April 3, 2017

Real talk about why our best leadership is blocked up

I believe in the artistry of leadership. Leaders build and make. They build and make great cultures.

Great leaders build great cultures around them.

It's art and science. 

Let's dive into what blocks the artist from painting on the canvas or why leaders get blocked up in what their "artistic expression".

When you're secure in who you are, it overflows into what you do. As a leader, you're going to bring who you are to that. It'll be creative and artistic even if it doesn't look like some stereotype of what artistry or creativity looks like. 

What we want to do now is put some words to what blocks our ability to bring the full expression of who we are--our creativity, our artistic endeavors, everything that we do--so that we're living inspired lives, not tired lives.  
I was leading an event about a month and a half ago, and we were going really deep on identity. An elderly woman spoke up and said, "Now I know why I stopped making my art." I'm going to help you get that same insight that she had.

What we don't realize--and this is just a common lie that everybody believes--is that creativity is not something that's achieved or gained, it's unblocked. If you ask a room full of kindergartners how many of you are artists, all the hands go up. As you go up through the grades, less and less hands go up. Why? They start to believe a lie that they're not artistic or creative, or they're afraid to be creative because their expression is going to get shut down.

Whatever's happening in society, we have to fix that. What I want to do is help individuals really get clarity on what blocks their creativity--the reason their art is tired, not inspired. It comes down to one word. It's simple, but yet it's complex in how it manifests itself in our lives, and it's deep. Here's the one word: fear. It's fear. What happens is something hurts us and we begin to be afraid, so we don't bring the full unobstructed expression of who we are to what we do. Because we have a false understanding of ourselves, our art ends up expressing itself in a way that isn't the pure, unadulterated expression that it was intended to be.

When you know who you are, then your artistic expression will flow with beauty and clarity even as it includes the struggles of life. That's why we react so quickly to flat story lines where the character isn't changing--we know that isn't how life works.  I love helping creatives figure out who they are apart from what they do, because the more they understand their pain, the better gifts they can give the world. When your art is about getting a response for the needs of your ego, then you're manipulating. When you need a response more than you have something to give, your artistic expression is deluded and confused. The same is true of your leadership.

I want to walk through how you might be getting in the way of what you're supposed to be creating. Not what you have to do, but what you want to do. Maybe you feel like you have to do it. I know what that feels like. 

First confession: I manipulate others with my artistic expression to get attention. If you don't think that you're seen or known or heard for who you are, the basis of your creative expression is about how appealing you are or aren't. You could be doing things that are “in your face” and jarring just to get attention. You could also be doing things that are very blasé just to go along with the status quo. Either way, there's a lie that's at work. It fosters insecurity so that you try to get love from others, even if you have to manipulate them by giving what will please or infuriate your audience.  You're not creating out of an overflow, you're just seeking a reaction.  Again, I'm not saying things that come out of these lies don't happen artistically, make some money, or help a person develop a career. We're talking about being in the game consistently, from a creative standpoint, with all of who we are.

Confession two: I use the thrill of creating to escape. This sounds a little weird unless you struggle with this. The pain is there; it's like it's throbbing. There's this lie that you have to be self-reliant, and that suffocates you. You think nobody else is going to help you, nobody's looking out for you.  You've experienced abandonment and believe you have to take care of yourself, so this pain of isolation and loneliness becomes your only friend. Creating has become the companion to help you escape. That is awesome, in a sense, but until you can internally understand that you're taken care of, it's going to block your long-term ability to connect with your audience and really build the artistic pursuit that you want to build but the business around it.

I know that there's a lot of people out there that pursue artistic careers, and they're great at binge-working into their art but terrible at building the business side of it. Some can really build the business side of it but their art isn't that inspiring. Theirs would be a different fear they'd struggle with. If you have difficulty building the business side of things, it's possible that you feel like there's a disconnect from the people that you're creating for because they're going to abandon you at any moment. This also ties into the eighth fear, and I'll word it as a confession.

Confession three: I ignore problems today that will cripple me from creating tomorrow. Why would you turn away when you know if you ignore the problem you're having with the business or your work there will be a price paid tomorrow? Why would you kick the can down the road?  Here's why. When you feel like you don't matter or you're overwhelmed with a sense of disconnection ... "What's home for me? What's family for me?" You want to belong to that certain group. And if you just get to that place of belonging and others recognize you for being in that group then your problems will be solved. You look the other way while some part of you or your business deteriorates.

Confession four: I mask the pain in other parts of my life with obsessive focus on my artistic efforts. You could be hearing this and doing great from the standpoint of developing your creativity. You may have a positive critical reception to your work, but you still struggle. You may even be sage-like in your field, but your heart feels pain almost like an abscessed tooth. Maybe you resent some person ahead of you in your field. Tons of people would be grateful for where you, are but you can't help stop comparing. Maybe you can't get along with one of your kids. This isn't an attempt to take you down, it's just that you've bought into a lie. At some point, you've come to believe you're incompetent except in artistic expression and that you don't have what it takes anywhere else, so you've specialized in this one area of your life.

Why step into places you might lose when you can go where you'll always win? When this fear is at work, more than anything else you need to know that patience is available so that you can build a bridge from the way you're killing it in your creative pursuits to growing in other areas. There are going to be growing pains in other areas of your life.

Fifth confession: The quality of my artistic work communicates that I'm valuable and have worth. When this is the lie or the fear you experience, what happens for you is you wake up and you have negative points on your score board. You are a driving taskmaster. What eventually happens, and the reason you crumble on the inside, is because you can't separate who you are from your work or your portfolio. You look at a portfolio and say, "That's me. That's who I am." Your identity is more than your ideas. Your identity is more than your work. Your identity is more than your artistic expression. 
This is how people get locked in to their existential crisis as an artist--they look at things and go, "Ah, I want to pivot into something different or take a different pathway." It's hard for them to not only get their audience to endorse that, but for them to think in a way that produces a lot of clarity about the steps they should take. They're so wrapped up in defining who they are with the work that they've accomplished.

Sixth confession: I'm constantly critical of my artistic efforts. I mentally tear myself down for motivation.
This is based on a fear that you're defective. The tape playing in your head is constantly tearing you down, saying that you're bad, that there's something wrong with you, that you're corrupt. When you believe that about yourself and when you don't believe that you’re loved for who you are, tearing yourself down may work in the short term to motivate you. But it will keep you from sustaining the highest levels of quality output.
(When I say “The highest levels of quality output,” I'm talking about you being at the edge of your artistic abilities and being able to show up and bring that full expression consistently. Not that you don't have periods of rest and different rhythms, but if tearing yourself down motivates you in the short-term, you hurt your long-term ability. This is how you fry yourself and get burned out.)

Confession seven: I never accomplished enough as an artist that I feel peace. If you struggle with your mind always going to the worst case scenario, your pursuit of the artist you strive to be will feel like a hamster wheel. A crippling amount of anxiety means you want to believe if you accomplish the right goals then maybe you won't be a washed-out artist. Internally, there's never a sense of rest and you feel like the earth is going to give out from underneath you at any moment. What this fear blocks up is the ability to relax your way into your creative pursuits.

Confession eight: I am a lonely artist. If anyone gets too close, I end up creating conflict to push her away.
Here's the way this works. You've made some bad choices and you want to rebel against any relationship of interdependence so you can over-assert your independence. You've been betrayed; it sucks and it hurts. You don't want anybody too close because you don't want to get hurt again. I get that. You often create conflict to keep others at distance. You bristle at the thought of someone getting too close because it feels like they're going to have some kind of control over you. Yet, this isolation seethes underneath the surface. Because of this, oftentimes you may do work that gets a lot of accolades but are extremely lonely on the inside. Those are two related confessions, seven and eight, but still different expressions.

Confession nine: I maintain extreme discipline in my creative work, but binge with destructive behaviors for short seasons. When you think you don't have a unique identity in the world, you struggle with extreme self-indulging and behaviors that are an attempt to comfort your pain. I think of Richard Pryor, the comedian, who had all of this creative talent that he unleashed on the stage. He brought everything of who he was to the stage. He worked very hard at his craft, but when he came off the stage and because he didn't know who he was apart from his work, he would binge in his cocaine habit.

Now, yours may not be as dramatic as Richard Pryor's, but it's painful when you wonder if anybody really ever sees you for who you are. Maybe you feel like they're always looking past you or ignoring you. When you're seen for who you uniquely are, that you're loved right where you are for who you are, then you don't have to self-indulge. It unblocks your ability to navigate the difference between the works that you perform and the creative pursuits that you're involved in and who you are in your identity.

Want to figure out your fear with precision and what is blocking your expression? That's why I wrote this: 

Figure That Shift Out: An Invitation to Relax Into Your Brilliance By Chris McAlister Buy on Amazon