No more martyrs.
The only “C” I ever received in art school was for a studio class about creative process. The prof was a cunt. She intentionally misgendered trans students and made unsolicited comments about our personal lives. It also didn’t help that I stopped showing up halfway through the semester. Yet, while the class and the prof left a lot to be desired, this “failure” foreshadowed my much larger creative crash.
I come from a long line of teacher-martyrs. So, naturally, I stepped into the role without question when it was my time to make my way in the world. It wasn’t until I started learning about the Enneagrams that I found language to describe why this felt so wrong. As an Enneagram Type 4, I disintegrate to an Enneagram Type 2, the Type most likely to take on the role of a martyr. Even after learning this, it would take me years to stop sacrificing myself for my creative work.
One of the questions I ask as a coach is what my clients are checking for to know that they’re okay. These “checking” questions are one of the ways to illuminate if they’re operating from their current way of being or their new way of being. Because the things we look to for confirmation of our reality serve to reinforce that reality. This is true when our reality is serving us and our creative work and also when it’s hurting us and our creative work.
When we get caught up in martyrdom, we start checking for blood because the romantic narrative of the starving artist is a story of sacrifice. Either Charles Bukowski or Kinky Friedman captured this sentiment in the quote, “Find what you love and let it kill you.” In her book The Artist’s Way, Julia Cameron writes at length about the way that creatives can get caught up in self-destructive behaviours that they falsely believe are necessary for them to create.
This week, I am once again thinking about how I’m choosing to make the work that matters to me. After my six-year hiatus from creating, this feels like a delicate process. I still have moments where I want to push harder; where I claim that I don’t care about disrupting the stability I know I need to finish the project I’m working on. Some days, I wake up moments before I’m about to set fire to the structures that are essential to my creative wellbeing.
Building out a healthy creative process is not something I was taught in art school. Nor was it something reflected back at me by the creatives I followed who had “made it.” And so, I foolishly believed that the trade-off for being an artist meant sacrificing my physical and mental health. It took me a long time to figure out that the drama in my life actually got in the way of me doing my best work.
Creating in a way that keeps you well is possible. In fact, it’s vital if you’re going to make being a creative your life practice. Despite the popular narrative that success only comes from burning the candle at both ends, it’s also possible to be successful while getting enough sleep, eating well, and taking care of your other needs. Our world doesn’t need more martyrs, our world needs more creatives shipping their work and waking us up to what actually matters.
So, what do you need in order to stop sacrificing yourself for your work?