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Creativity is something that most people nurture in children as they’re growing up. We teach them to draw whatever they want, sing as loud as they’d like and write wonky stories that make no sense. However, as we get older, the less we feel that creative support and the more we feel creative guilt.
I am by no means trying to make a blanket statement that all creative people feel creative guilt.
I am also not trying to place blame on anyone! I’m not saying that anyone is responsible for anyone elses’ creative guilt! It’s up to each person to control their own emotions. So don’t come for me.
This is my own experience and my observations over the past year as a writer… and a lifetime of being a creative mess.
If you’re a creative type and don’t feel a single bit of guilt, I applaud you and I would like to hire you as my life coach. (I’m still trying to convince Gina at LimitBreaker to be my life coach, so the position is still open. Love ya, Gina!)
Where It All Began
According to my mom, I’ve been creative for as long as she can remember.
When I was 3, they converted my playroom walls to be a huge drawing board. I had glow in the dark crayons, paint, markers… I had it all.
From then I was writing, painting, drawing, and building every chance I got.
I’d say my creative guilt started around 12 or 13.
Everyone my age was busy hanging out, trying to meet boys and spending hours at Claires trying to convince their mom’s to buy them the newest ‘hot thing.
I was on my parents’ pontoon boat in the middle of a tiny lake, reading and listening to music.
I would spend 10-12 hours floating around, bouncing from reading to rocking out to journaling….
Everyone would say things like “Don’t you wanna socialize?” or “Don’t you get bored out there?”….
To both, I would answer “no” and return to my safe place on the water.
But it wasn’t long before their questions started to irk me a bit.
Am I supposed to want to go do ‘typical teen stuff’?
Why don’t I?
If I had known then what I know now, I woulda cut myself some slack. But, we all know that hindsight is 20/20…
So, early on, I began to see my creative side as a burden… or even something to be a bit ashamed of.
I felt like it was something that my soul needed me to do…. but my brain said I needed to go do ‘typical’ stuff… ‘normal’ stuff…. ‘productive’ stuff…
I did small crafts on the weekends and wrote short stories in my journal. I did what I could to keep my creative side burning, but I sure wasn’t trying to fan the flames.
It wasn’t until I left a truly miserable job that I realized it was time to stop treating my creativity as a hinderance and finally embrace it for what it was, a passion.
The deeper I got into ‘being a writer’, the more I realized that creative guilt is a real thing… and it was something I had to tackle head on.
‘Real Job’ Guilt
“Writing a blog is a hobby, not a job”
I’m sure most creative people have heard this about their job… or at the very least, thought it.
People think of a painter just throwing some paint on a canvas or a guitarist sitting around a fire strumming ‘kumbaya’…. and think these jobs are not ‘real jobs’.
While yes, some people take up painting as a hobby while they work a typical 9-5, the creative arts are still real jobs.
We’ve just invested more or our hearts and time into it than a ‘hobbyist’ would.
A hobby writer sits down on their patio and drafts up a sweet love story in a journal or maybe shares it to a writing forum for others to read.
A full-time writer drafts, writes, proofreads, edits, promotes, engages, collaborates. It’s sun up to sun down and sometimes even while you sleep.
I mean, think of it this way. You have a CPA that works on finances and taxes year round. Then you have someone who does their own taxes on TurboTax in April. Sure, they both filed taxes, but you do think they put in the same amount of time and have the same understanding of it all? Probably not.
This isn’t meant to make the hobby creatives feel bad for anything at all. It’s just a reminder that while something may be a hobby, it can also be a profession.
It’s just hard for people to keep that in mind because you can find plenty of people that take up the creatives as a hobby, but so few that decide to take up data processing as a hobby….
Just because creatives don’t have a structured, typical job doesn’t mean that it’s not a ‘real job’.
The world is changing.
Kids are making 20 million dollars posting YouTube videos…. I think it’s fair to say that a writer, painter or musician can also make it on their own talents without being told they don’t have a ‘real job’.
Never-ending Work Guilt
As a creative, there is no end to your work day.
It’s not like you clock in at 8am, write until 5pm, clock out and go home… and not think about your work till 8am the next day.
You don’t just paint or write or sing….
By being a creative person, you are your job.
So, you wake up thinking of lyrics to a new song… you envision your next painting while you’re in the shower... you compose chapters in your head as you watch TV.
As a creative person, you feel like you’re working and pushing just to get things done, but you step back and feel like you’re still at the base of a huge mountain.
Do you know why?
Because the work is never done. You’re never done expressing all of the beautiful, wild, weird ideas inside of your creative brain.
There’s something in the human brain that craves completion.
It thrives on getting to stamp something as ‘DONE’ and wiping your hands of it until you start the next task.
But being a creative person, you have to accept that there aren’t many opportunities to feel that feeling of completion.
You’re always going to feel like you could do more, you could work harder, you could be more, you could accomplish it all.
Use those feelings as a way to propel yourself forward and motivate you, but don’t get bogged down and shame yourself for not doing more.
Learn to be okay with not creating for just a bit every day. Let your brain rest so you can power up for the next day.
But don’t ever squash the creative bug if it starts to crawl around. Observe it, pay attention, take note and let it go.
“Sitting On Your Butt” Guilt
Hunter works long, labor-intensive days. He is a general contractor, so Monday through Friday, he puts in 10 hours lifting, moving, building, cutting…. the man is damn workhorse.
Then he comes home to me in my dungeon (office). Wrapped up in my heating blanket with zen music on in the background. Surrounded by all of my animals while I’m snacking on popcorn and deciding if it’s ‘affect’ or ‘effect’….. (if you’re a long-time reader, you know I never get that one right!)
I look up to see him covered in concrete, saw dust and sweat…. and I feel like shit.
Not because of anything he has said (that man supports me to the end of the world)… but because of something I feel like I haven’t done.
He’s out busting his ass in the elements and I’m sitting on my ass.
I’ve had some very physical jobs in the past. Contractor, waitress, kennel manager.
Most of the jobs I’ve worked have been physical rather than mental.
And I’ll be honest, I really like physical work. I actually kinda miss it. Coming home at the end of the day and feeling t-totally wiped out. It feels like a job well-done and a time well-spent… because your body tells you that you’ve done enough.
As much as I liked it, it wasn’t fulfilling to me.
My creativity is my one true strong point. (That sounded really cocky, but that’s not what I meant.)
There’s nothing I can do physically that would feel as satisfying as it does to sit down and write… or paint… or do hand lettering.
And not to toot my own horn, but since I’ve been writing, I’ve had the chance to reach lots of people and help them through things I’ve gone through. And that’s all I ever really want to do with my life: help others.
Everyone looks for different things in a job. And everyone has their own favorite work atmospheres!
One of my friends recently said “I don’t see how you stay home all day and write. I would go insane. I need people around me, I need conversation and I need mindless work.”
But I love to be alone (hiya, INFJ here), I love to ponder my own thoughts for hours and contemplate how to put them into words that other people would enjoy reading and relate to.
I’ve tried busy, noisy, physical, fast-paced work environments and they’re just not my cup of tea.
So if you feel guilty that your job entails more brain work than physical work, stop it!
Some people wouldn’t thrive in your work environment, just like you wouldn’t thrive in theirs!
Brain Break Guilt
My brain will not allow me to write from 8-5. Granted, I’m a night owl, so I usually start at 9…. but still. That’s just too damn long to be ‘on’.
Sometimes I’ll take a quick break to stretch my legs, pee, fold some laundry and then I’m back at it.
Sometimes, I gotta completely turn off for a bit. Get in my yoga sling, zone out, meditate…. mindlessly watch stand-up comedy for 10 minutes.
But the second I turn off from writing, my creative guilt light comes on... and so does the inner monologue:
“Why aren’t you writing? You have to post within an hour and you haven’t even added graphics. Uh… HELLOOOOO, your Instagram followers haven’t seen a post from you today. Oh… and wouldya look at that? An e-mail from Pinterest about this week’s most popular pins, you should re-schedule those….”
Before I know it, I’m grabbing my iPad and surfing my plethora of apps that I use for my blog, social media, promotion and graphics.
Because taking a break feels like being lazy.
But a brain break isn’t being lazy, it’s being fair to yourself.
Brains aren’t meant to be ‘on’ for long stretches of time. They’re just not!!
I found this about how often adults should take brain breaks while working:
Take a 17-minute break every 52 minutes (see the Desktime study) Take a 5-minute break every 25 minutes (following the Pomodoro Technique) As a general rule: Take a 15-minute break for every hour of focused work.Social Triggers (Please click that link and read. It’s an amazing post!)
Taking a brain break makes you feel guilty because you’re not ‘doing something’…. but you really are.
You’re giving your brain a rest, so it can come back to work fully focused.
Sitting at your desk for 9 hours trying to hammer out a chapter will cause you to become blocked, annoyed and stressed as hell.
If you read that post about brain breaks, you’ll feel a bit more at ease about taking breaks and you can send that creative guilt packing!
“It’s Too Real” Guilt
I write a lot about my family.
Cause duh, it’s my family. It’s close to me, it matters… it’s something I have experience with.
But… sometimes, my creative guilt holds me back.
“I shouldn’t write that. What if she reads it?“
And sometimes it doesn’t hold me back… and I write it…. and the creative guilt says this:
Most creative types pull from their real lives to make their work meaningful.
Song lyrics, paintings, books, blog posts…
If you love a musician, prepare to have a song written about you. If you love a writer, expect to be a character in their work. If you love an artist, you can just about bet you’ll be their inspiration for more than one piece of work.
I definitely can’t speak for all creatives, but I know that I feel guilty when I write about someone in my life. Even if I’m writing nothing but their praises, it still feels weird.
But it feels even worse to leave something out if I know it could make a difference for my readers.
I guess it’s a damned if ya do, damned if ya don’t kinda thing.
Creative friends, I’d love to know your opinions about this one or if my messy brain just over-thinks this type of guilt?
The Time Guilt
I live a minimally structured life.
I get up, let the dogs out, meditate, do some yoga, eat some breakfast, write, break, social media posts, write, break, lunch, write, make tea…. and aside from the first 3 things, every day is different.
So, when my friend who works a 9-5 job asks if I mind letting her maids in, I feel like I 100% have to say ‘yes‘. Because I feel like I have the time and she doesn’t.
However, we all have the same amount of time in each day.
Even though I am home… and I don’t have a boss-man telling me I can’t leave my desk.. I’m still working!
I wrote a lot more about this guilt in my post about blogging and what bloggers want their friends to know.
But the time guilt in the creative mind is something real.
I get to write my own schedule, so I feel obligated to help pick up some of the things that other people need from me.
But the reality is that this guilt eventually causes you to set aside so much time for other people that you begin to neglect yourself.
I fell into this guilt really hard when I first started working from home.
I would walk my neighbors dogs, hang out at their house while the cable guy came, help my mom organize her new house, spend hours on the phone with a friend in need…..
Before I knew it, 3-4 hours of my ‘work day’ was gone.
So, if you’re feeling guilt about having a flexible schedule and ‘having the time’…. don’t forget that your time is yours.
While yes, it is nice if you are able to lend a hand, don’t do it at your own detriment.
As a life-long people pleaser, I know that it’s hard to say “no”. Especially if someone is under the impression that you ‘have the time’.
However, that time is only available to others if you have already met your own needs.
So if you need to write from 8-5, then that is your time to write. It’s not ‘free time’ and you’re not ‘available’ just because you’re technically available.
Lots of people will say that this is just the inability to hold yourself accountable to work the hours needed, but trust me… there’s more to it than that. There’s so much beauty to being able to write your own schedule, but it comes at a price.
Don’t guilt yourself into feeling that you aren’t doing enough or that you’re being selfish with your time.
Your creative side needs you. Your work does deserve the importance and time you give it. Don’t sell yourself short.
Please make sure to comment below and let me know your experience with creative guilt.
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