Why We’re Running Away From Creating Our Most Important Work

If The Snow Could Swallow The Sun
image: dancoachcreative

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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12 thoughts on “Why We’re Running Away From Creating Our Most Important Work”

  1. I call my body-of-work type projects work, whether I am paid for them or not. Work does not have a negative connotation to me. If I want to distinhguish job work from other work, I sometimes have called it work work, as in work for Work.

    I don’t call things that are just for fun and unrelated to my creative focus work. For example, some might call the wierd cake I baked yesterday creative, but I wouldn’t have refered to it as work in the sense of, “Kids, I have work to do.”

    Reading a novel isn’t work to me, but reading something I think of specifically as motivated by projects in which I am involved is called work to me. I read it for a creative purpose.


    1. I think that’s an important point about some projects being work, whether you’re paid for them or not. It gives them a weight, a significance (rather than seeing them as dabbling or “messing about”) that is separate from money, which is often our default measure with things.

      We can get too serious about our work, but we need that balance where there’s enough respect for it, that it’s given the space and time and devotion it needs.

      Reading is immensely important in our continued learning and evolution, and underrated as a creative act. When we read something that inspires us and interests us, it sparks off all kinds of connections in our minds that we not have otherwise made, and which add to our capacity to create inspiring and interesting ideas and work ourselves.

      Thanks for your input Fritzie.


      1. Good point about giving what we do weight by calling it “work”. I think as creatives when we call our creative endeavors “our work”, it expresses our dedication and respect to what we do externally, and at the same time reinforces it internally in ourselves.

        Unfortunately, often times “others” do not take our creative work seriously if we are not getting paid for it.


      2. Yes, excellent point about the internal and external reinforcement Danny.

        Those who don’t give creative work any credit unless there’s monetary gain obviously have no idea how essential creating is to some of us, and how it gives us a kind of enjoyment and enrichment that money couldn’t buy.


  2. “What do you have to do that’s so important?!” is what I grew up with so the need to over-explain, justify and feel guilt over my creative time is deeply ingrained. All it does is send the message to everyone that I’m insecure about the time I spend creating so their feeling is they shouldn’t place any importance on it.

    My question though… what do you do when people demand specifics? When I’ve tried to be firm and state “I have some work I need to get done.” I get badgered for details and then “they” determine if it’s deemed important enough. When I refuse to get specific, it turns into an ordeal (this was/is mostly from my mother, but I’ve also run across this from others as well.) By the time I get to my creative project I’m trying to cool down from my feelings of anger and resentment!


    1. Diane, try this analogy.

      Let’s say James is a vegetarian, and the most unappetising food he can imagine is liver and bacon. He cannot fathom why people would eat it.

      But of course he understands that people need to eat.

      So if James’s friend Jack says: “I need to go now, I have dinner waiting at home for me”, James would be thinking: “Fair enough, we all need to eat.”

      But then if Jack said: “Yeh it’s liver and bacon. I can’t wait, it’s so delicious”, James will now be thinking: “What?! That’s the most horrible dinner I can imagine. Why would anyone want to eat that? I just don’t get it. If it was a vegetable moussaka, yeh I’m there. Delicious. But liver and bacon? Don’t get it, I wouldn’t ever eat that…”

      James gets that people need to eat (/spend time doing what’s important to them) but he can’t relate to someone eating their favourite meal of liver and bacon (spending time creating – something he doesn’t relate to or need to do).

      For your mother (and others), creating was like you were eating liver and bacon. They couldn’t relate, because their work, and their pleasurable activities were vegetable moussaka or chicken tikka, or roast chicken…

      Does that help?


      1. Yes, that’s a good analogy. I’ll think of this the next time I come across those that “don’t get it,” and as John, Paul, George and Ringo said… Let it be. 🙂


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