Do you ever get the feeling that you are drifting through life, trying to reach your goals but somehow you end up struggling and distracted by a million other things? This is something I’ve been weighed down with and I recently did some heavy “soul-searching” to figure out why. I hope whoever reads this knows you are definitely not alone in the struggle, and maybe I can help shed some light on it (based on my own experience).
I’ve never been good at organizing my day efficiently, because I’m too spontaneous. At the beginning of the week, I fill my calendar with good intentions - and then throughout the day it slowly crumbles into a pile of rubbish as I add and remove and exchange important tasks for suddenly more important tasks (or worse, I have a bad anxiety day and accomplish nothing).
All creatives prefer to do their creative work when inspiration peeks, but that is not always possible with deadlines looming, or when “life gets in the way.” We all know that feeling of being super excited about starting a painting, and suddenly we are called away from our studio to attend to an emergency. Upon returning we try to pick up the pieces of inspiration that are now scattered in the corner like dust bunnies.
Now add to that an unfocused mind - a mind that wants to do everything. All the time. A mind that accepts new and exciting projects on a whim. A mind that makes excuses for deviating off the path of productivity to chase inspiration.
This is the perfect formula for being a struggling artist. How would I know? Because it’s ME!
I know it’s cliche to reminisce around New Years, but then again it’s also the perfect time. It marks the end of a calendar year, a full 365 revolutions around the sun. As the new year approaches we are reminded of the trials and triumphs of the year past and what we hope to change and accomplish in the next one.
That’s why it’s my favorite holiday. I love celebrating that rebirth and I’m perfectly happy reminiscing rather than doing anything.
But eventually, the fog shifts and the new year starts and it’s time to actually do something.
The formula of struggle above is something that I became aware of in myself very recently, and I couldn’t understand how I got to this point until I really sat down and dissected the past couple years. It’s no secret I’ve been struggling financially since I went through the visa process and officially moved to Scotland in 2018, as I’ve mentioned many times before that process is a total money-vacuum. With financial struggle often comes self-awareness and a need to make a change.
For the past few years I’ve been streaming full time, taking commissions, selling things through my online shop, and fulfilling my monthly Patreon rewards (which is almost half of my income) - all which pays the bills thankfully. And on paper, I should have been making good strides towards building up a nest egg again, even if at a snail’s pace.
However, there was something missing throughout all of this, that has manifested itself as a tiny crack in my foundation. Something nearly undetectable and yet deadly (business wise).
That missing thing is focus.
Focus is not the same thing as goals.
I have goals. (Too many in fact, and that is one of the problems.) But these are very different things.
Goals are the finish line, and focus is the path that gets you there.
Focus is the day-to-day, month-to-month, year-to-year process and it’s filled with daily decisions that will either lead you away or towards your goals.
Before I became a full-time artist and Creative Streamer, I was unwavering in my focus, and I achieved every single goal I set my sights on.
So what changed?
When the world is at your fingertips, you want to touch everything.
It’s like the staple business advise: ‘Too many choices means the buyer might choose nothing.’
So before I was doing art/streaming full time, my goal was to become a full-time artist/streamer.
After I achieved that, my goal was to ‘continue doing it for as long as possible.‘
See the problem? The first goal is concrete. To achieve it means I’ve reached the destination. The second goal is a moving target. The goal in itself is the very thing I should be defining as the process, not the goal.
Therefore, I’ve had this open-ended “goal” in mind, and started attaching mini goals to it, like “I want to be a good landscape painter” or “I want to write a book.”
These mini goals require daily discipline and a stable foundation to work from, but being a full-time artist/streamer requires it’s own daily nurturing and focus.
I spent the last couple years spreading myself too thin without even realizing the problem. My lack of focus, buried in dozens of mini goals, combined with my formula of struggle is a dangerous cocktail.
I feel there’s a real danger in constantly reinventing yourself - but it’s tempting when you don’t have a clear goal and lack focus. I got into the habit of doing that every few years, mainly based on career changes. Going from designer to photographer to painter over the span of 10 years requires rather large shifts in business identity but shouldn’t have required a personal identity shift. But it feels good right? To redefine yourself, start fresh, full of hope and inspiration!
It’s sometimes hard for creatives (I know it’s true for me) to separate their personal identity/awareness with their business. Since we are usually sole proprietors, we tend to lean towards shaping our business around our individuality. After all, our clients are drawn towards our unique vision.
So how do we navigate the inevitable fork in the road, and make daily choices that will lead us down the correct path towards our goals?
Well first of all, you need to define those goals. Write it in permanent ink, in big letters, and hang it up next to your desk if you have to. Frame it and hang it above the TV so that you don’t lose sight of it.
Ok, so what if you don’t know your goal, or what if you don’t have a goal at all?
Come on. You can come up with something. What is that one thing you love doing more than anything else? If you were suddenly rich and didn’t have to “work” anymore, what would you do? What is that one hobby you can’t get enough of? If you love drawing or painting or photography in general but have no specific goal within those fields, then for now simply write “I want to be really good at drawing (or insert the thing here).”
Or what if you have 20 goals? Let’s try to group them into bigger goals. For instance if your list contains three items like “I want to own my own business.” “I want to do art full-time.” and “I want to be really good at painting landscapes.” Then you can simply write, “I want to make a living painting landscapes.”
So, now that you have your goal(s) defined, we get into the trickier bit. This is where we define our focus.
What concrete steps will lead you to your goal? What daily or weekly tasks will allow us to get there?
I’ve learned that posting daily on Instagram, writing blogs, networking with other artists online, making a pretty website…that is all fluff (yes I’m telling you from experience, as I sit here writing a blog post).
It means nothing if you, the artist, are not doing the real work, which is drawing/painting (whatever your thing is) daily, as much as possible.
Doing the work - life studies, learning how to mix paint, making swatch cards, practicing brush strokes, etc. and simply doing the thing you love - should come first.
Until you have a very concrete understanding of your craft, and have done the leg work, you are just distracting yourself with the rest.
I’m not saying you can’t have fun! And I’m not saying it doesn’t work (I’m a good example).
I have spent countless hours doing this backwards, and I wish I could take it back. I would have done 1-2 years of focused study before ever sharing my first painting.
But my path has been kind of wonky, since I started my painting journey when I started live-streaming, and it has been a process I’ve shared with hundreds/thousands of strangers who are now some of my closest friends, companions, and supporters.
In doing this, it was easy to get lost in the joy and fun of sharing the experience with others, and continuing down an unfocused path. I have had so much fun over the last few years, but how much closer am I do my goal - and what even is my goal??
I never even sat down to consider what I’m really trying to accomplish in life, beyond doing art/streaming full-time, and my mini goals like painting landscapes and plein-air. Therefore my focus has been easily scattered across dozens of platforms, projects, and mini goals that may or may not lead me to something I want.
This “do, do, do!” mentality has become a problem - and I need to address it if I hope to continue down this art path.
So I’ve decided I’m going to take a “sabbatical” of sorts in January. I’m taking one month off of social media, blogs, youtube videos, to try to reconnect with myself to define my ultimate goals. I’m doing it for the sake of my of my business as much as my sanity.
Depending on how that goes, I may extend the sabbatical - but if I do I will make a quick update here.
I hope this post wasn’t too rambly. Let me know if you want to discuss more or if you have any thoughts on this topic!