April: Push or Pause?
This month’s newsletter begins in the salty Salish Sea.
I had gone in the water 116 days in a row. In my bright red bathing suit and wool hat, I had managed to swim through winter. I had encountered rain, snow, fog, wind, and even glimmers of sunshine. This practice has carried me through the last few months. It has brought a lot of joy and reflection.
And then I got a little bit sick. It was enough that I had to accept that maybe cold water swims weren’t a good choice if I wanted my body to get better. So I stopped. I broke my consecutive streak, accepted that I needed to take a few days away. I resisted the choice, wanted to push through. But I begrudgingly told myself to be reasonable, to take care of my body.
I’ve had a semi-daily drawing practice since October. I don’t feel this same sort of pressure if I miss a day. I know I will come back to it, play catch up when need be. It’s still regular enough to be an ongoing, dependable practice whether I show up daily or not.
Yet there was something about breaking the daily routine of cold water dips that felt incredibly hard to let go of. Was I attached to the growing number of days? Was it simply vanity, of being able to say that I had accomplished a certain feat? Was I overly attached to the outcome?
This has all left me thinking a lot about what we push ourselves to do and when we draw the line.
As a culture, I think we are pretty bad at drawing a line, or we draw it far beyond our abilities and limits. We go, go, go, and push, push, push. We exist in a culture of conquering. A culture of summits and records and accomplishments. We’re congratulated for going the extra distance, celebrated when we push through pain, told that our efforts are worth it, even when they bring us to the brink. But as swimmer Gilly McArthur says in her film Body of Water
, there’s no place for ego in the cold water. You must put your expectations aside, you must listen, you must abide.
I think that’s a lesson that can be applied in a whole variety of other places too.
Certainly, challenge is good for us. I just finished reading a book on exactly why our bodies need to be challenged
, why constant comfort isn’t always a benefit. Challenge can make us do things we didn’t think possible. It can get us out of our comfort zone and into something unexpected. It can take us places we never dreamed of. After all, creativity is often fueled by pushing our own boundaries. We don’t always need to play it safe.
But where is the line? “When to push and when to pause? So far it seems the answer is in the why,” my friend Kristen wrote to me after I had shared my sentiments.
This sat with me. It struck a chord, because eventually I realized that the “why” is the process.
When we build towards something it might be because of a goal, or perhaps it’s simply because we find ourselves having committed to a regular activity that feels good. We build, we grow, we evolve. Eventually we may reach our goal, or we adapt it, but ultimately, it’s not the goal that is the pinnacle. It’s having worked towards it.
There’s an argument that goals aren’t always beneficial, and can hinder us more than they help. As one academic puts it, we should consider goals like a compass and not like GPS
. Our “why” is our navigation route, as we work to get from point A to point B, often realizing that point B tends to mysteriously move and we have to keep changing our navigation. Our paths are constantly moving, shifting. We need river thinking
I was listening to a podcast conversation between
Ed Roberson and Brendan Leonard last weekend, and Brendan remarked on the fact that whether it’s running a race or writing a book, it’s the training for the competition or creation of the work of art that’s the magic part, not necessarily the end result. That’s the process. That’s the “why.”
I applied for an art project a couple of months ago that felt very out of my league. It was a “push through or pause” moment. I was encouraged to push through instead of hitting pause, and while it wasn’t entirely clear at the time, I realize now that the driving “why” behind doing the application was because creative thinking and art are integral to me feeling well, feeling alive. The point is the process of growth. Not even in the creation of the particular thing, but in navigating to get there. That is an excellent reminder to bring back in times of being overwhelmed, or being submerged in a wave of impostor syndrome
We are all navigating, all working through something. Some of us plod and some of us burst, but no matter how our creative work gets done, it’s the doing it that brings us the most value.
That is a part of what makes us human. We are problem solvers. We are creative thinkers. We dream, we build. We go down one path, realize we need to change, turn around, and find another one. It’s when we don’t have this process that we feel static, that we feel we’re missing something.
This newsletter is inevitably always about process over product, and sometimes I can feel like I am being repetitive. But it’s often the simplest truths that we need reminding of, particularly when they go against our social norms and expectations. In a consumer, product driven culture, focusing on process isn’t always as intuitive as we think it should be. We have to actively commit to that process.
This month, I want you to identify your “why.”
What is it that drives you?
What is it that keeps you coming back to your creative practice?
Why is it essential for you?
How do you feel without it?
Identify your "why" and you find your compass.
I went back in the water yesterday. It felt so nice to return. I kept it short and safe, mindful of my own limits.
I realized that the “why” is not about accumulating days. It is not about conquering a certain time spent in the water. It is about the moment that I am in the cold. The moment when everything else subsides and there is a brief breath of clarity. This is its own form of flow state, similar to the feeling I seek out in my creative practice. That's what keeps me coming back.
When to push and when to pause? There’s no one answer for that, but in finding your “why” I think you’ll find just a little more help in navigating forward.
A few more things:
I am doing some spring cleaning in the studio, so I am having a sale! Use the code "HOORAYSPRING" for 20% off of any order in my shop through Sunday April 4, 2021.
Because of shipping prices, I am currently only shipping to US + Canada.
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