to be a struggling artist trying to get her work into art galleries, but instead decides to become an art teacher and share her passion and talent with the next generation of artists. Or a dancer who decides to become a choreographer helping other dancers create art on stage. But beware — being a shadow artist can be a negative experience, as in the case of someone that is deeply resentful of not pursuing his or her art directly. The key is to make sure that your art indirectly manifests itself in your life or your career in a positive manner so that it still remains a part of your life, while not being resentful that you’re not pursuing it directly.
Many people struggle with having spent so much time training and preparing for their art, that they dig their heels in stubbornly refusing to abandon it, or incorporate it into their life in another way. I was once in this position. I convinced myself that I was an attorney at heart. I badly wanted to believe it, as I had invested so much time, money and energy training to become a lawyer. Much about that world was alluring. It was intellectual, paid extremely well, was high powered, and was well respected, while giving me the sense that I was helping others in a meaningful way. It was enticing the way a drug would be. Plus, I was really good at it. It took me almost a decade to understand that the law was not the right fit for me — or maybe not to understand it, but to accept it and move on. I realized that law was not my true art. Instead, my true art was to help, guide, teach, motivate and inspire others. Unfortunately, the way that my art manifested through my being an attorney was a huge disconnect. It was too negative, too stressful, and not as directly helpful as I had hoped it would be and wanted it to be. I had the right intentions but chose the wrong package to house them in. Once I realized this, I had to make a change. And I did. I now get to enjoy being a coach, consultant, speaker, and author using my true art in a way that feels positive, and is a perfect fit for me.
Having spent so much time navigating my own successful career transition and guiding others through theirs, I have found that there are 3 key steps to identifying your own art.
1) What did you want to be when you grew up? Not the specific answer… but the underlying impulse. What is the archetype that is deep within you? What is your true art? I wanted to be a stage actress, singer, and dancer. When I dug deep, it was more about the art and craft of performing, and connecting with the audience than being famous, so it was easy to make that a hobby, and incorporate some aspects of it into my work as a professional speaker. I wanted to teach the deaf as I was so inspired by Helen Keller and my deaf family members. I did teach and interpret for three years and it was a wonderful experience. The teacher archetype runs strong in me to this day and all of my work incorporates it.
2) Pay attention to the work you gravitate to in your “day job,” as well as your volunteer activities. Often, it’s not the position, title, company, or anything official that shows us our true art, but the actual work. What work puts you in “flow” state? What gets you jazzed, taps into your passions, or is just plain fun or interesting to you?
3) Pay attention to what you envy. Jealousy may be an ugly emotion, but it often uncovers our true desires or tells the truth in some form. It may not be the exact thing you envy, but some version of it. When I first decided not to pursue Broadway as a career, it was often difficult for me at that time to go see a show. I realized I still had some envy around that choice and had to really examine whether I had made the right decisions with abandoning that dream. Over the years, it became clear that I could keep a foot in the theater world through performing in community and regional theater, and I would not be resentful, envious or jealous of those that had pursued this art directly and made it on Broadway. With this sense of peace and acceptance around my decision, I am able to fully enjoy theater as a participant, and as an audience member.
It’s obvious that people flourish when they’re engaged in occupations, roles or settings that are aligned with their personalities. But I think it goes deeper. Your true art doesn’t have to come out in the work you do at all. However, I believe it has to come out somehow. So if the work you do doesn’t allow you to integrate your art at all, make sure that you’re able to express your art in your personal life. Your art should strongly arouse your passions and provide a welcome place to express yourself. It should be like an emotional vacation. Think about what your art is, and then be sure that you integrate it into your life somehow. Because the last thing you want is to wake up one day and realize that you have been burying your art your entire life. That would be not only be a shame for you, but the world.
Interested in delving further on this issue, or other aspects of your life, career or business? I offer one-on-one private coaching/consulting, group coaching programs, corporate consulting and executive coaching, and speaking programs. Contact me so we can explore the possibility of working together!