It’s September. Usually, a great time for a reset.
We’re rested from the holidays. The children are back at school. But there’s still a while before the cold, dark nights set in.
It’s when I normally block out time to think about the future, the shape I’d like my life to take over the next few years. Then I focus on the year ahead, what I’ll need to do now to make that future a reality.
I say normally, but of course 2020 has been far from normal. And it’s never been harder to plan, because none of us can be sure what the next few months have in store.
So this year, I’ve jettisoned my usual planning process, and decided instead not to add more tasks to my to-do list, or take on new projects. That means shelving some things for a while, and accepting it might take a little longer to move past the next set of milestones on my path. But that’s fine.
Instead, I’m concentrating on building reserves of the things I think we’ll all need, to face the challenges ahead: resilience, flexibility, and creativity.
Think about what you need, to be at your best. And make sure you get plenty of it, whenever you can.
For me, that means catching up on sleep and rest, drinking lots of water (and cutting out alcohol for a while), loading my plate with piles of fresh veggies at every meal, and moving a lot more than I have been.
I’m also going to meditate more regularly, go on long walks to enjoy the crisp autumn days, and generally allow myself time and space to think.
Our savings got depleted in lockdown, and even though we’re able to work again, we’re continuing to keep our spending in check while we rebuild that. While we can, we’re also spending as much (socially distanced) time as possible with people we love.
Most of all, we’re enjoying the last of the sunshine, making sure our bodies make as much Vitamin D as possible, and getting out and about as much as possible so we have plenty of good memories and experiences to feed on, if we need to lockdown again.
A photographer friend recently told me that the crisis has taught him to bend like bamboo. It’s a good image, because bamboo rarely breaks, no matter what pressure it’s under.
This is a good time for getting in touch with what’s really important to you, where you want to be, long-term – and perhaps letting go of the precise detail of how you get there, for now. Especially if you feel you’re heading in the right general direction.
I had a whole series of live workshops for creatives booked for this autumn, for instance. It’s highly unlikely now that any of them will happen. I could still deliver them via Zoom, of course. But we’re all getting screen fatigue. And for me that would involve equipment and skills I’m not mad on acquiring, right now.
Instead, over the next few months, I’ll repurpose the material I’d prepared into articles and perhaps even small books. It’s something I know I can do, with very little stress, even if lockdown returns. And it will serve the same purpose as the workshops: helping me serve more brilliant creatives at once, and spreading the word about my one-to-one coaching services.
It might also be that the big family Christmas we were planning won’t happen. So now our priority is on making sure our elderly mums are safe, well, and with people they love over the holiday season.
It’s all about focussing on what you can control, and letting go of the rest.
I just read Austin Kleon’s excellent book, Keep Going: 10 Ways To Stay Creative In Good Times And Bad. His thoughtful, bite-sized essays are full of inspiration and advice on building your daily routines, blending work and play, blocking out distractions, finding beauty in the everyday and honouring your creative rhythms, and I highly recommend it, if you’re feeling in need of inspiration.
“Go easy on yourself, and take your time,” he advises. “Worry less about getting things done. Worry more about things worth doing. Worry less about being a great artist. Worry more about being a good human being who makes art. Worry less about making a mark. Worry more about leaving things better than you found them.
“Keep working. Keep playing. Keep drawing. Keep looking. Keep listening. Keep thinking. Keep dreaming. Keep singing. Keep dancing. Keep painting. Keep sculpting. Keep designing. Keep composing. Keep acting. Keep cooking. Keep searching. Keep walking. Keep exploring. Keep giving. Keep living. Keep paying attention.”
Do the work
A client recently told me that it feels indulgent, with all that is going on in the world, to focus on writing pop songs (a job he does very well).
I disagree. We’ll need every bit of creativity we can summon to get the world out of the mess that we’ve made. And now more than ever, people need good stories, good songs, good jokes, good films, inspiration and information.
So do your work. Show up, and make something beautiful. Or angry. Or entertaining. Or thought-provoking. Or something that says whatever else you want to say.
“Keep doing your verbs, whatever they may be,” says Kleon. “Keep going.”
Sheryl Garratt is a writer and a coach helping creatives to get the success they want, making work they love. Want my free 10-day course,Freelance Foundations: the secrets of successful creatives? Click here.