Photo courtesy of SXC.
This is the fifth and last installment of this month’s series on developing and maintaining creative momentum. And, in my mind, it is the element that holds all the other ones together, because it provides a sense of purpose to one’s creative activity.
Motivation is a topic that has always fascinated me. Why do some people take their family on a transcontinental bike ride and report about it in a blog, build digital storytelling networks for social change, send 1000 journals around the world, or create a challenge blog for artists and others lay on the couch, bemoaning the lack of opportunity to make “meaningful” art? What energizes individuals or communities to metaphorically (or sometimes literally) move mountains in service of their vision and causes others to pooh-pooh the visions of their peers?
Simply put: the difference is a sense of purpose. And for artists who have gained this sense of purpose, I find many times they have found a specific project to pour their passion into—a worthy project.
A worthy project can make de-cluttering and finding space/time to create, developing positive habits and rituals and practicing a snap. You know you have found or devised a worthy project when it’s the thing that gets you up in the morning. Yes, you’re a little manic about it, but as psychotherapist and creativity coach Eric Maisel says, there is such a thing as a positive obsession. And self-discipline? Not an issue. Once you have a worthy project that is your primary goal, says musician and author Robert Fritz, “In the creative orientation, self-discipline means making effective secondary choices.”
Hallmarks of worthy projects
Finding a worthy project is a deeply personal process—and as I’ve indicated from my word choice, sometimes it finds you, or you invent it from the various strands of your own experience. It bears many of the hallmarks of a great love relationship—if you can run it through Jean Baker Miller’s list of 5 Good Things that are indicative of optimal relationships, it’s likely the project will enrich your life and those around you, regardless of how devoted you become to it.
Some other hallmarks of a worthy project include:
It’s a stretch for you. Sometimes a big stretch. Completing the project will compel you to develop new skill sets or refine old ones, and it will push you out of your comfort zone.
It puts you in “flow,” that magical state that happens when your skills are perfectly matched to the challenge at hand. You have many moments of timeless engagement when you’re working on your worthy project; for many of us, that’s what keeps us coming back for more.
It can take on a life of its own. The best worthy projects end up being self-organizing and not entirely under your control. As you expand your relationship with the project, it can often lead you to soliciting the involvement of others, either as participants or as members of an intimately engaged audience.
It scares you a little. Or a lot. That goes back to the “stretch” part. Most of my worthy projects have had me asking “what in God’s name do I think I’m doing?” at one point or another.
There’s the potential for the project to have a legacy. It doesn’t have to be something grand—you could draw a mural on the sidewalk of every street in your town and take a picture. Or you could use social media on the web to change the world. But either way, you’ve left something behind—a work of art, a song, a blog, a book, or the smiles and memories that you and/or your collaborators have shared during the project.
How to select a worthy project
- Pay attention to what provokes you, what kind of stories you follow, what issues keep you up at night. What are you passionate about?
- Think about these issues that generate such incredible energy for you and find what’s missing for you—learn to love the “void.” Robert Fritz calls this gap between vision and reality “creative tension” and asserts that it’s responsible for driving most, if not all, creative activity.
- Play with scale. Brainstorm ways (from modest to outrageous) that you can resolve the gap between your passion and what you feel is missing. How can you live and build inside that crevasse?
- Plan your project.
- Do it!
- Share it!
Helpful links related to worthy projects
One Mile From Home and A Family Portrait: Two amazing challenge blogs, both by the same artist. The first one was a challenge to walk at least one mile from her home and draw/photograph/etc. what she saw every day for a year, and the second (still in progress) a challenge to sketch her family members during what is likely to be their last year all living under one roof.
52 Projects: Jeffery Yamaguchi is a man who is as crazy about creativity and creative project-making as I am. And he has a fabulous book and blog to prove it!
Burning Man: It’s hot, it’s dirty, and it’s anarchic, but this gathering, which calls itself “an annual art event and temporary community based on radical self expression and self-reliance,” is a terrific example of a worthy project that has definitely taken on a life of its own.