They say that when you are about to get married, you need to plan for a marriage, not just a wedding. The same applies here. Whatever creative work you choose to devote yourself to, you are going to be spending a lot of time and energy on it. It will be your close companion for a long time. So make sure you truly want it, all of it, the actual work, the day-to-day doing, the LIVING of this creative dream; not just the potential rewards when you’re done.

As women, we are encouraged to desire such strange things. Most of them have to do with looks, romance and approval. We are rarely encouraged to go deep with our desires, to find out how wildly powerful we truly are, and what the landscapes that truly fit our souls look like.

So when asked the question “What do you want?”, our answers often come from the surface level. Those surface-level answers are based on what we have decided, often subconsciously, is possible for us. What we are allowed and expected to do, what our parents and partners and peers would approve of, what we’ve seen other women do, what the market wants, what would look good on us, or simply what feels safe.

What I want is for us to leave that aside for a bit. I want us to take a step back from the shoulds and the oughts and turn our attention towards our own deep desires. Because listening to and acting on our deep desires is how we create a life and work that actually feels like our own.

But it’s not going to happen unless we give ourselves permission to choose what our hearts are asking us to choose.

This permission must be granted over and over again. We must educate ourselves on why we feel we don’t have the right to go for what we truly want. Is this just our individual struggle, or is it something all women artists face? Is it the struggle of all women artists or something only coloured women artists, or queer women artists, face? And so on. Knowledge is power. Once we know what we’re up against, we can take informed action.

For every choice you make, every wrong or right turn, it will become clearer and clearer what works for you. You will become more discerning when it comes to whose advice you listen to. You will learn that someone else’s path is just that – someone else’s path. It is what worked for them and their specific circumstances, at that specific time. And before you beat yourself up for not being as productive as the author of that book, you will find out if he too is a working parent of three who is weaving creative magic late at night when the kids are asleep, without the help of a team. If not, his advice might not be applicable to your life. You will give yourself permission to pick what’s relevant to you and leave the rest. This sense of discernment is crucial.

Learn from those ahead of you, by all means, but make sure you have your compass securely fixed on your own true north.

Some wise person said that pain pushes until vision pulls. The first time I heard those words they shook me to the core. Because in my work – even in my creative work – I had always been pushed and motivated by pain and fear; fear of not being perfect, of not making it, of not getting what I needed and wanted. I had been running all my life to get ahead, driven by the fear of what would happen if I didn’t make it.

In a brief moment of insight, I felt how utterly exhausting it was and also what a bliss that other alternative would be – to be pulled forward by the power of my vision.

Instead of being pushed to take action, by fear, I could connect with my dream and let the strength of that vision pull me towards it. Instead of grabbing and grasping, I could turn towards what I want and ask it to come create with me. I could rely not only on my own, limited power, but on the creative powers of this universe – the power of a vision that wants to be born into this world, and that seeks me to accomplish it.

I didn’t fully understand how this co-creation works – I still don’t – but I could instinctively sense the enormous power of it, and I also understood that in order to access that power the vision had to be true. Not some compromised, half-assed version of it. Not “I actually want to be a poet but no one reads poetry, so I’ll become a journalist instead.” No. Your true desire.

Over time, I’ve learned that the most powerful pull did not come from the vision I figured out myself, but from the one that just came to me once I learned to listen deeply.

This is key.

If you’ve spent most of your life NOT listening deeply to yourself, and many of us have, it will take some practice. You will not just sit down, close your eyes and hear a voice telling you all about your true dreams. But maybe there will be a hunch, a hint, some curiosity, a sense of lightness in one particular direction. That’s your answer for now.

So when I ask the question “What do you want?” I don’t want your quick, surface answer. I want you to pass that question on to some deeper aspect of yourself and see what truths rise to the surface in response. Those truths will shape your roadmap.

This is an excerpt from Chapter 1 of my book The Creative Doer – a brave woman’s guide from dreaming to doing.

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