Connecting to Creative Work You Love (3 Years Later: Part Two)

August 11, 2014

[Continued from Part One]

The Experiment

The last three years have been about figuring out how to connect to work and collaborators that make me excited. I did this by making a list of what I knew I liked: people I'm inspired by (& why), books I love, blogs and podcasts that lit a fire under my ass, ideas that felt revolutionary, experiences that have made me feel like my best self. I followed a trail of things that were exciting and a little out of my league, and didn't create the parameter that these things needed to relate to choreography or performance. Throughout this process, I also started noting my work strengths-- and I'm not necessarily talking about power point and excel proficiency. Artists have loads of skills! For instance, performance makers are great at supervising lots of people and making something out of nothing-- that's really valuable. And, as I noted before, I made a point of getting outside of my own brain and connecting to other people.

My interviews in 2012 were largely about doing research on one topic:

How does one connect to creative work they love without turning into a poor, bitter, tired individual? (What secret should I know? What training should I have?)

The folks I made a point of connecting with were people that possessed skills/outlooks/careers that I hugely admired. I wanted to know how they did it-- how did they deal with the fear and uncertainty?My questions were along these lines....
  • Jen Scott seems really easy going, prolific, and happy-- does she get freaked out about self-promotion and overwhelmed by career building? (Sure.)
  • Kate O'Reilly whittled together a career out of her skills (and based on her values)-- is that even allowed? (Yep.)
  • Alan Berks created a whole damn amazing website with Leah Cooper-- does he have secret survival skills? (Nope-- they just work hard and aren't afraid of failure.)
  • Mo Perry appears to be a balanced person with HOBBIES and an an artistic career-- tell me more! (She's worked really hard to make balance a priority.)

2 Big Lessons
Collage by Anothony Zinonos via Creative Block
Through these talks, formal and informal, I've seen two different themes continue to emerge:

#1-- Decide what success looks like for you; figure out what you need:
There are a hundred ways to make an artistic career, and you get to decide what your own will look like. There is no one way to do it, and your own path will probably (hopefully) change and evolve over time. Stay flexible! In the process of taking an art-making break, I finally was able to let go of the grip I had on my career, set it down, and take an honest look at it. One thing I learned is that I want to make work that involves more collaboration and connection to lots of different kinds of people. That's a valuable thing to know. I've also learned over time that I'm not the kind of person who wants to make a season of performance work-- I crave balance. I thrive on directing other people's processes and taking on non-performance-related projects with teams of people. Sometimes I look at my choreographic peers who are constantly planning rehearsals and applying for grants, and feel like the odd one out. Shouldn't I want that? Nope-- it doesn't work for me to constantly live in that world. For me, success looks like a balance (or semi-balance) between making a life with my partner, getting in a studio, writing in this space, and building opportunities for people to come together that involve a diverse group of collaborators. The common thread that I find in my creative work is an interest in connection: bringing people together around shared experiences. This takes many forms.

#2-- Do the work, make the thing:
The people I talked to didn't wait for permission to make an audacious step or create something radical- they just did it. I found this exciting and mostly terrifying. HOW DO THEY NOT THROW UP WITH FEAR EVERY SINGLE DAY?????? I'm guessing that they give themselves a soft place to land when they fail, and then get up and do it again. 

In 2012, I started a long run of doing scary things-- doing the thing I wanted to do, without waiting for permission. Some of it was writing, even though I had no formal training as a writer; some of it was inviting people over to my house and playing curator/producer with Small Art; some of it was starting a business. No surprise: like anything else, doing scary things gets easier every time. The more I try things outside of my comfort zone, the more I realize that the consequences of doing something poorly are much less significant than the consequences of doing nothing. Writing this blog helped me develop the chops to write for Minnesota Playlist, my clients, and Open Field; curating Small Art led to working at the Walker; quitting teaching and waiting tables were scary moves, but helped create the space for me to plunge into other, more fulfilling endeavors. Identify the impossible thing you'd love to do, and then make tiny steps backwards. Start working.

More of This

I won't pretend that making a life doing what you love is easy, but I will insist it's worth it. I can give lots of advice on what I've noticed as I watch the people around me build careers, and it will be helpful, but it's not absolute. Stay flexible, be gentle with yourself, make micro-changes, think as creatively about a career as you do about your actual work. Stop expecting outside praise-- find a way to be your own cheering squad (or use the buddy system). I find that success is less about working to a place of full-time self-employment and more about connecting to something, anything, that brings you fully alive for a part of each and every day. Cynicism totally dampens this, so I recommend avoiding it at all costs. Instead, breath more life into that thing that brings you alive: cultivate it, wonder about it, share it with someone else. The world certainly needs more of this.


  1. "making a list of what I knew I liked" -- sounds simple, but is totally brilliant! LOVED this post Laura. Thanks for sharing.



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