BUILDING TOWERS – on finding your work and getting it done

My work used to be very messy and unorganized. I was writing a lot and taking a lot of pictures, but I didn’t really know what to do with it all. I had a lot of different blogs, notebooks and folders for my work, and I came up with thousands of new ideas every week. But I rarely finished anything.

I would always change my mind about things. I would make a poetry blog in Norwegian, only to leave it behind and create a blog in English the week after. I would create a project about courage and even start interviewing people about it, only to forget about the whole thing and start writing an article about the benefits of journaling instead. As I said: it was a mess.

From chaos to insight

At some point I started to feel very frustrated about all this unfinished business. It felt like I was building foundations everywhere, but no towers. And when people asked me what I was doing, I had no idea what to answer. I felt unorganized, powerless and vague.

Eager to change things, I started reading about the nature of creativity, and pretty soon I made some important discoveries. I became aware of the fact that the creative process has four stages – getting an idea and doing the research, producing the actual work, editing and polishing and then publishing your stuff and showing it to the world.  And I realized that I was never going full circle! I was great at getting ideas and producing text and images, but I sucked at editing and sharing. As soon as I felt stuck or fed up, I would simply abandon my work.

This was such a revelation to me.  Suddenly I could see what my problem was, but in order to actually solve it, I had to dig a little deeper. I went into a period of reading and journal writing, trying to get to the core of the problem. I really wanted to know what was keeping me from finishing work.

The good old fear

One of the first things I discovered was that my tendency towards not finishing things was related to my fear of being a failure. Producing work without showing it to anyone felt safe, as long as I didn’t publish anything, no one could criticize or dislike my work.

Discovering this was quite uncomfortable. I had created an image of myself as a strong and independent person, and suddenly I had to face my vulnerability and lack of self-confidence. It hurt. But it was also the beginning of some major changes. I started observing my own self-talk, and slowly became better at discarding the little voice that was telling me that my work didn’t have any value. A book that helped me a lot was Stephen Pressfield’s “Turning Pro”. I recommend it to anyone who’s eager to bypass fear and get to work

Refuse to choose

The next thing I discovered was that I was really bad at making decisions. I wanted to find that one project where I could use all my ideas at the same time, and whenever I started working on something specific I was frustrated about the things I had to leave out. If I was writing a blog post, I wanted to make a movie. If I was planning an exhibition, I felt an urge to write poetry. And if I was taking someone’s portrait, I was inspired to make an interview with the person instead. I always felt like I was doing the wrong work.

Reading the book “Refuse to Choose” by Barbara Sher helped me realize that I am a person with a lot of different passions and interests, and that this is a gift if administrated properly. Sher uses the term Scanners to describe people who get their energy from jumping from subject to subject, learning new things all the time and finding connections between different fields. And she explains how scanners can be very creative and get a lot of things done, if only they stop trying to do everything at once. This book was a huge inspiration to me. It made me realize that I don’t have to choose one thing to do for the rest of my life. I can have it all, as long as I commit to one thing (or at least not too many things) at the time.

A tool for making choices

Recognizing the importance of making choices was crucial, but the realization itself didn’t make it easier to decide which project to embark on. So after finishing Refuse to Choose, I started asking myself some pretty fundamental questions. What is motivating me? What is inspiring me? What do I actually want to do?

After a lot of contemplation and journal writing, again, I made a list of the needs I want my work to fulfill.

1)   I want to explore my inner world and express my findings through images and words (artistic work).

2)   I want to explore the world of others: to find out what they know and how they are seeing things (journalistic work).

3)   I want to share my explorations and my discoveries with others (blogging/teaching/public speaking).

4)   I want to use both my mother tongue (to express my deepest thoughts) and the English language (to communicate with people from different parts of the world).

5)   I want to find the balance between working alone and working with others, both are important to my work.

The list is now hanging on my wall, and it has become an important tool for me. It's difficult to put the five points into one project. But by using the list to navigate, I can choose to work on a range of different projects that, when combined, will fulfill all my needs.

I'm sure the list will change and grow as I change and grow, so I am planning to update it in January each year.

My current work

In 2015 I have chosen to focus on three creative projects.

The first one is Luftlommer – a digital letter exchange between Rebecca Jafari and me. This project allows me to express my inner world + collaborating + using my mother tongue.

The second one is to finish the project Everything Counts. For years I have been exploring the art of being present through images and words, and now it’s time to turn this work into an exhibition and a printed publication. This project allows me to express my inner world through artistic work + work alone.

The third project is this journal. From now on I will be writing in English, and I will be exploring topics like the creative process, journal writing, simplicity, gift economy and so on. Hopefully this will turn into a place where I can share both my own thoughts and the ideas of other people – and connect with like-minded souls from different corners of the world.

Finding the right work and getting it done is a work in progress, and I still have a lot of learning to do. But at least I have made some discoveries that make things easier. My work no longer feels like a mess. It is constantly growing and changing, yes, but it is not out of control. It feels like I am finally in charge of it. As French philosopher Alain de Botton puts it: Work begins when the fear of doing nothing at all finally trumps the terror of doing it badly.”

I am curious to hear what you guys are doing in order to overcome fear, making choices and getting your life’s work done. If you have any thoughts, feel free to share!