This morning, I made a list in my journal called “THINGS I DON’T WANT TO PASS DOWN TO MY NEXT KID.”
Naive—I’m aware. Of course I will pass down my baggage to my kids and of course they will be in therapy for it but here I am anyway, hopelessly trying to control exactly which baggage they will get, and for exactly what reasons they will hire their first therapist.
But my journal is a forgiving and non-judgmental space!
And lists are a love language for me. They make me feel better, and they help me make sense of the world, my emotions, and myself especially when things feel like a lot.
(Lists are also a highly effective creativity activator — next time you feel creatively stuck or like you don’t know what to do next — make a list — of anything. It helps move things around.)
On my list of things I don’t want to pass down was: ‘CRIPPLING DOUBT.’
Above the word ‘DOUBT’ I inserted the word ‘SELF’ It’s an important modifier, because in all matters unrelated to myself, I am the opposite of a doubter. Having faith in people, circumstances, and the world is one of my winning talents.
Having faith in myself has honestly been an epic struggle. And for most of my life, I had a story that if I were really a good/talented/worthy person, I wouldn’t be doubting myself so much.
So I got curious and made another list titled “MAJOR PERIODS OF EXPANSION IN MY LIFE” And here’s the glaring pattern: before nearly every meaningful period of expansion, I went through a period of nearly paralyzing self-doubt.
(I often call this a DNOTCS = Dark Night of the Creative Soul. Can last for hours, days, or months. Feels like absolute hell and you know you are in it when you dramatically threaten to throw in all the towels. And start researching new career paths).
I want growth to feel on the inside what it looks like on the outside — beautiful, inevitable, organic, epic. Like a movie montage where after the duration of one very motivational song, I am magically evolved.
But when you are in the middle of it, growth feels like utter crap. When we are in this uncomfortable, lonely, and dark place, it can seem like we are not growing at all — moving backwards even — and like we have done something wrong.
What I’ve seen repeatedly in my work is that for many of us soulful and sensitive creators, a DNOTCS is usually a precursor to a breakthrough.
Growth can’t exist without struggle and tension — and trying to avoid this often causes extra suffering.
(This is why advice culture’s attempts to relentlessly feed us strategies of Positive Thinking can cause more harm than good.)
Nature reflects this. There is tension when the seedling first busts through the soil. The first steps a calf takes are terrifying. Uncomfortable. Vulnerable. We can’t reach our full potential without these moments of struggle.
From my experience coaching creators, periods of great Creative EXPANSION are nearly always preceded by periods of great Creative STRUGGLE.
Here are 10 types of creative struggle that I’ve seen lead to a breakthrough or period of expansion:
- Paralyzing self-doubt
- Angst—existential or otherwise
- A feeling like nothing is happening around your work (like the sound of crickets), which you decide is your fault
- Suddenly deciding you hate all of your ideas and body of work
- Increased levels of insecurity
- Questioning everything
- Feeling scattered with lots of ideas and an inability to choose a focus
- Lack of motivation or inspiration/a feeling of dryness
- Vicious bout of perfectionism that are keeping you from releasing your work
- Systems or strategies that once worked start breaking down
Have any of these struggles been coming up for you recently? If so, I want you to know that you are not off track. I want you to remember that this does not mean you are doing something wrong. And I want you to consider that your internal landscape may be steering you to a new frontier and readying you for a wave of creative expansion.
Taking your creative work to the next level does not mean avoiding the struggle. It means shifting the story you tell yourself about it, shortening its timeline, and developing reliable tools to move bravely through it, instead of away.
I’m curious about your process — when you look at your past periods of creative expansion, do you notice any patterns? When you experience a DNOTCS, what is the message your Future Self wants you to remember?
My lists showed me that Self-Doubt is like a messenger Expansion sends before her arrival.
And making them helped me become strangely grateful for the self-doubt I’ve been trying to get rid of for so long. I’m grateful for its role in leading me to my edge, and grateful to be a coach, collaborator, and parent who knows what it’s like to eat doubt for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, and to keep choosing creativity anyway.
I’ve decided I’m willing to pass on some healthy human self-doubt to my kids.
As much as we need to tell our young people to believe in themselves, we also need to help them normalize feelings of discomfort and questioning along the path.
What I don’t want to pass on is the crippling part — the internally violent and mean part — the part that makes me delay projects too long because of the not-enoughness story I’m telling myself about it. And the cultural conditioning that somehow having self-doubt means there is something wrong with me, or that I was not made for my dreams.
I’m getting much better at welcoming the self-doubt without letting her drive the car. And I get out of bed in the morning because I want to help you do the same.
Which is why I’m so excited to share this announcement with you…
The Original Source Creativity Incubator is accepting applications for our next cohort.
If you are a creator, knowledge worker, or entrepreneur who wants to bring your next idea into the world and reclaim your creative power in the process, this may be the program for you.
If you have an expansion project you would like to have completed or significantly accelerated before the second half of 2022, and you would like me and an intimate and supportive community by your side every step of the way, here’s the link to learn more and apply.
After we receive your application, you and I schedule a 1:1 Creative Advisory call where we talk through your larger vision, your current projects and ideas, and solidify your next exciting focus. (Sometimes this conversation alone can change the game.)
This incubator is over 10 years in the making, and it includes everything I wish I had learned about the creative process in all of my formal training, and everything I know about how you can bring your next project to completion — even when you have a lot going on — and without sacrificing yourself in the process.
Maybe one of our spots has your name on it. We begin in May.
I’m not going to sign off this email telling you to keep the faith.
Part of keeping the faith means losing it sometimes.
Maybe right now, you need to be reminded that choosing the creative path means you will have doubt. You will want to quit. You will have a DNOTCS. And this means you are a human creator, doing the difficult/important work of bringing truth and beauty into the world.
In case you needed to hear it right now — you don’t have to be infallible.
You don’t have to be unwaveringly positive or even believe in yourself today. You just have to be a custodian to your truth, the stories you were born to tell, and the ideas you are here to birth.
You just have to keep choosing creativity over and over again, even through the dark, unbearable nights. Sometimes it feels awful. Sometimes it feels like bliss. It’s always the most vulnerable thing.
Keep going. Your voice is needed, even on your hardest days.
And consider for a moment, that you might be on the verge of a breakthrough.