Any creative knows intuitively that their progression does not follow a typical 9-5 or 24/7 schedule. This is one of the reasons we choose to BE creatives. We like making our own schedules and letting our creative juices dictate the way we work. My own experience being holed up in a cubicle for 14 hour work days was so confining, so constraining, that it quickly motivated me to redirect in a very big way.
Artists live by the ebbs and flows of the day. It is in our nature to thrive in an environment of the unexpected. What we soon discover is that these daily, monthly and yearly patterns of “highs and lows” span the length of one’s career. This can be very unsettling.
Ah, we relish the “flows” where everything is working, contacts are regular, exhibitions and sales are constant, reviews are stellar. These are the moments we strive for. These are the goals we set, being realized. And boy does it feel good. But opting in to a life of extreme highs means that those highs will soften a little, slow down bit by bit and sometimes come to a complete stop.
I call these the Ebbs. At first glance, they can be scary. We put ourselves out there for a reason and it is a vulnerable place indeed. But you have to trust the process and your ability to make your work. I have found the Ebbs give context to the way I work and what I make. They provide a space of gathering: information, reflection, critical analysis of one’s own work. It is in the Ebbs, whether self-created or imposed, that the strength of the work is tested. Not in the Flows, as one might suspect.
When everything is “flowing” it is a superficial recognition of the work. One contained within the opinions and actions of others. The true test is how we behave in the Ebbs and whether we think our work holds up. You have to be patient in an Ebb. Slow down, breath deep and look around. Is your nervousness about the Ebb state caused by the mere presence of that Ebb state or something deeper?
A seasoned artist doesn’t panic when things around them go quiet. They know that the deafening silence is really a time for gathering momentum and recharging one’s ability to critically engage with their work. Without these two traits, how do you get back out there in a sustainable way? Understanding the larger scope of a career begins with knowing which state you are in and how to capitalize on it.
Flow states are seductive and can propel you forward, sometimes not exactly in the direction you intended. The Ebbs allow you to get back on the road you originally aspired to (if need be) or make necessary adjustments in your work (based on reaching goals and the level of satisfaction found in achieving those goals). We are always in a moving state. It’s the velocity that shifts and our awareness of that velocity.
Ask yourself, do you really want to be a tidal wave all of the time? Or is there value in the calm ripples after the storm?