This feels painful. And awkward.
I don’t like it one bit.
I sit at my laptop, willing myself to write, and it feels like pulling teeth. I feel like a child. And a fraud.
My mind scatters. I’m worried that maybe I have carpal tunnels. Oh and the laundry needs to be folded. I mean, I hate folding laundry, but yes, it absolutely must be folded right now.
Any. Excuse. To not write.
Why is this so hard???
Because it’s uncomfortable. Because it’s not coming easy.
Because I feel like an airplane driving when I know I should be flying.
I am a huge fan of Andy J. Miller’s (aka Andy J. Pizza’s) podcast Creative Pep Talk. Recently, I listened to an episode where Andy compared the artist’s creative path to an airplane on the tarmac waiting to take off. The analogy isn’t perfect but it makes perfect sense to me.
You’ve been there before. You jump on a plane, eager to take off for your destination, but you’re stuck. Waiting for your turn on the runway. Just driving around in a big-ass metal bird meant to fly.
It’s awkward … and annoying. And eerily similar to how it feels at the beginning of any new creative endeavor.
When we first sit down to create, the process can be daunting. Especially if we compare ourselves and the work we might create to those we aspire to be like — our creative heroes. We see them soaring and doing unique things that it feels like only they could do. They seem to have this genius, this gift, this talent that no one else has. They are flying high and it appears natural, easy.
But we? We are on the ground, taxi-ing around like a dumbass.
The thing is … an airplane is meant to fly. And we know this. That’s why it feels so uncomfortable to be driving instead of flying. And flight is, when you really think about it, this magical gift where a big-ass, heavy machine uses speed, wind and pressure and somehow defies gravity by lifting itself into the sky.
For the creative, “flight” equals that magic moment when they find that thing they do well that is theirs alone … their talent. Their gift. The thing that allows them to soar.
But until we find “it”, we’re stuck on the tarmac waiting, feeling like a total tool.
A lot of times that awkwardness will cause people to quit. We feel exposed and like somehow we’re failing. And unless you have flown before and have experienced the moment of lift-off, you might just think it will never happen for you.
We quit because it feels like a mistake to just drive around in a machine that’s meant to fly. And it feels overwhelming to not really know when or if we’ll take off. We assume that maybe we just don’t have that X-factor and that maybe creative flight isn’t meant for us.
But we’re wrong.
Growth vs Fixed Mindset
One of the things Andy discusses often in his podcast is growth vs fixed mindset. This has been a huge game-changer for me.
Fixed mindset says that you either have “it” or you don’t. You either have this innate gift, talent, X-factor … or you don’t.
There are examples of people who just naturally have “it”. My boyfriend’s eldest brother randomly picked up running cross country when he was a junior in high school. He ended up placing 10th in state in cross country his junior year and second in state his senior year. He also set a state record in the two mile for outdoor track and went on to have a long professional career, running a sub 13:30 5k. That is someone who just naturally had “it”.
But growth mindset is different. Growth mindset says your talents and skills can grow through effort and practice.
Growth mindset is where it’s at.
There are countless examples of growth mindset — artists, athletes, businessmen — who weren’t automatically great at what they set out to accomplish, but believed if they just continued to work at it, they would persevere. Siri Lindley is a brilliant example of this.
I highly recommend giving this podcast with her a listen, but long story short, Siri was a decent team sport competitor who decided she wanted to see what she was made of as a solo athlete. So she set out to be a triathlete and she wanted to be the best. Problem was, she was a terrible swimmer and her first triathalon was a disaster. But she just kept pushing on. Persevering. She honed her skills through time and effort, and she never, ever gave up, even when she was overwhelmed, even when she lost. She went on to become the best in the world and now trains world renowned athletes. But the thing to remember? She started out as totally, embarrassingly crappy. Siri is the perfect example of how growth mindset leads to success.
The thing is, it’s not one or the other. It’s not just fixed and it’s not just growth. It’s a hybrid. The growth mindset can and will lead to the fixed — work and effort can pave the way for you to discover that talent or gift that is yours and yours alone.
Maybe it’s your unique voice and perspective on things. Maybe it’s your particular aesthetic. Whatever your unique gift is, the growth mindset paves the way for you to find it. It is the work we do on the runway, taxi-ing and driving around, that results in discovering our niche, our X-factor, and finally achieving lift-off. The growth leads to the fixed.
I would add to the runway analogy that the first step, before growth or fixed, is finding the RIGHT runway. And to find the right runway, you have to bravely follow that thing that truly lights you up. That thing you just have to do because it excites you and keeps you hooked, and it seems ludicrous to do anything else.
In my own life, the perfect example of all this is how I stumbled into my graphic design career. When I was younger, I wanted to be a writer, specifically a journalist. In college I was offered a job at a newspaper doing layout and editing because I had a tiny bit of experience from working on my high school newspaper. I wasn’t a graphic designer, but I figured it was a foot in the door of the industry I wanted to be in and that eventually I might find opportunities to write. However, when I started working in Adobe and got the hang of Photoshop, I fell in love. I loved playing with the colors and effects and trying new designs and layouts. I found I was … good at it. Not initially, but I desired to learn and I grew with each new challenge. This excited me.
Eventually I started working freelance. I was barely making ends meet and yet I knew I couldn’t stop. I even planned to take a job at a Starbucks part time to supplement my income, but ultimately I knew I wanted to design. Luckily I didn’t have to take that part-time job because I got offered a foot in the door at JCPenney’s that lead to the biggest break in my career and set me down the path to where I am today.
For a long time, I’ve associated that ‘big break’ at Penney’s to just luck. And yes, some of it was. But if I really examine things, I realize it all boiled down to doing the work even when I wasn’t sure I could make a career out of it. Truth is, I taxi-ed on that runway a long time before I finally had lift off and reached my potential. I was CRAP to begin with. But I grew and adapted and learned, and then when the moment was right, all the things aligned and I was like a baby plane taking flight.
And that’s where I’m at again, this time with writing – I’m back on that runway, feeling like a big bird awkwardly running instead of flying. But it’s ok. This is where it starts. This is just the beginning.
The runway is where we practice. Where we learn. Where we build up momentum. And yes, at first, it’s uncomfortable. And right now, it feels awkward AF.
But pretty soon all this awkward ground stuff will look minuscule as it fades in the distance of where we’re soaring to be.
Put in the work
There were many things I took away from Andy Miller’s podcast, but there was one line that particularly stood out to me.
“You gotta work at it whether you know if you have it or not.”.
This was the takeaway for me. This was the single line that simultaneously gut-punched me and made me cry ‘PREACH’. Of COURSE you have to do that. I mean, yes, I would love it if I just sat at the screen and poetry or prose came gushing out of me. I’d love it if I was just a genius without trying.
But the truth is, that’s not me or my path. The truth is I don’t know right now WHAT my path will be or what my voice will evolve into. The truth is it’s both fixed and growth mindset that we need. And the growth mindset leads you down the path to the fixed.
Truth is, I might find after all this effort that I do not have an innate talent with writing.
But the other truth is I wasn’t sure if I was good at designing either. Not at first and not for a long while honestly. All I knew was that I loved it. And I wanted to keep working at it. I had a growth mindset even though I wasn’t aware of it.
It takes more than talent. It takes work. And it takes more than work, it takes talent. The two are intertwined.
Similar to how I stumbled into my creative career by simply following what lit me up, I am now exploring writing with the same curiosity and interest. Do I want to dabble in fiction? Yes, totally. How about poetry? Why not? It might be total shit, but lets play around and see what sticks.
I picked this path because I’ve always loved words and writing and writers. I’ve never felt I was good enough, but that’s ok. I wasn’t that great as a designer but I learned, I improved, I steadily got better and better.
I’m on the right runway simply because this is what lights me up and brings me joy. For now, that is all I need to know.
Maybe it’s the same for you. Maybe you were on the runway and tried, but felt awkward and maybe even experienced a little resistance and so you stopped. But it’s ok if it’s awkward. It’s ok if it’s shit at first. It’s ok if you write something and no one likes or comments on it. It truly doesn’t mean anything other than you are growing and learning.
The growth leads to the fixed but growing always feels awkward. Lean into it. Lean into the discomfort. Into the awkwardness. Lean into the things you’re learning and be patient.
It’s ok that right now it feels uncomfortable. It’s ok that is isn’t coming easy and that I feel like a complete tool most of the time. But I have to stay the course. This is the runway, where I do the work. And I know I’m on the right runway (at least for now) because I am following what lights me up.
So let us all taxi like a dumbass down the runway. May we all lean into the daunting and uncomfortable, and the humility of learning through trial and error.
And may we all find our creative lift.