At its worst, January is a month that starts out with the panicky feeling that another year has passed and your creative dreams are still just that, dreams. It then continues on with too steep goals and a furious mantra of hustle. And then the months ends in burnout and a sense of hopelessness.
But at its best, January is simply a time for introspection and realigning your daily life with your long term goals.
When we do it right, the start of a new year can allow us to see the next step in our creative journey, and to actually take it.
Stepping back to see where you are now
When you're in the middle of your creative life, it's not always clear what stage you're in and what next steps you should take to move forward. You might be going in circles without really knowing it.
It's the change of perspective that allows us to see today as part of the whole journey. And that change of perspective is what we often use in the beginning of a new year.
January being what it is, I suspect that you've already thought about 2017 to some extent. But let's have one last glance back.
If 2017 was a stage in your creative journey, what would it be?
When I look back on 2017, what stands out to me is a search for direction. It started when I ended my Fear Year in 2016, a year that was guided by a goal to face my creative fears. In the early parts of 2017, I realized I didn't know what I wanted my creative life to be going forward.
Much of the rest of the year was spent figuring that out. I redid my website twice, I moved my art shop to Etsy and then closed it down. I started to play around with my Instagram photography and went through a couple of different styles. I started working on the third draft of my novel and ended up redoing the whole foundation.
Best of all, I asked myself what was most important to me, and I chose to stop doing some of the things that was taking time away from my core creative dreams.
So all in all, 2017 was the stage in my creative journey when I needed to figure out what I want. What was your stage?
What steps forward did you resist during the last year?
There are parts of our journey that won't happen by themselves, parts we resist for one reason or another.
Maybe you're not ready.
Maybe it's the wrong step for you.
Maybe you're just plain scared to take it.
Whatever the reason, understanding that you actually resisting something is important information. When you know that you're doing it, finding the reason behind it will be ever so much easier.
In 2017, I resisted to go ahead and build my creative vision. To step up and take it to the next level. To stop planning and thinking, and start executing.
At first, it was due to the lack of direction I felt. I didn't know exactly what I wanted to build, I was running in a million directions at once. So I had to figure that out first. But towards the end, I think it was mostly fear of the next level that held me back. I wanted to stay in that comfortable place of figuring things out, not go out and take all those challenging steps I needed to take.
Now look at your 2017. What didn't you do that you wanted to do, or thought you should have done? Why is that?
Finding and daring your next steps forward
If you know where you're at and what you're resisting, you might have a pretty good idea of where you should go next. But in case you're not sure, I encourage you to ask yourself these three questions:
What do I want my creative life to look like?
What would make the biggest difference in getting me there?
What do I need if I am to grow in my creative journey?
If you have an idea about what's ahead of you, I bet there's excitement mingled with a less enthusiastic feeling. Fear.
In any journey that forces you to grow, there will be different stages with their own slew of fears and doubts.
First, you need to dare to get started. When you do, you can excitedly be in the starting phase for a while. But then you might find yourself in front of a new level, something you want to stretch yourself and do. Perhaps honing your style or starting to market what you've made or being paid for making it.
Now there are new fears and doubts to face. When you do, you can happily be there for a while, until you again face a new level. And on and on. The point is that we are never done growing, never done facing fears, not if we have creative dreams pulling us forward.
But the perk of doing something scary is that your grow to reach new levels in your creative journey.
After my Fear Year, I know that going in the direction of what scares me is an excellent idea. Even if my inner creative antagonist tells me not to.
I could make my 2018 word fear again. But fear is not the point this time around, it's to take those specific, scary steps.
So the words to guide me in 2018 are intentional progress.
Not working just to feel productive and like I'm doing something.
Not progress in any direction, but the direction that I choose.
Not going in circles in fear of that next stage I want to climb up on.
Instead, being honest about when I'm stuck and when I'm scared. Checking in to see if I'm going in the right direction and moving forward. Finding the paths that are right for me and bravely going down them.
What steps lie ahead and will you take them?
January can be an anxious or exciting time. People set far-fetched goals and forget about them a few days later. February comes and life goes on.
It's all too easy to stay in a place that you've really grown out of, because the next step feels uncomfortable. To do something you're resisting forces you to push yourself into a place of unknown. A place you haven't been yet.
Fear is a powerful roadblock, but it's also a powerful guide to where we need to go. It has a peculiar tendency to point out the road to our dreams.
If you have one of those scary steps ahead of you and you decide that this is the time to take it, one year from now, you'll look back and be glad that you dared. And I promise you, it won't be as scary as you think. It never is.