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Creative Slumps, Dream Chasing, and Getting Dumped. It’s been a minute since we’ve done an “Ask Joanne,” and because I’m continually touched and absolutely blown away by the number of submissions I receive each week, I’ve decided to highlight your questions in today’s newsletter. Thanks to all of you who’ve put your trust in me, and I hope that my thoughts resonate with you on the universal themes that I’ve chosen. Plus, Joi Stearns! One of my absolute favorite people, Joi, the author of her own inspiring story of faith, reinvention, and self-discovery, joins me to discuss not only her life, but to weigh in on the “Ask Joannes” as well. Let’s get into it!
Digging Out of a Creative Slump.
How do you deal with the inevitable creative slump? Say, when the grind of it all feels too much like an up hill battle, and less like something worth doing, with the fear that whatever you’re doing won’t be worth it in the end, or you won’t get what you wanted out of it? -Autistic Biscuit
Wow! There’s so much packed into your question!
A lot of times, the “grind” feels like “too much” because we put “too much” pressure on ourselves to meet certain goals by certain [sometimes arbitrary] deadlines. While clear goal setting and milestones can be incredibly helpful for things like marathon training or other endeavors that have more predictable outcomes (e.g., consistent running always leads to better speed and endurance), the same single-minded doggedness is less useful when it comes to less dependable results. This is particularly true with creative pursuits, the appreciation of which is subjective and varied. The instinct to blindly “keep doing what you’re doing” can actually create a rut into which you’ll inevitably get stuck.
Practically speaking, it’s always a good idea to replace milestones with check-ins. Schedule a self-evaluation every 3 months, and ask yourself whether (a) you’ve stuck to all your commitments; (b) you’ve managed to cross off any of your goals and if so, earlier than you anticipated; (c) it’s time to add, remove, or revise older goals; and (d) your process needs improvement or reinvention. This will alleviate some of the pressure that comes with strict milestones while still keeping you accountable.
But beyond the practical concerns, ask yourself:
- How do you measure whether something is “worth doing”?
- What would make it “worth it in the end”?
- What is it you “want out of it”?
The reason it’s important to ask yourself the questions above is because all of this becomes easier if you actually enjoy the process. James Clear, author of NYT Bestseller Atomic Habits, advises that we should “forget your goals, and fall in love with the process.” While Clear doesn’t literally mean to simply throw your goals into the trash can, he highlights the importance of being present for and enjoying the journey in order to avoid burnout.
One of the reasons I think I didn’t burn out when I started my creative pursuits (I started a blog all the way back in 2010 and became a full-time content creator over a decade later) is because I didn’t put any pressure on myself. I merely enjoyed writing, taking photos, coming up with recipes, engaging with my community, etc. I was able to learn at my own pace, discover new and exciting skills, and in every other way prepare myself to take advantage of the opportunities that would come my way many years later. If, on the other hand, I’d said all the way back in 2010, “Joanne, in 1 year, you better have 10,000 followers,” or “Joanne, in 3 years, you better be making $$$ on YouTube,” I’m not sure I would have started, much less lasted as long as I have.
If the only way “it” will be worth it to you is if it’s going to pay your bills, make you famous, or allow you to purchase your dream home, then “it” better be something you really like to do, because there’s a good chance you’ll be spending a lot of time doing it. But it sounds to me, AB, that you don’t really like what you’re doing (or at least not anymore), because you call it a “grind.” In that case, I encourage you to take some inventory and see whether it’s time to take what you can salvage from this chapter of your life and use what you’ve learned to start a new one–one that is worth doing in and of itself.
Recommended Podcast: Chasing Dreams.
Hurdling Your Fear of Failure.
How do you overcome the fear of following your dreams? I’m starting a business that I’ve always dreamt of but I find myself hesitating on taking the steps to make it happen because I’m afraid to fail. -Christie
I wish I could say “don’t be afraid to fail!” and just leave it at that. But it isn’t that simple. Depending on the stakes, failure can be devastating. I’ve watched enough episodes of Kitchen Nightmares to know that “failure” can lead to the lack of adequate healthcare, the elimination of retirement plans, and the estrangement of loved ones. I say these things not to scare you even more, but to acknowledge and validate your fears.
A lot of times, we’re led to believe that “dream chasing” is supposed to be rife with danger. It’s supposed to be like walking on a tightrope with no safety net.
When I decided to withdraw from partnership and pursue my “dream job,” I definitely had a safety net. I had enough money set aside in savings to make sure we could live for a full year with no additional cash, and this was not including my retirement fund. I also made sure to go through my financials with a fine tooth comb for at least 5 months prior to pulling the trigger, to build a track record of income generation. I paid off every cent of credit card debt and any remaining school loans, so I could give my dream a smooth takeoff. And finally, I had a backup plan: I could always go back to being a lawyer. Some people might call these things “preparing to fail.” Nope. I call it, “Giving your dreams as much time as possible to succeed,” because that’s what dreams need more than anything in the whole wide world: TIME.
In addition to these more practical considerations, ask yourself “what’s the worst that can happen?” When I was struggling with the same fear of failing, I thought to myself, “well, the worst that can happen is that I will lose all my money and I’ll be left with nothing but a cardboard box that I’ll have to use for shelter when it rains like in the cartoons. And also everyone will be too embarrassed to be seen with me–my parents will disown me and my husband will divorce me.” This is quite literally the worst thing, but upon further examination, it is virtually impossible. Not because I won’t ever fail, but because I know (a) I will NEVER touch my 401k, (b) I will NEVER allow my business ventures to jeopardize my marriage or my family, and (c) even if my dream job doesn’t pan out, I’ve got 7 years of an excellent education along with the mental toughness of a marathon runner to ensure I’ll land on my feet somewhere.
In other words, between the planning and a little honest introspection, I’ll arrive at a place where even if it sort of sucks to fail, I’ll be ok if I fail.
In sum, Christie, the name of the game isn’t to eliminate fear. As you astutely point out, it’s to overcome that massive mountain of fear that stands between you and your dream business. Let’s make that mountain into a small hill–one that’ll still be hard to hurdle, but far less impossible.
Recommended Podcast: Chasing Dreams.
When They Dump You.
Hi Joanne, I have a lot of energy and a big heart. I just got out of a toxic relationship; it’s been 2 years. But I want to move on. I feel like no one gets me. Every time I give love, they take it and run away. Recently, I met someone and I think I went too hard. However they seemed to like it! Unfortunately just like the rest they took a step back after they got the love they needed. How do I control this? Can you make another podcast about rejection more in terms of love? Much love. -Calvin
Let me begin by saying that you have my sympathies as you endure this sort of heartache. I think many of us have been there and we can all agree that it is not fun. Also, good for you for being honest about it–I think you’ve already laid down some of the groundwork for our discussion. For instance, you already know that the relationship was toxic, that there is a demonstrable pattern of behavior in the objects of your affection (they take and then leave), and that you may have come on a little “too hard.” But there are a couple of things you say, Calvin, that I think we should look at a little more closely.
First, while I have no doubt that you are indeed an incredibly loving and emotionally generous person, I wonder whether what you give to your romantic partners really qualifies as “love.” Sometimes, it’s easy to confuse love with sacrifice. Although sacrificing one’s own desires and wants on occasion can indeed qualify as a loving act, when it becomes habitual, we no longer just sacrifice what we want, but who we are. I made the same mistake with my first love–I believed that in order to prove my “love” to him, I had to disappear, to give him all the room he needed to remain comfortable enough to stay with me. As a result, I ended up liking all the things he liked, was friends with only his friends, and engaged in activities that only he enjoyed.
At bottom, this willingness to dissolve into our relationship was premised upon the belief that I wasn’t worthy of love. Let me ask you Calvin: do you think you’re worthy of being loved? Not for all the things you do for your romantic partners, but because of who you are? Do you find yourself worried that they will grow tired of you, they will stop loving you, they will leave you if you don’t give them everything they want? When you are with someone you adore, do you stretch your arms to them as who you are, or do you bend yourself to become who you think they want you to be?
Because here’s the thing, dear, big-hearted Calvin–you can’t actually love anyone if you no longer exist.
Rejection is horrible, painful, and scarring. But with it comes an opportunity to find yourself all over again. Rediscover the things that make you uniquely beautiful and worthy of a loving, secure, and non-toxic relationship, one that is filled with mutual respect, trust, and an equal amount of give and take. Finding a partner that will not just love who you are, but will root for you as you continue to grow and thrive is achievable, but only if you take the time to find who you are and, more critically, fall in love with who you are.
Recommended Podcast: A Love Story.
Meet Joi Stearns
On this week’s episode of the TKV Podcast, in addition to my thoughts on these awesome questions, hear from Joi Stearns, the creator and co-owner of my favorite restaurant in SoCal, JOi Cafe. Not only is she an amazing cook, she is a soulful woman, whose lived experiences equip her with a uniquely useful perspective on life’s toughest questions. Find out how she overcame some of the same struggles with dream chasing and love to find purpose, success, and, most importantly, Joi.
- What I’m Watching: One of my favorite things to do when I check into a hotel is to browse through the “still in theaters” movies that you can watch for an exorbitant fee. I was delighted to discover that Downton Abbey: A New Era was available. But delight quickly devolved into disgust. It was one of the worst films I’ve watched in a really long time. Not only did I regret my decision to plunk down $21 for what was undeniably one of the worst written films I’ve ever seen, it actually started to ruin my otherwise good opinion of the show and the characters I’d grown to love. A hard NO on this one, folks.
- Return of the Vlog: As some of you may remember, last December, I tried my darndest to post a vlog every single day. That fell apart when Anthony contracted COVID. But, I did post for nearly two weeks and discovered how much I really love vlogging (even though it takes an absurd amount of work). I’ve always known I would come back to this format of content creation and I’m excited to announce that I’ve posted my first episode of “My Inner Monologue” on my YouTube channel. I won’t be posting a daily vlog, but will, instead, post every couple of weeks.
- An Intimate Night with Indeed: One of the best parts of my business is speaking engagements. I love meeting with folks all over the country to discuss the power of storytelling, career development, and, of course, fulfillment in the workplace. This past week, Indeed invited me out to their popup work space in Chicago to discuss how to find purpose at work. I had such a blast meeting and chatting with everyone there! They’ll be posting the entire chat on their YouTube channel so keep your eyes peeled for that!
- The French version of The Korean Vegan Cookbook is now available for preorder and will be in bookstores on October 12th. I’m so excited!!
In 2015, after a very severe bout of disordered eating, I walked into a therapist’s office. She told me, quite simply,
“Loving yourself will be the hardest thing you ever do.”
I nearly walked out of her office, right then and there, because, however hard it might be to believe this, I am not into that hippy dippy love shit. I prefer practical, step-by-step advice, supported by data and evidence. But, Rachel was right on the money with her prediction. Loving myself has been the hardest thing I’ve ever undertaken, because somewhere along the way, I began to take for granted that I am dispensable, a poor investment. And therefore, instead of accepting who I am, I compulsively transform myself into the “Joanne” I think people want me to be. Whether it’s subjecting myself to starvation, discarding my own tastes in food and music, or assuming “hobbies” that I actually hate, I’m like a vampire, cannibalizing the confidence of those around me, with the hope of filling a void I can’t ever seem to fill.
One of my favorite poems in all of literature is a sonnet by Shakespeare. In it, the legendary poet writes,
Love is not love
Which alters when it alteration finds,
Or bends with the remover to remove.
O no! it is an ever-fixed mark
That looks on tempests and is never shaken;
Love alters not with his brief hours and weeks,
But bears it out even to the edge of doom.
I’m pretty sure that Shakespeare was describing the enduring nature of a “true love.” But, what I think is so interesting is that he defines love as the “marriage of true minds.” “True” could have a lot of meanings, most typically (back in that day): fidelity. From what I know, Shakespeare definitely had reason to be a little paranoid in that regard!
We often think of faithfulness as an act benefitting our romantic partners. But what about fidelity to ourselves? Is it possible to cheat on ourselves? Can we betray ourselves in love? What if we took Shakespeare’s death-defying definition of love and turned it inwards? Because love is not just a feeling, but a choice. And we are, after all, a product of our choices. Accordingly, we should talk of love as not just a detached bauble that we hand over to a lucky few, but an extension of who we are. The unalterable, irremovable, and brave soul who looks on the most formidable of all storms and chooses not to be shaken, but to shake the world around us with the thundering act of our inimitable truth.