When you hear the phrase “doing the work”, or “your important work”, or indeed just “work”, what thoughts and images come to mind?
Are you filled with enthusiasm, eagerness and pride at the thought of creating the projects and the art that matters to you most?
Or are those phrases themselves – and especially just the word “work” – loaded with negative, uninspiring associations?
Associations and language that could be holding you back from fully embracing how and what you create?
Increasingly in my writing, and in talking about what I do with CoachCreative, I use the word “work”.
I used to almost fear using it, because of the connotations I’d heard and latched onto myself over the years about work. Language I’d absorbed from the people and the culture around me, without even realising.
Maybe you recognise some of them:
“Work is work, it’s not supposed to be enjoyable.”
“The Daily Grind.”
“The Rat Race.”
“Stuck in the 9 to 5.”
“That Monday morning feeling.”
“Cheer up, it’s hump day.”
“Thank Goodness (insert alternative word here!) it’s Friday.”
All of these ideas and phrases are embedded in Western culture (or at least in my experience of British and American culture) so deeply that we barely realise we’re using them.
Slowly and surely they tarnish any positive view we have of work, making it instead something we’re supposed to engage in begrudgingly at best, get over with as soon as possible, or even better, avoid altogether.
So, gradually, I’ve begun to turn the meaning of work around, and embrace it as something affirming, meaningful, powerful, and essential.
My partner and I both talk about “doing some work” at home, which is a mutually understood and respected code for: “I have some personal work to do, it’d be great if I could have a bit of time on my own to get on with it, how does that fit in with you?”
Rather than what I used to say, which was something more like: “I’ve got a bit of stuff to do online, I need to write a new blog post, create some new pages for a course I’m running, catch up with a few threads on CCS, continue the design of the header for a new book, and I’ll try to do it all soon as I possibly can so I don’t neglect you, so you think 10 minutes would be ok?”
Which came out in a rapid, garbled mess of words that sounded like I was trying to desperately justify every last second of the relatively tiny block of time I was about to begin.
It wasn’t even my partner I was frantically trying to justify my creative time to.
It was me.
There were (and still are, I’m still evolving in this) two separate, yet intrinsically connected things going on here.
First, my personal associations with the word “work”, which were typically like those adopted negative phrases we talked about above.
Second, my own opinion of the importance and value of my CoachCreative business, and indeed any creative work in general.
By embracing “work” as a positive phrase – to mean both the body of work I’m creating (my art, and my business of enabling artists to do more of their art) and the process of doing the work (“I’m working”) – it’s helped me to honour it far more, give it the important place in my life it needs, and, as a knock on result, this has freed me to do more of it, more often, and of a higher quality.
Then there are two ways we use, or might use, the word “work”, which can further confuse and entangle us in the wrong kind of associations.
There’s work as a noun – we’re all creating a body of work over our lives, a collection of pieces of art. The poems, the stories, the photographs, the songs, the paintings, the performances, the websites, the businesses and so on.
Then there’s work as the verb – “doing the work” or simply “I’m working”. The act we need to engage in to create our body of work, and the regular time we need to commit to, to be able to create this work.
How do you currently speak about the art you create?
Do you call it your body of work? Do you refer to it as your art? Something else?
Do you give it the respect and prominence it deserves?
How do you describe the time you spend creating?
Do you say you’re working? Creating? Art making? Practicing? Something else?
Do you, like I used to, apologetically mumble a string of different fragmented aspects of your creative process and tasks you have to do, in an effort to justify your time spent on it? Or do you just say – “I’m going to do some of my work”?
If we’re apologetic and uncomfortable with committing regular time to creating what matters to us, what kind of message is it sending out to those around us?
What are we telling ourselves?
It’s certainly not going to help to send and build the consistent belief (to those close to us, or ourselves) that this is something we want to do, something we need to do, something that is a fundamental part of our personality and make up.
But when we acknowledge and embrace the fact that we have an abundance of amazing ideas within us, all shouting and bouncing and desperate to get out and wow the world, only then can we start to give them life.
Work – your important, creative work – is not a dirty word, or a secret sin.
It’s something to be honoured, immersed in and enjoyed, then celebrated, shared and set free to inspire others too.
Stop running from creating the work that’s going to change your life (and our lives) for the better.
Let’s stop talking.
It’s time to do the work.
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