Go With The Flow

My sister recently became a mother. As fascinating as it was watching her wrestling with her new role as provider to this tiny human being, it was even more fascinating watching her wrestle over the insatiable pull back into her journalism career.

by Cherie Lee

But career and motherhood have completely different values: one is success, one is intrinsic value.

The world rewards success but not activities that give us intrinsic value, like raising a baby into a well-adjusted adult who can express themselves and reach their full potential in the world.

The world rewards success but not activities that give us intrinsic value.

Screenwriting is a profession that without a doubt, rewards success. The whole industry is designed around achievement: we see the winners on the big screen. The very act of writing is an anxiety-inducing undertaking itself let alone the added pressure of ‘making it’.

Expressing ideas and themes that make your internal world tick, putting them on paper and sending them out to be critiqued and torn apart is agonising. Your script gets made into a film, or it does not. There’s no plan B. If you’ve already experienced a taste of success, this process becomes even more heightened. The fear that your follow-up will never amount to your first work deepens.

I recently made a decision to follow a career completely unrelated to writing. I had always envisioned myself as a professional writer; one who works their own hours, self-disciplined, working from home. I tried this for one week. And failed.

I went crazy.

The fear that your follow-up will never amount to your first work deepens.

I’m not the kind of person who can go long without human interaction. I start admonishing walls. This was a huge disappointment because it’s what I had wanted for so long. But I had to reconcile my personality with my passion, and find a new construct to understand where writing fits into my life.

My current job is working with mentally disabled people, which I love because I’m physically and emotionally absorbed by other people’s needs throughout the day. I feel intrinsically happier at the end of the day because not only did I help make some person’s life better but my entire being was engaged; I was in the psychological act of ‘flow’.

‘Flow’ is the word coined by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi to describe the feeling of when a person is fully immersed in an activity, whether it be gardening or reading or composing a symphony. You’re so involved with the activity that time falls away and you lose awareness of your surroundings and even your own physical presence.

You’re so involved with the activity that time falls away.

There are seven key characteristics that define ‘flow’. They are:

1. Complete focus
2. A sense of ecstasy
3. Great inner clarity
4. Knowing that the activity is doable
5. A sense of serenity
6. Timelessness
7. Intrinsic motivation

To me, the last point is the most important: what you’re doing becomes worth doing for its own sake. Just like raising a child is a valuable activity for the sake of doing it, rather than any material outcomes.

I realised that I have moments of ’flow’ in the act of writing, but not as often as my day job, because I’m too busy worrying about outcomes. When I’m at home all day with a blank piece of paper in front of me I feel frustrated and unhappy. In my other job, I feel a lightness that comes with doing something that your whole being is engaged in.

So I decided to take the pressure off myself to have a WRITING CAREER and get back to the roots of writing for the love of it: to have the same experience of writing as I do of my day job. The intrinsic joy that comes from the act of being creative is immeasurable to any success you may or may not have in your lifetime.

The intrinsic joy that comes from the act of being creative is immeasurable.

Let’s face it: you’re probably not going to be one of the 0.001% of writers who are immortalised in the annals of history.

Although it is good to be ambitious, I truly believe that maintaining your sanity is more important than anything. And in all honesty, success can interfere with that. Which is why many successful artists and writers of the 20th century lose the plot and drink themselves into premature termination.

Elizabeth Gilbert says that she had to ‘create a protective psychological construct’ to continue writing after the phenomenal success of her previous work, ‘Eat, Pray, Love’.

There was a huge amount of pressure for her to write something that would live up to the first book. So she decided to ‘recalibrate my whole relationship with this work’. She looked to history for guidance and found in Greek mythology the concept of divine spirits that come and visit creatives.

Rather than ‘being’ a genius, you simply ‘have’ a genius for a period of time. This removed the pressure and enabled her to write because it’s what she was put on the earth to do. She accepted that it was most likely that her best work was behind her but that was OK, she was still going to continue to show up and do her job; to write because it’s what she has to do.

So rather than become an alcoholic writer, riddled with insecurities and self-doubts about my work, which may or may not go anywhere anyway, I’m going to channel my energies into a job that gives me intrinsic joy and write with the same passion.

In the end, life is so short and I don’t want anything to interfere with my sanity. And perhaps with this approach, my best work is yet to come.

-Cherie Lee

Photo Credits: seeveeaar, steve_steady64Steve-h and Ed Yourdon via Compfight

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