Spoiler alert: I don't have the secret to doing this, so if you are looking for a surefire way to dance your way across the tightrope of a creative life, I am sorry to say you won't find that in this post. If you do find the secret somewhere else, by all means, let me know right away, will you?
Back to belief. I have been in therapy nearly a year, and after just 5 or 6 sessions of meeting with my counselor, we were in the middle of a conversation about making changes in my life. I was trying to convince her that I just couldn't see how some things that I was wrestling with were ever going to change when she looked right at me in that way that only therapists can and said "You know, you are a black and white thinker. All or nothing. It seems to be very hard for you to imagine life looking different than it does now." Of course, she was right and of course, I wasn't prepared to hear this. As you do, I called one of my best friends on the phone and told her what the therapist had said.
"Can you believe it?" I balked. "Me, unable to imagine things looking different? I'm an actor and a writer--that's my whole thing, imagining things that aren't real, that come from my head and heart."
I stopped, realizing the other implication of not being able to imagine things differently. "Oh, no! Does this mean that I am not a supportive friend? When someone is looking to change something in their life, I have always considered myself their biggest cheerleader, but doesn't this lack of imagination mean that I'm not being a good friend? And what about the world? It has more problems than I can count, but I'm the first one to speak up and say how much I believe that it can change for the better. Does this mean I'm really a curmudgeonly pessimist that doesn't believe in any good?"
There was a pause, and my lovely friend gave it to me straight. "You do believe that the people in your life can be anything and go after what they want. And I know that you believe in the possibility of the world getting better and better. Maybe your imagination only gets murky when it comes to have the same sense of imagination about your own life."
Hold. The. Phone. I totally got it. My therapist and my friend had helped illuminate the fact that I tend to be an endless optimist when it comes to the people I love and the world around me, but I wasn't always giving myself the same kind of support. I didn't have all that much faith in the possibility of my own metamorphosis.
Brief survey: How many of you believe that change is possible for the people you love, that your circle of friends has the ability to transform their lives and themselves? Me too, absolutely. Now, how many of you believe that your own life could look different, that you are capable of transforming yourself and your experience?
I'm hearing crickets, folks, and there's no hands to be seen. Yup, me too.
Since realizing this last summer, I haven't done a 180 and become my biggest cheerleader for change in my life. I'm still reminding myself on a regular basis to stop gripping the steering wheel so tightly and working to dismantle the default belief that while other ships can cruise around wherever they want, mine is stuck going in one direction only. And? I'm starting to entertain the idea that there might be a different life to explore, if I let myself. There might be different choices to make, different risks I could take, different dreams I can let myself chase. Might. Hey, we all have to start somewhere, right?
So now about the door they built. You see space is precious in Boston (big surprise, huh?) so this week in my office building, they decided that a corner of the foyer would make a decent sized office for a new tenant. I've been at my job for three years now and the foyer has always been the foyer: copier, trash bin, and a lone file cabinet that no one ever opened. With the exception of an occasional box of copy paper on the floor, it hasn't changed much.
But this week, the construction crew started working on transforming the space. They came, they measured, they marked walls. They even built a wall. Then came the primer and the paint. They vacuumed, they moved the copier, and then they built a door.
This transformation was so powerful to witness. When I came in one morning, the crew was just starting to move things around in the foyer. When I walked by that afternoon, there was a new wall. The next day, it was painted with a door. It was incredible and yet it couldn't have happened without imagination. Someone at some point had to be willing to see the foyer space as something other than what it was and what it had been for all the years prior. And then, someone had to take that vision and break it down into doable steps that would lead from the before to the after. Someone had to follow through with those steps--mistakes are allowed and going back to redo something is ok, but ultimately they kept going forward and saw the change through.
Now, I realize that when you are a creative soul whose days are filled with day jobs, finance stress, family, laundry, landlords, commutes, thunderstorms, and all other manner of things that we generally classify as Life, building a new door might take longer than two days. It doesn't matter how long it takes you. What really counts is cultivating your ability to imagine that things could be different than they are now. And if you are having trouble imagining right now? Try taking a step further back and imagining that you might someday have the imagination to change things and see life differently. J.K. Rowling even feels so strongly that imagination is the missing link to our individual and collective well-being that she devoted her Harvard commencement speech to the subject.
Sometimes exercising this skill involves doing a deep dive into your own self-worth. You might decide to see a therapist or check all of Eckhart Tolle's books out of your local library. It might take awhile and the process might be slow going. That's ok. Everything that's worth doing is worth doing slowly.
Other times, exercising this skill might mean simply forming new habits and using new language. The words we use to talk to ourselves and about our dreams matter. And remember, it doesn't have to be black and white; possibility lives on a spectrum, with infinite options along the way.
Start small. "I can't ever imagine having enough money to film my movie" doesn't have to immediately become "I know exactly how I will get the funding to film my movie!" How about "I don't have the budget to film my screenplay today, but I can imagine that there might be some creative ways to raise money that I could try"?
Often times, I notice that my problem might not even be the inability to imagine, but the unwillingness to let myself imagine. I can imagine plenty of lovely ways that my life my look differently, but can often cut myself off from even thinking about them lest I be disappointed. I know firsthand how painful it can be to try to bring your head out of the clouds and ground yourself in "reality" and to possibly even punish yourself for daring to dream. I'm not talking being reckless, quitting your job with no other means to support yourself, or giving up your non-negotiables that you need to be a healthy you. What I am talking about is giving ourselves the chance to look at all the possibilities that could be. What happens if we give ourselves the permission to look up from the pavement, and if not float completely away into the clouds, at least allow ourselves to gaze at the sky every now and then?
The door that they built in my office this week--someone dreamed it up, it's true. But it came into being, was actualized into solid reality, because they also drafted the plans, measured, marked walls, drilled, nailed, primed, painted, vacuumed. They did all the things that allowed the dream to become a door. And, there is no denying that all of this was put into motion because one day, someone was standing around, looking at the foyer going, "Hmm, I wonder what this space might look like with a door?"
Go for a walk or sit quietly inside with a cup of tea. Be honest: what would you like your life to look like? Do a short journal entry about it. What does it look like, feel like, smell like, sound like? Notice what of resistance arises for you. Do you hear that voice telling you that it's not ever going to happen? What happens if you acknowledge the voice but keep going and make a list of steps that you could take to make the transition from what is now to what could be? It doesn't matter if it feels far fetched (or if it is far fetched) or if you feel silly planning your way to a lead in a Broadway nominated play, it's the exercise of imagining that counts.
Wishing us all dreams of infinite doors and the possibilities of what might await us when we walk through them.