One of the most pervasive narratives that we’re fed by the media and social norms is that we need to achieve certain things by a certain age. This both provides us with a map to follow as well as keeps us in line. Of course, we have the option to take the road less travelled, but we will be made to feel very uncomfortable if we do. This paradox is amplified tenfold in the creative world. Going your own way will give you a shot at success but almost everyone will discourage you from doing it right up until you establish a new norm.
So society and the art world feed our anxiety that we’re behind in the hopes that we quit. Because if we quit, then everyone else doesn’t have to do the uncomfortable work of adjusting to something new. Over time, arbitrary expectations of our creative work, careers, lives, relationships, bank accounts, assets, debts, and travels start to sound like gospel. And bit by bit, we are worn down until quitting our creative path feels like the responsible thing to do; the thing that will guarantee we avoid humiliation, failure, and having nothing to show for our efforts.
Despite caring little about fulfilling mainstream culture’s expectations of a life well lived, I frequently remind myself of what I’m being told is important and how that differs from what’s actually important to me. It’s an ongoing and oftentimes exhausting process. I remind myself that time is my most valuable asset and that no amount of keeping up and checking boxes excuses anyone from death. Through that lens, there can be no falling behind because rushing towards a finish line is to expedite closing the gap between now and our final breath.
All that being said, the dip is real. That space between having an idea and making it into something tangible and shareable can bring up all kinds of questions and doubts. We can self-flagellate by comparing ourselves to our peers. While we reject limiting social norms and timelines we can start to impose our own expectations on when we need to be somewhere in our creative process. And bit by bit, we cut off the creative flow in our work because we’re too anxious that we’re too late to become the creatives we’re longing to be.
The antidote to calming any anxiety you might be feeling about being behind creatively or otherwise is to keep making your art. It’s to let the doing be the thing you’re checking for not the outcome. It’s to have faith that as long as you keep showing up creating, then you’ll get to where you want to go. Whatever support you need along the way to make persisting possible is worth the investment. Otherwise, keep making and know that you are never behind and never late. You are exactly where you need to be.
What helps you stay the course when you feel like you’re behind?