THE FOUR QUESTIONS #7: What Is Your Next Step?

Trite, but true: Every journey begins with a single step.

(7 minute read) 

Okay, you big dreamers, procrastinators (moi!), those who are stuck (oops…me, too!), and people who need it all figured out before they do anything, listen up! Question #2 can be even more important that Question #1!

Question #1, What is your greatest vision for (insert-your-heart’s-desire-here), is a great exercise for going big. Especially for those artists -who have been noticeably absent in art history, art galleries, and art museums, who don’t see evidence they, too, can be successful artists: Women, minorities, other cultures and ethnicities, etc. (Well. Women do show up a lot in art, but usually as subjects, and thus without clothes.)

But for us to “get big”, it’s not enough to just have a dream.

We have to do the work to make it happen. Or at least possible.

That means figuring out a path, no matter how vague, or improbable, to head in the general direction of our goals.

This can still be hard to wrap our heads around. “How the heck do I know what I should do next??”

Consider the following strategies, and hopefully, one will resonate with you.

1)    Eliminate the all-or-nothing approach.

There’s nothing more daunting than an ultimatum. 

The person who dreamed of accepting an award for a movie? They had stopped their film-making. They couldn’t figure out a way to support themselves with it, so they took a well-paying full-time job for a national service corporation.

But they were so exhausted by their day/desk job, they didn’t have the time or energy to create films. Since they simply couldn’t quit their job, obviously they had to give up their dream. Right?

The problem with this approach is, life rarely gives us the perfect opportunity, and all the breaks we think we need to move forward.

Sure, we all hear about people who took the big leap and landed it. They left their job, struggled for a couple years, and now they’re making six-figure incomes doing what they love.

The problem with this thinking is, in our hearts we recognize how rare this is. The older we get, the more responsibilities we take on: Family, aging parents, mortgages, preparing for retirement, health issues, etc. The reasons why we shouldn’t move forward can feel overwhelming.

A small solution to this problem is to carve out a place in your life (if you haven’t already done so) to acquire the skills, the experience, and the joy that comes from making your creative work.

This wonderful little article on how to move forward when we don’t even know what we want shows the importance of making room for doing what you love. It restores us to ourselves, so we can dream bigger.

The film-maker realized making a small, intimate, low-tech, very personal film around a major issue in their life could fit the bill. No expectations of greatness, fame, money, etc. Just something they’d dreamed of doing for awhile. And the scale made it highly doable.

2)    Start small: One action step in the next 24 hours.

What is one thing you can do TODAY to move you forward? 

One small step gets you off your…er…chair…and into active mode. I cannot emphasize how important, how empowering, even a tiny action can be.

First, you have to get out of bed. Not kidding!

I’ve been in a funk the last few months. Family issues, health issues, money issues. It’s consoling to let my art-making slack off (“I don’t feel like it!”) and feel sorry for myself.

I thought the issue was unsolvable. If a huge part of my work’s attraction is seeing it in person, even touching/holding it, (just ask my editor!) then how do I use the internet to market it?? If only a tiny number of my potential local audience ever even sees my work, let alone comes to my studio to experience it, how will I ever grow an audience large enough to support it?

After journaling about this, I realized that representation by a very few, but “good-fit” art galleries and museum stores could help me achieve this.

And instead of slogging through the hundreds or even thousands of potential galleries I could research, I could simply ask my community—those familiar with my work, and me—if they knew of such places.

I reached out on my blog, and Facebook, with my criteria: Would my work fit with the gallery’s aesthetic (and therefore, their audience?) Are the venues close enough that collectors could visit my studio here in Northern California? Is the gallery’s clientele willing to pay my prices? (I know with the right demographic, my prices are actually extremely reasonable for what I do.) Are the galleries close enough I can actually approach them in person with samples? Etc., etc.

Yes, a few people responded with well-intentioned but wild guesses. But a savvy few are responding appropriately.

Now I can use the internet, to research these galleries! Then decide which ones to visit in person.

The beauty of this small step is, even if none of these galleries work out, I’ve found that if the gallery owners/managers like the work (even though it doesn’t work for their customers), many are willing to suggest more appropriate venues—which will save me hours of research and legwork.

If your goal is so big, or so far beyond your imagining you can’t even begin to imagine how to get there, then Strategy 3 might prove helpful: 

3)    Work backwards from your goal.

You can’t win the lottery unless…..

One of my favorite all-time jokes is a minister whose church is in need. Every single day, he prays earnestly, “Oh Lord, please help me win the lottery!” This goes on for months. Until one day, the clouds roll, the lightning flickers, the thunder rolls, and a great voice speaks: “Do me a favor. BUY A DAMN LOTTERY TICKET!!!!”

Years ago, I attended a conference called Craft in the Digital Age. One of the speakers shared a linguistically unique way another culture expresses intention can have wonderful insights our own:

The first panelist was Lynn Martin Graton, Traditional Arts Coordinator for the NH State Council on the Arts… She spoke about living in Japan for some years, and her difficulty learning a language so different than the more familiar Romance languages.  She spoke about having to learn totally new concepts dictating how ideas were expressed, different expectations of the culture.  One example was how the English statement “I need to finish warping this loom today” would be expressed as “If the loom is not warped today, then nothing else can happen” in Japanese.  Part of learning such an unfamiliar language is to actively embrace the different cultural traits that spawned it….

For an expanded take on how this can work, read A Review of the Re-Do of the To-Do List.

Again, the way we tend to frame this feels like an ultimatum: “I have to do this!” Reframing it (“For the cloth to be woven, the loom must be warped”) makes it possible to happen.

To put this into practice, think what your ideal outcome is. Perhaps it’s “win an award at a prestigious art show.”

What would have to happen before you win? “Create an astonishing new work of art.”

What has to happen before that? “Start working on a new body of work, then pick the best one in that series.”

Before that? “I need more canvases!”

Or maybe your steps go (in reverse order), “Be accepted into that show”, after “Apply for the show”, and beginning with “Get the prospectus for the show”.

Why do such simple little “first steps” help so much?

In a series of goal-achieving blog articles I wrote awhile back, I talked about “micro-steps”: Why does something as simple as putting on your work-out shoes increases your chances of actually going to the gym?

People: It’s science! Studies showed that even that tiny step of putting on our sneakers can increase the likelihood we’ll follow through with our intentions.

It’s back to that old saw: How do you eat an elephant?

One bite at a time.

For the person who is asking the questions, when you and the speaker get to this question, your job is to keep asking, “What has to happen before this step?” (“For the cloth to be woven, the loom must be warped.”)

And for the person who thinks they had to clean their entire studio to get weaving again, remind them: You only have to clear off the loom.

I don’t have to clean my studio (today.) I just have to clear a little space.

Stay tuned for next week’s next question! It’s a doozy! Bring your hankies!