Perhaps the best way to gauge if I’m getting ahead of myself is how much stretching I’m having to do.
Am I learning through movement, or is everything moving past me? Are my current priorities in conflict with my intuition? Does rest compete with my personal deadlines? If so, those deadlines were never reasonable to start with.
We have never dreamed so grandly. We dig deeply and ask ourselves what it is we want, then once that’s settled, the internet with all its collective imagination reveals there’s room to aim yet higher. Houses, careers, paradises, love stories. All the crazy adventures we've yet to conquer, and all the elaborate trinkets we can take home as proof. Fame, wealth, and freedom come in more colors than ever. It’s a beautiful, winding staircase with no landing at the top.
I laugh at this game, then participate every day. There they are, and here I am. Standing on a step identical to theirs, but inferior nonetheless because, well, more people have stood on mine than theirs.
This mindset creeps in everywhere for me, with the sole aim of sabotage. Artist’s envy, for example, where the depth of their creative identity puts mine in peril. I want that too, I think to myself. Those glorious aha moments that shine through in their work. Each new work that emerges from their studio, their opus magnum. Suddenly, my head is busy and my hands aren’t doing a thing; the opposite of how it should be.
I’m a beginner. It’s too early to even be asking for those kinds of discoveries in my creative process. I should just be putting the required hours into the craft, where open-ended projects will allow me to take new turns when there are ideas and to move forward with starting points, not destinations.
In much the same way I enjoy exploring new avenues in my neighborhood, I should enjoy the process of creative experimentation. When I hit dead-ends, they don’t signify failure or inferiority. They're just dead-ends that were already there. Now, I know about them. Sometimes when I wander around the block, I end up taking a completely new route yet accidentally end up in the same dead end. Again, not failure. I found new streets, locations, routes, and how they all related to each other. I also spotted alleyways to explore later. I’m learning firsthand where I do and don’t want to go.
A map can roughly indicate landmarks but it doesn’t reveal any of the little side adventures that happen in a city where there’s chemistry between the individual and the location. None of my happiest accidental discoveries on foot were ever located ahead of time on my maps, and none of my happy artist mistakes were ever paved straight there by an instructor. The wandering is part of the mileage I have to cover, or else I’m only ever going to hang out on the same commercial roads as most artists and creators.
Cohesive series, yes, are clear indicators of more-established artists because they’ve had time to exhaust possibilities and to explore niche projects in depth. If I bash my head against the wall already trying to be at that stage of my art career, I am depriving myself of a lot of diversity in my practice and toolsets to draw upon later.
There aren’t shortcuts to self-development. To some extent, I’ve acknowledged that, but still don’t take into account how long I can spend in each miniscule stage of growth. How long someone needs to stay in each of them varies and none of those increments exist completely separate of the others. The comparison game’s just going to get me moving at someone else’s ideal pace.
Lastly, I am learning to ask myself if I’m navigating creative processes out of fear and taking detours around new things I would like to try just because I have no idea how to begin. Curiosity starts that conversation, then fear runs in immediately to finish it. It’s a cycle, an optical illusion, no matter how many times I tell myself I’m moving up, out, or beyond. That staircase is looped, that dream is flawed. So I’m working on stopping right at the digging stage instead, where I ask myself what it is I want, and letting that sit like a period at the end of a sentence.
This is what I want, I decide, no more no less, and the rest of the world has nothing to do with it.