The following question was put to me by a subscriber in response to my previous post:
How many people never complete their projects because unconsciously they have a fear that there won’t be something else to start on, or they don’t have a sense of direction that will propel them towards something and the sadness connected to completing something is hard to feel. How does one push past this to complete and finish projects?
I thought the question was too good not to share and so, rather than reply to just a single reader, I figured a better option was to put it out there for everyone to consider. My answer is based on my experiences as a full-time sculptor (obviously). However, I was pleasantly surprised by the observations I made about my practices as a career-focused artist.
“…a fear that there won’t be something else to start on…”
For me, and perhaps others, this fear can also mask other thoughts…what if the next project is horrible? What if I can’t recreate the success of the previous project? What if I’ve already done my best work? My response to this, to use social media as an example, is to un-friend that part of my personality and block the negative self-talk.
Here are a couple of tricks I’ve learned that help to move past the fear of there being nothing else:
- Keep a notebook handy to jot down any ideas that pop into your head while working on your current project
- Write down every idea. Don’t let yourself think about whether it’s good or bad, at this point it’s irrelevant.
- Focus on what you like about what you’re doing. That can be the process, the medium you’re working with or even the thoughts that it generates. This type of positive focus leads to enjoyment in the act of creating without a constant focus on completion.
“…don’t have a sense of direction that will propel them towards something…”
Setting goals and identifying the direction we wish to go is intensely personal. That being said, the old adage of crawl-walk-run holds true for this one. What does that look like to me?
- Set a goal, any goal, it doesn’t matter how big or small (although you’d be surprised how achievable the really big stuff can be).
- Take one small action that moves you toward that goal. Enough small movements and you end up somewhere else. Sometimes, it isn’t where you expected to be, but other times you are exactly where you hoped to arrive.
I find it helps to check in on a daily basis with myself. Where am I at? Has my path altered or disappeared completely? If so, why? Asking why however is only useful if I actually take the time to honestly search for an answer. Then prepare myself to make changes based on what I find out.
“…the sadness connected to completing something is hard to feel…”
Similar to goal setting, how we respond to completion is unique to the individual. I don’t know if others have the same experience that I do upon completion. Maybe they call it something else or identify with it in a different fashion. Perhaps there are even those people who don’t feel sadness but rather exultation or celebration. I know people who have multiple projects on the go at any given time, so I expect their experience is dramatically different from mine.
For me, art imitates life, and so loss or sadness seems natural when the driving force behind creating ends along with the finishing of a project. I would say that what we feel isn’t the point, recognizing that we feel something is. Then to determine if that emotion works to our advantage or not and alter our process accordingly.
“How does one push past this to complete and finish projects.?”
Just pushing isn’t enough, while it can be effective it is also exhausting. I find that it helps if you have some tools to push with:
- Establish solid routines that will help you achieve your goals. On a bad day trust that those routines will get you where you wish to be.
- Be ruthless in protecting yourself, from the negativity in ourselves and other negative people.
- Remind yourself that it’s ok to alter your goals, or change how you are going to achieve them.
I will often negotiate with myself, ‘When I finish this project then I can begin the next one.’ It is because I am so excited about the next idea that I am able to push myself to complete what’s currently on my work bench. Admittedly an upcoming show often provides the impetus for completion which takes us back to setting goals, particularly ones with deadlines.
I’ll admit it also helps to be more than a little obsessed. I am a huge proponent of ‘positive obsession’. How else do we get things done unless we are obsessed about them?