Julia Cameron’s book, The Artist’s Way, discusses the idea that everyone has an “art” deep in their souls that they long to release. It could be a creative talent such as writing or painting, but it could also be something entirely. It could be teaching, connecting, or being funny. Some people find this art very early in life and build a career around it. Others may discover this art but not do anything with it or fight it tooth-and-nine. Some people abandon their cart, vowing never to see it again. People who bury their art are often unhappy in their jobs and their lives. Those who pursue their art with all their heart are more likely to be happy and feel fulfilled.
Is there a middle ground? It is possible, I think. Some people do not pursue their art directly but make it a part of their lives or careers. Cameron refers to this as being a shadow artist. The class clown, for example, decides not to pursue a career as a comedian but instead becomes a professional speaker, whose humor is an integral part of his ability to connect with his audience. A painter or sculptor who decides she does not want to be a struggling artist and tries to get her work into galleries. Instead, she decides to become an art teacher and share her passion with the next generation. A dancer who wants to be a choreographer helps other dancers create their art on stage. Be aware that shadow artists can be very harmful. It is essential to ensure that your art does not become a negative part of your life.
Many people have difficulty with the fact that they’ve spent so much time preparing for their art that they refuse to let it go or integrate it into their lives in any other way. This was my situation once upon a time. I believed I was an attorney. It was something I wanted to believe since I had spent so much time, money, and energy to become a lawyer. It was alluring. It was intellectual, highly paid, and respected. I also felt that I was making a difference in the lives of others. It was attractive in the same way as a drug. It was also straightforward to do. It took me nearly a decade before I understood that law wasn’t the right fit for my needs. It was not my true passion. My true art was to guide, inspire, teach, motivate, and assist others. My art was not manifested by my work as an attorney. This led to a significant disconnect. It was negative and stressful, and it wasn’t as helpful as I hoped and desired. I had the best intentions, but the wrong package was chosen to house them. This realization made me realize that I needed to make a change. That was what I did. Now I get to enjoy being a coach and consultant, speaker, and author. It’s an excellent fit for me.
After spending so much time helping others navigate their career transitions, I discovered that there are three critical steps to identifying your art.
1) What was your dream job?
The underlying urge, not the answer. Is there an archetype deep inside you? What is your true passion? I always wanted to be an actor, singer, and dancer on stage. It was about performing and connecting with people. I found that it was more about the art of performing than fame. So it was easy for me to make it a hobby and include some of the arts into my work as a professional speaker. Because Helen Keller and my family were so inspiring, I decided to teach the deaf. It was a fantastic experience to teach and interpret for three consecutive years. I still hold the teacher archetype in my heart to this day, and all of what I do incorporates it.
2) Pay attention both to your “day job” and your volunteer work.
It’s often not the title, company, or any other official title that is what shows us our true art. But the actual work. What job puts you in a “flow” state? What is it that gets you excited, taps into your passions, or is just plain interesting?
3. Pay attention to the things you envy.
Although jealousy can be a horrid emotion, it often reveals our true desires and tells us the truth in some way. Although it may not be what you desire, it could be a version of it. It was difficult for me to see a Broadway show when I decided not to pursue Broadway as a career. It was difficult for me to see the show, and I began to question whether my decision to abandon that dream was right. It became apparent that I could still keep my foot in the theatre world by performing in regional and community theaters. I wouldn’t be jealous, resentful, or jealous of those who had chosen this path and achieved Broadway success. This acceptance and peace around my decision allow me to fully enjoy theatre as both a participant and an audience member.
It is evident that people thrive when they are engaged in roles, occupations, or settings that align with their personalities. It goes deeper, I believe. It doesn’t necessarily have to be in the work that you do. It must come out of you somehow, however. If your work doesn’t allow for you to incorporate your art, ensure that you have the freedom to express it in your private life. Your art should evoke your passions and give you a place to express yourself. It should feel like an emotional vacation. Consider what your art is and make sure you incorporate it into your daily life. It’s not what you want to discover that your art has been hidden all your life. It would not only be shameful for you but also the world.