Are you doing what you love? Something that you’ve dreamed of doing? longed for?
Or are you doing something close – in the same industry but a different role, in a field which gets near to, but isn’t actually what you’d like to have done?
How close are you to the Big Hairy Audacious thing you’d LOVE to be doing? (not necessarily the thing you think you can do or should do)
Are you indeed a shadow xxxxx?
(insert your dream you eg. artist, photographer, actor, surgeon, politician, journalist…)
According to Julia Cameron, author of The Artist’s Way (a 12-week program which I’m following over on my art website), many of us are Shadow Artists, or Shadow Writers or Shadows of our possible selves; “there, caught between the dream of action and the fear of failure, shadow artists are born… like the kid with his nose pressed to the candy-store window”.
For instance, many artists don’t actually allow themselves to have their own art practice, but instead go for ‘proper’ jobs that are connected to the arts or other artists in some way, like working in a gallery, teaching art, becoming a critic, a journalist, a photographer’s rep etc.
Personally, aware of the dangers of becoming a shadow artist, I went to great lengths to work in a career close, but far enough away to not be appearing (to myself) to be trying to be an artist. My saboteur thinking went something along the lines of ‘well, I don’t want to get stuck in a gallery job, and all the art tutors I know seem frustrated (understatement)… it’ll be worse being so close and not being it, so I’ll go the other way and then I won’t have to think about it every day…”
And I didn’t – I studied film and photography instead of painting after school, which I loved… (and hated that I wasn’t quite as fired up about it as everyone else). After an unhappy year, I dropped out and almost instantly got a job in a video facility and then began a career path that I thought I wanted. And everyone around me said wasn’t I lucky and oh, how interesting it must be.
I felt incredibly guilty for not being grateful and not living up to the whole thing, so I changed tack slightly and pursued a more ‘arty’ path within the industry and eventually, pursuing this path with determination led to a great job – as an edit assistant in a top (or even The top) London graphics and animation facility. My role was creative, challenging, engaging, with lots of potential for personal creative development and financial reward. Plus I worked on really interesting projects at least some of the time and more importantly, I did this together with a bunch of totally amazing and talented people. The company culture was great too – it was supportive, strived for excellence and we even had a phone booth for private calls in the building with fuzzy felt to play with on the walls – it was fun!
But it wasn’t ‘it’, and I paid the price in long, long nights in the edit suites working super-hard at something that ultimately was never going to be enough on a personal spiritual level… for 7 years.
Then, after a year or so sneaking off to art lessons at Chelsea, I finally got the daring together to quit and study art full-time at art school. I thrived, I explored, I painted and I flew – literally – I spent the second year in New Mexico and the third year out living in Mexico City surrounded by international artists who were really doing ‘it’. Wow!
But even after producing some great work and graduating my BA with a 1st class degree, I couldn’t seem to get it together to make it work as a business – something that would support me. I fell back on my TV skills to earn a living, convincing myself that it would only be for a while. But of course it wasn’t and I didn’t make the next leap – again to quit completely and study for an MA – until several more years of 70-hour weeks in dark rooms had gone by.
And after that? Well externally starting a family, moving countries, building a house, keeping it all going – you know, life! But now, otra vez, I’m starting over – yes, I’m not giving up on this idea that I am capable of ‘it’ and I know that until I actually allow myself to do ‘it’, I’m always going to be stuck on the elusive idea of ‘it.
Maybe part of me is scared that if actually I manage to do ‘it’, it’ll lose its magic charm and I’ll be totally disillusioned… but hey, I won’t know until I’m doing ‘it’ for real, will I?
What have I got to lose? well, actually it feels like everything – ideals, dreams, and fantasies – I don’t want my dream bubble to pop.
So there you go, feel the fear – even if it’s of success not failure – and do it anyway. Move out of the shadows and into the light…
Does any of this resonate with you?
The video clip above is from Channel 4’s (UK) excellent series “Faking It”, which just shows you how much people can achieve if they really allow themselves to transform their own image of themselves and what they are capable of (watch more of these great programmes on Channel 4’s website).
To help you have fun with this idea and maybe help you nudge yourself nearer to ‘it’, The Artist’s Way has a great exercise, 5 Imaginary Lives, which some of my clients have said they really fond useful:
If you had 5 other lives to lead, what would you do in each of them? eg. I would be… a pilot, cowboy, physicist, monk, psychic, scuba diver, cop, writer of children’s book, football player, computer hacker, belly dancer – do not overthink this exercise – the point of these lives is to have fun in them – more fun than you might be having in this one.
Look over your list and select one.
Then do it this week! eg. If you put down cowboy, go horseback riding…
Have fun, and please share your comments below…
ps. My own Imaginary Lives are over on my artsite if you’d like to read them