Remember back in December when I was shouting from the rooftops about something called Do The Damn Thing? Well, for the last eight weeks, I have been doing the damn thing -- the damn thing being teaching my very first e-course, Do The Damn Thing!
This weekend, I sent out my final module to my students just after shedding a solitary tear and just before popping a big ol' bottle of champagne (I'm a big fan of treating myself). Really and truly, I could not have asked for a better group of people to be a part of my first course. For the last two months, I've not only delivered them my thoughts and discoveries on the creative process, but I've also had the privilege of hearing their stories and walking alongside them as they embarked on the truly terrifying work of starting a creative endeavor. It's been a blast and a half.
Do The Damn Thing is easily one of the biggest projects I've ever tackled, potentially the biggest, and now that it's over and done with, I figured it might be beneficial to reflect on some of the things I learned throughout teaching this course.
Now, just to set expectations, here's a disclaimer: this is not going to be a particularly business-heavy post. I'm not going to be digging deep into how I got people to sign up, what programs I used to deliver my course, or anything like that. While those things are definitely important, there are people on the Internet who are way more excited and far more skilled to talk about them than I am.
Instead, I'd rather talk about the actual emotional experience of coordinating a course of this nature as well as the powerful creative lessons I've learned from interacting with my amazing students.
Again, I really dig those folks and I've also got a lot of feelings, so yeah, let's do this.
Why I did it
This last year has been a growing one for me in more ways than one. You may have recently read my uber honest post about how 2015 was the year I finally, after struggling for several years, found help for my depression. Around the time that I started seeing improvements in my mental health, I also noticed that I suddenly had a lot of creative desire that wasn't there before. I mean, I've always prided myself on being a creative person, and hello, I'm a writer by trade, but in the throws of depression, creativity seemed to be this thing that escaped me. Just like all of my emotions, I consistently lacked the "feeling" of creativity.
But suddenly and without warning, I found myself once again bursting at the seams with creative energy. It was wonderful, but it was also incredibly frustrating. Even though my creative mojo was back in full force, I had been out of the game for so long that I simply had no idea what to do with it. I couldn't figure out how to channel it effectively.
And thus came a major season of trial, error, and lots and lots of help. I started a local creative collective with a friend of mine, signed up to work with a creative business coach (best decision of my career thus far, by the way, and I'll definitely be sure to tell you more about that later, promise), and I started devouring any creative resource I could get my hands on. Like a weird, obsessive moth to a flame, I became fixated on the idea of creativity. Where does it come from? How does one channel it? How do the pros develop solid creative habits? Why do I know so many brilliant, imaginative people who aren't pursuing their creative passions?
In doing this, as is usually the case when putting considerable effort towards something, I started seeing some serious results. Unlike any other time in my life, I had a legitimate creative routine and I was feeling, well, prolific. In fact, people started remarking that they were noticing a marked shift in the stuff I was creating and releasing online. And I'm not going to lie, I was noticing it too.
As I was getting ready to launch this new website all about creativity and confidence, I knew I wanted to share these lessons in a way that was more in-depth than just a simple blog post. So one night, I sat down in front of my idea wall (yes, I have an idea wall. What of it?) with a ton of sticky notes and I started creating this mess:
That brainstorming process led to a course idea about getting creatively unstuck which led to a cheeky title called "Do The Damn Thing" which led to a sales page which led to incredible people signing on to get moving on projects that mattered. Blast off!
What I learned
You'd think that I, being the all-knowing authority on creativity that I purport to be, would have nothing to left to learn. But au contraire. As far as I'm concerned, Do The Damn Thing was not so much about what I knew, but rather it was my selfish attempt to gather a collection of creative experts around me. Sure, they were stuck creatives, as many of us often are, but they had plenty of wisdom to share.
Throughout teaching this course, I also had the experience of learning those highly unsticky lessons -- the ones that are so valuable, so monumentally important, but for some reason, you have to relearn them over and over again throughout the course of your life. Here are just a few:
1. Creative blocks can happen to ANYONE
Let me give you a rundown of the kind of talent that was running rampant in this course. Here are just a few of the insanely amazing projects folks were working on throughout DTDT: a standup comedy set (from one of the funniest humans I've ever met), a creative services business (photography, writing -- this girl can do it all), a party supply company with the most fantastic premise that I'm dying to tell you what it's all about but I should probably keep it a secret (but ugh I want to tell you), multiple blogs, a gorgeous photography series, and a crime novel that I legitimately cannot wait to read. Among this group of creatives, we had a lawyer, two digital marketing specialists, a textile designer, an actor, a TV producer, a 7th grade teacher, a writer, a college administrator -- you know what I'm getting at: these Do The Damn Thing Folks = LEGIT.
AND YET even these brilliant, successful, good-head-on-their-shoulders kind of people all shared one common bummer: they were stuck.
Just like bedbugs or having an anvil fall on your head or getting some kind of skin crawling bacteria from a hot tub, creative blocks can happen to literally any person in the world. No matter how successful you are, no matter how long you have been working at it, no matter how much of a genius your friends tell you that you are -- you can still get stuck.
It's one of those things I've always known intellectually, and of course, I've heard some of my favorite artists throughout history speak of their struggles with the creative process, but it's sometimes a hard thing to believe (SUURE, Stephen King, you had writer's block while writing Bag of Bones. SUUUuuUUUReee, Elizabeth Gilbert, you experienced creative anxiety after releasing one of the most popular books of the decade). Even in my own experiences with being creatively stuck, I have to admit that I felt unconvinced that others would struggle so similarly.
That said, if it can happen to the solid folks in this course, it can happen to anyone. On one hand, of course, that seems somewhat disappointing. But on the other hand, it's strangely liberating. It means that no matter how alone you feel in creative frustration, there is someone out there, likely someone closer than you think, going through the exact same thing. You're not alone. No one is.
2. Providing clarity for someone else is an inexplicable joy
There is just nothing quite as gratifying as helping someone figure out a creative plan (maybe having a baby. Maybe. I mean, I don't know what that's like. People seem to really dig it. But I can't speak to it, so whateva).
Throughout this course, I really tried to keep my door open for anyone who needed a bit of extra help, and in doing so, I found that I became so invested in the stories these new friends were telling me. It's as though their struggles were my struggles and their victories were mine as well, which I realize may have been a little selfish, but whatever, I'm selfish.
Going into this course, I pretty much thought that Do The Damn Thing would be all about the content: the modules and the weekly group emails. And while those things were SO. FLIPPIN. FUN. to create, it was ultimately the interpersonal connections that provided me with the most joy. The emails, the messages, the phone calls I got to jump on with the students who opted in for consultations -- these were the highlights for me.
It was that unique experience of being able to afford someone else the grace and perspective that I often deny myself. It gave me the chance to look at individuals who impress me and say, "You have SO MUCH to offer!" with full certainty that what I was saying was true. In fact, I fell so hard for the idea of helping creatively stuck people find clarity that I've decided to continue offering consultations as a service (pssssttt...you can book yours right here). At this point, it's one of my favorite things to do, so I figured, why stop now?
3. Fear is not destroyed or avoided; it's challenged and followed.
Here's a short list of some of the fears that the people in this course expressed (myself included) that kept them from pursuing creative work:
1. Fear of not being good enough/talented enough/skilled enough to make something that matters
2. Fear of trying and failing
3. Fear of trying and succeeding and still being dissatisfied
4. Fear of pursuing something as frivolous as creative work
5. Fear of wasting time
6. Fear of being seen as vain
7. Fear of losing control
8. Fear of feeling like a fraud
9. Fear of messing up in front of people
10. Fear of not being as talented as ____
11. Fear of not being able to balance it all
12. Fear of not being able to do it perfectly
13. Fear of regret
14. Fear of discomfort
When we talk about fear, we often talk about "moving past it" or "conquering it," as though it were something we could just walk around or shoot with a laser beam. In fact, I've used these terms myself. Recently. But in watching the individuals in this course and in experiencing these things for myself, one thing has become abundantly clear: fear doesn't often go away.
Those fears that prevent you from living out your gifts and talents -- they are resilient. They are like cockroaches or Twinkies (I've heard Twinkies could withstand a nuclear apocalypse. Not feeling like fact-checking that, but do with that what you will). No matter how many creative courses you sign up for, no matter how far you advance in a creative career, your fears are likely here to stay.
So this calls for a different way of approaching fears -- a reframing of sorts. Instead of pushing fears aside or slicing them open with a machete, what if instead we decided to do something totally bizarre? What if we followed fear?
Even though we think of fear as this insidious creature, and that it may well be, at its core, fear is trying to tell us something. You may have heard Eleanor Roosevelt's advice to "do one thing every day that scares you." The reason for this is because fear makes its dwelling in the depths of our desires.
Have you ever stood in a grocery store looking at boxes of cereal, thinking, "What do I want?" So often, we are clueless to our own desires, but there is one way to be sure: by noticing your fears.
The people I've been working with over the last eight weeks have done a beautiful job of this. Truly. They've been doing things that scare the hell out of them, maybe not always in the time they hoped they would or in the way they imagined, but the important thing is, they're doing it. And that's really all there is to creativity.
So that's what I've learned from my Do The Damn Thing crew. Without gushing too much and looking like a big ol' softy, I'd like to extend the biggest thank you to the people who not only helped me get this course off the ground (you know who you are) but those of you who participated in it, thus teaching me some of life's greatest lessons. You're all sparkling moon rocks that I want to put in my pocket.
If you didn't get a chance to take part in this round of DTDT, don't you fret! I am planning to rerelease it sometime later this year. If you want to be the first to know when that goes down, be sure to sign up here.