Some friends and I were talking about the coming of spring a few weeks ago, before spring had actually hinted that it might someday grace us with is presence.
“One day, you just walk out of work and know that it’s different,” one friend commented. And it’s true. A few weeks ago, during one of DC’s deceptive warm spells, I stepped outside and knew that winter had lost. It got cold again; we even got more snow. But this cold was different. It was spring cold, an early spring blizzard, a last gasping of a dying season.
And now we have longer daylight hours and the hope of a 70-degree day and I think I’ve said goodbye to my sweaters and my down jacket and my pink boots and my other sweaters. I hear birds in the morning, birds that must have been curled up under overhanging eaves somewhere during the frigid early morning hours of January and February.
It really does happen all at once, and yet, sort of only in retrospect. All of those little pieces add up when one is looking the other way and then suddenly, a new picture, new warmth, a new season emerges.
Isn’t this how our lives and jobs and dreams change, too? In the wee hours, when we aren’t looking, perspectives and tracks and goals and plans are re-shaped and then one day, we’re surprised to find that everything is different. But we really shouldn’t be surprised we know, because of course it is; if we would only look, we can see all of those little winding paths that brought us here.
My work is reflective of all of those seasonal changes too. A million little threads of my actual skills and experience and random gigs and assignments and a hodgepodge of work that was terrifying in its unpredictability suddenly all bound together and now make up a much more tangible, realistic, coherent picture. Suddenly I have work and the trust of others and confidence in my own abilities that was only a distant cloudy illusion before. Suddenly, there’s warmth and (some) security and excitement where there was only terror and trembling steps and a lot of unknown before.
And I know that this can’t last, that we aren’t meant to thrive in safe corners, and that more uncertainty surely waits around the next bend. But the reality of small successes, the fulfilled promise of spring, all of those little courageous moments that led to a happy ending of sorts, remind me that insecurity and terror and those uncertain times are ok because underneath that frozen soil, bulbs are preparing to bloom.
So here are some helpful ideas for thriving through those cold times of uncertainty. Keep dreaming. Spring is coming and one day, when you least expect it, you’ll walk out of work and it will have arrived.
1. Keep building threads. Everyone has a dream or two. Even in hard times, busy times, tired times, keep pushing. Maybe it’s not possible to work on your dream 5 hours a day. But 10 minutes might be a possibility. Maybe you can’t be a full-time writer/artist/musician. But you might be able to do a sporadic project or two. So get up earlier or go to bed later or stay off of Facebook during break and use those ten minutes to write or network or brainstorm or create. Make an album. All of those tiny fragments are far more important than they might seem.
“The most important thing about art is to work. Nothing else matters except sitting down every day and trying.” – Steven Pressfield, The War of Art
2. Hold specifics loosely. Dreams are helpful. Rigid maps are sometimes not. Goals and lists and specific plans are useful in the small moments but sometimes need to be released if the big picture is to happen. Don’t be afraid to let go of your pet steps in favor of the bigger dream.
“Perfectionism is the mother of procrastination.” – Michael Hyatt
3. Expect the unexpected. Very few successes happen on schedule. Most great stories, career or relationship related, begin with some version of “When I was least expecting it.” Be ready for a door to open that you assumed would stay closed; keep an eye out for those open windows of opportunity that you might be overlooking.
4. Remember how the cold times felt. They’ll come again. Discouragement and anxiety and frustration and fear are a part of the cycle of being human. When they re-appear after times of success and excitement and joy, don’t be surprised. And don’t turn back. Accept the season as a part of reality and continue to press through to spring.
5. Stay inspired. Keep reading those authors (I recommend Emily Freeman and Seth Godin!), listening to those podcasts, writing those poems, going on those runs that make you feel inspired and excited and more alive. All of that pent-up energy and inspiration may not have anywhere to land right this second, but one day, you’ll suddenly need that stock of wisdom and inspiration and encouragement.
6. Set small achievable goals. My Project Life projects help me to feel successful creatively, even if larger projects have stalled. Maybe for you this is cooking healthful meals a few nights a week or reading even a page a day.
7. Step away from work. Go outside for a walk in the (newly warm!) air. Eat a meal with friends. Go for a run. Clean your house. Stepping away from creative work and doing something physical or work that is completely different helps me clear my head and approach work with a different perspective and renewed energy.
8. Seek outside insight. Practice seeking outside perspectives, even when work seems to be slow. Get used to having your work and systems critiqued. Ask for help. This will prepare you to still take advice and work through it even when you’re successful later and things are busier.
9. Lay good foundations through establishing routines. Do you cruise Facebook instead of working? Do you lose out on productive hours in the morning by staying up too late binging on Netflix? Shed unhelpful habits now and lay a foundation of good time management, health, energy, and focus so that later, when an opportunity appears, you’re prepared to maximize it.
10. Make rest a practice. Include intentional rest in your routine. The stories of those who worked hard, achieved success, and then burned out because of a failure to rest are many. We are made to rest, to step away from work. Make it a regular part of your day and week now and it will be easier to follow through when things are busier.
How do you stay motivated during the winter-season of creativity?