September is the time of year for getting back to things (work, school, the routine of our daily lives) after the summer break. The French call this time of year La Rentrée – the return – and it affects everyone, not just workers and students. I like to think of this time of year as the Creative Return – where we can harness this feeling of beginning, to look forward to the rest of the year and prepare, to be ready to meet whatever opportunities or challenges we may come to.
This month, on the blog, I’ll be taking the theme of the Creative Return to focus on 4 elements: Values, the Big Picture, Reflection and Looking Forwards, with the aim of helping you remind yourself of your Why, to feel inspired about your work, to reflect on past successes and to set a course ahead. I’ll be asking you questions that get to the heart of each element and offering places you can gain additional inspiration or chances for reflection. Last week we looked at Values, this week we look at the Big Picture:
The Why behind the work
As I’ve said before, maintaining energy and focus for your work, particularly at busy and stressful times, can be hard. One of the best ways I’ve found to re-discover the passion for your work is to remind yourself why you do what you do – the Why behind the work.
I like to break the Why down in to two parts: when you look inside yourself to find your Why, your Values, and when you look outside yourself to find your Why, the Big Picture. Today we’ll focus on you’re the world outside you.
The Big Picture
Last week we looked at Values, the intrinsic things that motivate you to do your best work. They are usually deeply personal, stemming from your own aspirations or desires, the way you want to lead your life. Now we’re going to look at values from the opposite direction – rather than focusing on what motivates you from within yourself, I’d like you to think about what motivates you from outside yourself. What are the driving forces in the world that help you to create, that spur you on?
Again, as with values, your own Big Picture will be unique to you. You will have encountered people or situations, opportunities or challenges that have led you to your own creative practice. Who are those people? What were those situations? Are you someone who believes in the power of art and creativity as a positive force in the world, and your work aims to entrance or spread joy to the people who encounter it? Or perhaps you have noticed things about the world which aren’t quite right, things that could be made better, and your work seeks to address those problems, to solve an issue for your audience. Or perhaps you can’t imagine doing anything else, that creating in this way is something you have an overwhelming impulse to do.
Whereas understanding your values helps you to share with your audience why you do what you do, and helps you to find your own inner motivation, understanding your Big Picture helps you to place what you do in the world and to feel like you are part of something that extends beyond yourself.
It’s worth sitting down somewhere quiet and thinking about it:
Who do you make your work for?
How does your work benefit them? (Remember this is not just a question of utility – enjoyment and pleasure are worthwhile benefits in and of themselves)
Are there challenges or problems that your work addresses? How does it seek to alleviate or minimise these things?
Are there opportunities or possibilities that your work engages with? How does it promote these things?
Or, more generally, why do you do what you do?
Remember, as with your values, your Big Picture is yours alone. You may share similar outlooks with others, in fact community is one of the main motivating factors for a lot of creative people, however, don’t start to let judgement or comparison enter into this – whatever the motivation for your work (your personal values or your Big Picture) it is no better or worse than anyone else’s. You need to be happy with your own Big Picture or else you will always feel off kilter or in competition with others, which is unnecessary and unhelpful.
Spending a bit of time thinking about your Big Picture can help in many ways. It can help you articulate your work to a wider audience, helping them to understand where the work sits. It can connect you to other people, as once we understand who we are doing things for, and why, we can reach out to them more effectively. But, crucially, understanding your Big Picture will help you when you are finding things tough. Checking in regularly with your Big Picture will give you the boost to keep going when you are flagging, or the burst of energy you need at the beginning of something new and daunting. Whenever I start a new project I stick a post-it onto my computer or on the wall where I will see it every day. It says: WHO IS THIS FOR? And underneath I write a list of all the people (specific or general) that my work hopes to engage with. When I get bogged down in my own worries or uncertainties I look at that list, and I remember - it’s not really about me; I do this for them. And it always helps.
Want to explore the Big Picture a bit more?
Check out one of my blog posts: Dealing with the Overwhelm
Listen: Zadie Smith – How to Fail Better (audio book, recorded at The New Yorker Festival 2006) available through Amazon and iTunes [although this is about writing, the idea of finding your own way to truthfully descibe the world as you experience it is universal to all artists]