My coaching clients often come to me for permission.
This felt odd the first few times it happened, because my clients tend to be smart, successful creative professionals. Many of them are at the top of their chosen fields. All of them are grown-ups, with busy lives. Most are already established in their creative fields.
Yet in our conversations, they say things like, “Am I allowed to do that?” “Do you think I can change direction at this point?” And of course that old classic, “But what would people think?“
The fact is, we all feel we need permission at times. We crave that external stamp of approval. And we wait – fruitlessly – for the invitation to arrive in the post, to finally be invited to the top table, the elite club where you’re allowed to simply make the work you want to make.
It won’t come. It never does. So here’s a by-no-means exhaustive list of things that no creative needs permission for.
1. You don’t need permission to make your art
No one needs an artistic license, a permit to begin making stuff. You just need to begin.
- f you want to write, just write. Even if it’s some notes, a journal entry, a scrappy first draft.
- To make art, simply start drawing, painting, sculpting.
- Want to be a musician? Then start singing, learning an instrument – or tinkering with the technology that means you no longer need to practice for hundreds of hours to create a tune.
Don’t wait for an invitation to join the club, for some validation from outside. If you’re doing the verb, you own the noun. So do your verbs. Dance. Sew. Design. Craft. Act. Perform. Cook. Make. Create, create, create.
There are rules. Of course there are. Rules around genre, style, what sells, what works. It’s important to know these rules, but only so that you can question them, examine them – and choose to play with them, even break them.
2. You don’t need permission to be yourself
We are all weird, warped individuals with our own quirks and oddities. We’re all different. We’ve all had different experiences, and have our own ways of interpreting the world. You don’t have to hide this. Embrace it. Let you be you.
The truth is, there are very few new ideas. Pretty much everything has been done already. But it hasn’t been done by you. And that’s what’s exciting.
Allow yourself into your work. Your point of view, your experiences, your feelings and secret thoughts. This is what makes it feel fresh and original. Don’t hide who you are – use it, express it.
3. You don’t need permission to rest and play
We’ve been sold a lie, and it’s become so persuasive that most of us see it as objective truth. We believe that our work is all that matters, that what we create is only valid if someone buys it, if it earns money or if it makes money for someone else. And that anything else we do is lazy, pointless, a waste of precious time.
Don’t fall for this nonsense. Rest more. Play more. Get some proper sleep. Have more fun, more connection, more adventures. Explore, learn, and run down rabbit holes, without an end goal in mind. (Read this for more about why you should go down that rabbit hole.)
I’ve said this often before, but it bears repeating. You don’t have to earn a break. You don’t need to deserve it. All you need to do is take it.
Experiment with this, see what happens. Most of us find we’re happier, healthier, more inspired – and more productive. Though that’s a side-effect of taking time out, not the purpose of doing it.
Life is for living, not just working. For many creatives, that elusive work/life balance can look more like a seesaw than perfectly balanced scales. When we’re in on a project, sometimes we’re all-in. And that’s OK, too. Just make sure that a bout of intense work is followed by space for recovery, and intense play.
4. You don’t need permission to be interested in many things
A brilliant photographer asks if I think it’s weird that she wants to draw. A designer wants to launch a podcast about music, but worries that he’d look foolish. An artist says she’s been secretly writing a novel. But now it’s done, she has no idea how or if she should share it.
I say to all of them: do it! Follow your interests. Try whatever is tugging at you. Sometimes it will work out; sometimes it won’t. You might just find an absorbing new hobby. Or it might also become a whole new career strand.
Which brings us to the next point…
5. You don’t need permission to change your mind
Nothing is carved in stone. Even if it is, you can chip away at it, and turn it into something new. You can always change your mind, your life, your direction.
It can be hard to give up status, success, a fancy job title. Or years of time, effort, training. But if what you do is no longer exciting and stimulating and you feel a tug to go elsewhere, choose happiness.
You’ve done it once, so there’s a good chance you’ll be able to succeed again: you’ll still have lots of experiences and skills that will be useful and relevant in a new field. And even if you don’t reach the same dizzy heights, you’ll grow and learn. Which is surely better than stagnating, becoming jaded and cynical.
It is never too late for a new direction, a new mindset, a new experiment. I find few things more elegant and interesting than a creator who pivots. Who is willing to say, “I have always believed x. But I’ve changed my mind. Here’s why.”
6. You don’t need permission to put work out there
It doesn’t have to be perfect. Share your process, your work in progress. Put it out there even if you’re not sure about it, and let others judge if it’s good enough. Share to get valuable feedback, so you can improve.
You don’t need permission from gatekeepers to do this. You don’t need to be validated by a gallery, a publisher, record label. Exhibit your art in a local cafe or bar. Show the furniture you made on social media. Explain your thinking at a talk, or give a workshop. Perform your music, poetry or comedy at an open mic.
The web has made it easy to share what we’re working on. Although it’s best to show it to people who are interested, rather than just shoving it out there and expecting it to find its own audience. So find your tribe. (Hint: This is highly unlikely to be friends or family.)
Find the people who share your tastes, your interests, your obsessions. Then show them what you’re working on. “I made this for you. What do you think?”
7. You don’t need permission to ask
What do you most need? More money, more clients? More connection and support? Just ask. You don’t have to apologise. You don’t need permission.
The only thing you need is to get comfortable with hearing no. It means nothing about you – or the person turning you down. It’s just another step along the road towards the yes you want.
8. You don’t need permission to say no
No and sorry aren’t married. You can say no clearly, gracefully, without apology or long explanations. Protect your creative time, your boundaries. Saying no more often also means that when you do say yes, you turn up whole-heartedly, not resentfully. Which is better for everyone.
So where do you feel you need permission?
Whatever it is, don’t wait to get validation or approval from others. Write yourself a permission slip. Make your own artistic license.
Get friends to be your cheerleaders. Or hire a coach and talk it over with them. Get whatever support you need, then do whatever it is you’re dreaming of doing.
Take action. Because that’s when the magic happens. (And if you do, please let me know how it turns out and let me share it here. Courage is contagious!)