I bumped into this podcast on PRX Remix last week and I thought it was a pretty good peek into how many creatives think. The themes that come up in this podcast can be heard at The Stuck Creative Meetups. Before I list what I heard, along with a few comments, here are the basics about the show’s podcaster.
“Megan Tan is an independent audio producer with a background in photojournalism and documentary film. In 2013, she interned at WNYC’s Radiolab, encouraging her to pivot from visuals to audio. In 2014, she created and launched Millennial and in three years, the show grew from a passion project into a full-time job. It became a Radiotopia sponsored show and reached up to 400k downloads/month. Megan and Millennial have been recognized in The Guardian, The Atlantic, BuzzFeed, The Huffington Post, and Refinery 29. Megan is currently based in New York City working as a contract producer.” You can find Megan and her podcasts at: https://www.millennialpodcast.org/
Take a listen to her episode, Nothing to Lose and then if you can stick around, read my notes on some of what I heard.
Her friend observes that there is something driving Megan to look for challenges. He makes the point that this drive could be used to keep her unstuck. Every creative I’ve met has this same deep drive that is literally calling them, to focus energy on a craft. I call this “Calling.” Not really a voice but more of a drive that rises up for a while and then goes below the surface until it rises again at some unplanned moment. This calling starts at a very early age. If we can tune our inner awareness to this calling, we find ways to energize ourselves beyond what willpower, deadlines, etc. can do for us.
Recognize your calling by looking across your life for a long-standing, recurring interest. It is likely to appear as a broad category such as “writing”, “painting”, “acting” rather than a very narrow focus (e.g. creating fly-fishing lures).
Take on a Push/Pull Project
So often we do things in the standard education model: learn, practice, get a certificate, intern, take a starter job, etc. But sometimes, it makes sense to take on a project well beyond your current education and experience.
If we can find a project, something without crazy risk of money, reputation, or other valuables, even if it is a stretch, it can be the stretch we need. Megan is not a producer but she sets up a project that pulls her / pushes her to that role ahead of her current career achievements. The challenge has a structure she can research, learn about from others, with well-established tools and techniques she can master. Succeed or not, Megan’s mind, body, and soul is moving and growing. Not waiting to climb each step of the education/internship/starter job ladder.
Look around and ask around about projects/activities/partnerships/roles that might be the right size: not too large for where you’re at, and not too small so as to be uninspiring.
Facing “Real Time”
Megan spoke twice about time. First, when sitting down early on to work on her podcast, she agonized over her lack of progress and her blank mind. The second was during the discussion of why it takes so long to get started once we have an idea of what we want to pursue.
Real-time is the real-time required to work thru something. It is not the amount of time that “should” or “must” be required to do something. Nor is “real-time” dependent upon our limited knowledge of how long things take. If we are beginners at something, what makes us think we know exactly how long something takes?
The real world has its own speed and we have to adjust to it since it is not going to adjust to us. People and processes will take longer than we want. Our own minds, bodies, and hearts, take a lot longer to do something than we want or even suspect is required. Do we really know how long it takes for our heart and mind to come to an agreement that: 1. something is important, 2. that something should be done, and 3. our mind and heart should commit to working towards a goal, day after day, to get it done? No, we don’t. The outer real world and especially our inner world takes a lot of time to do anything. We shouldn’t be so impatient with ourselves around our seeming lack of progress.
The real world: think of a good idea, take a longer period than you ever expected to get started, many days, struggle to work, stumble along, stop working, get back to it again, repeat, eventually crawl to the finish line. Revise.
When thoughts of impatience with progress come up, do your best to give them no energy. In time, such thoughts will become more occasional, freeing your energy for your creative work. It won’t be easy but keep at it.
“I can’t make you do it. In the end, it comes down to you; are you going to wake up every morning and do your craft?”-from Nothing to Lose, Episode 4, April 24, 2015, Meghan Tan, Millenialpodcast.org.
We are hard-wired to work with others, even if we are the biggest introverts. We respond in a more energetic, reliable, and focused way to people. In the podcast, we hear Megan Tan focus in on this power. She asks her good friend how important it was to him that he had had a partner when he was working on his own big project. Megan is not surprised when he says he would not have taken on the project without his friend.
We need to find someone to be with us at a distance when we are getting our creative lives started, restarted, or well maintained. They will help hold us accountable for our own goals. Accountability partners are not project partners (unless you want them to be) but someone you can meet with once a week to share your self-imposed project goals and progress. They in turn share how they are doing. A simple, no-cost, quick but powerful method of reducing stuckness.
Ask around to find an accountability partner. Try asking at workshops, where you buy your supplies, your friends, at work, and in Meetups. This person doesn’t have to be in your own field; in fact, it probably is better if they are not. You just need someone who is working on their own projects and who will be available in-person, online, or by phone once a week.
I will stop my notes here. I do want to thank Megan Tan for sharing the ups and downs of her creative life. She has given us insights and helped us recognize that we are not alone in our work to be unstuck creatives. Two very important contributions.