by Elaine Turner
As she approached, her steely eyes set the stage for what was about to unfold. We walked down a long corridor, a massive rolling suitcase behind us, into a cramped conference room. We unloaded our samples slowly and made uncomfortable small talk, knowing she was anxious to begin her conquest. I got a sense she was enjoying this.
Her body language revealed the mere anticipation of crushing a young designer’s soul was one of her weekly treats. Her prey was in reach and she could almost taste it. As she started to speak, I looked over at my husband, his face frozen with a disingenuous smile. She sat down. We stood. She looked my handbags over and coldly stated, “Are you comfortable with your name being on these bags?”
Wow, that stung, I thought sheepishly. I had never quite heard an insult of that nature spoken so directly. Passive-aggressive was not her modus operandi, aggressive-aggressive with a strong touch of bitch was her preferred method. I gathered my thoughts to reply but all I could imagine was Ursula, the evil sea witch from “The Little Mermaid” sitting in front of me trying to destroy my soul. She really did kind of resemble her.
I was stumbling, face flush, heart racing. I muttered some gibberish with an awkward giggle. (Laughter is my default mode whenever I am uncomfortable.) And then, I calmly stated who I was and went on to explain my positioning in the market, my price points, and my distribution in all Neiman Marcus stores. She abrasively quipped, “Honey, we are NOT Neiman Marcus, we are Bergdorf Goodman.”
The story ends with no order, two bottles of wine, lots of tears and my husband telling me repeatedly that I am a talented designer and gorgeous. “Gorgeous” has to be included when your ego has been destroyed to this degree. (Smart man.)
I share this with you as an illustration of the harsh reality that can happen when you put yourself and your creations out there for others to see. Judgment inevitably ensues.
This month’s theme has been extra meaningful for me because exploring the creative process is a complex journey that I humbly walk. I am inspired by our featured gurus this month and how they come to a place of creation. Reading and learning how complex and personal it can be to find your inspiration — whether it is channeling the divine, experiencing nature or following a disciplined, daily routine — it’s all a part of an elusive, extremely personal process. It got me thinking about my own creative journey and just how disjointed, uneven, sporadic, excruciating and messy it’s been. But I think that’s the magic of it, don’t you?
I have this quote hanging in my office:
“An essential aspect of creativity is not being afraid to fail.”
It takes courage to be a creator. It’s a process. A journey. It’s not science. My own personal journey has been humbling, exhilarating, disappointing, fulfilling and completely human. I often hear or read people saying, “I have no regrets.” Really? We all have regrets, or we wouldn’t be human. It’s okay to wish you had done something differently. That’s an essential ingredient in being alive. It doesn’t mean I have to steep in an ocean of regret — just acknowledge it without judgment, learn from it and move on.
One of my dearest friends always says to me, “You can visit pity city, but you can’t live there.” Well, this is true for my creative life. I’ve produced less than stellar collections and my well has gone dry plenty of times. I have been burnt out to the moon and back, but I continue to find my way back home. Home to the center of what I know to be true. And for me the truth lies in being vulnerable.
Vulnerability is key. Opening yourself up, taking risks and not knowing the outcome is highly uncomfortable. But, it’s necessary if you choose to engage in the art of creation. When you are in the act of protecting yourself, fear and ego become the mind’s go-to defense mechanisms. And trust me, I’ve worked hard keeping these two formidable foes in check. I feel them brewing within when we have difficult days (or months) of poor sales, when I look puffy in photos or when I’m given “constructive” criticism that makes me want to first puke and then die.
It’s simple, really. Failing is a part of this process. It sure has been for me. I have taken a ton of risks in my career and in my creative life. Some have worked. Some have not. Some have cost me a ton of money. Some not as much. But at the end of the day, I’m in the ring. I’m showing up and attempting to “dare greatly” as Brené Brown says.
As you know, I love quotes. And this one gets me through the worst of times. When fear and ego are in the driver’s seat, I read it.
“Far better it is to dare mighty things, to win glorious triumphs, even though checkered by failure, than to rank with those poor spirits who neither enjoy much nor suffer much, because they live in that grey twilight that knows neither victory nor defeat.”
In essence, there is no perfect path toward living a creative life. As I’ve said, developing courage, embracing vulnerability and fighting off fear and ego are vital in pursuing your vision. However, there is no guidebook or instruction — just an open heart, a curious mind and a whole lot of GRIT. I mention grit lastly because I think it’s the most essential quality in your tool kit. You gotta have grit.
Grit is a muscle that I have grown overtime. Without it, Elaine Turner would have shut down years ago. It’s not developed over night. Some people come by it more naturally, with their wiring, programming and street smarts. Well, not me. I had to consciously grow this muscle. And it’s been hard. But I can now look back and see just how resilient my grit muscle has become.
As I look back on my journey I realize there wasn’t a huge “ah-ha” or purpose driven moment. I just followed my gut. There is a lot of external noise out there about about discovering your passion, finding your purpose, mastering your craft, following your bliss, etc. I don’t know about you guys, but it’s exhausting.
I didn’t experience any of those things when I started Elaine Turner. And in many eyes, I have already broken the golden creative rule by turning my art into my career. That’s a big no-no in the self-development circles. It reminds me of the breast feeding debate. Why can’t we just stop telling each other what to do? It’s a societal affliction.
I prefer Elizabeth Gilbert’s approach to the creative process. She’s a believer in simply following your curiosity and not quitting your day job. Her take is simple and refreshing. But ultimately, I’m not sure you can really outline what’s best for another person’s creative journey. It boils down to what works for you. It’s not a one size fits all model, it’s a what works for YOU model.
Trust your gut and know there aren’t any clear answers toward living a creative life. I just don’t see creativity, the process, and your relationship with it ever being fully understood or figured out. And maybe, just maybe, that’s ok. Maybe it’s not meant to be figured out, but rather, it’s meant to be lived. My path has been what felt right for me at that time. That doesn’t mean I don’t have regrets because, as mentioned earlier, I do. But that just means I own my journey and all the shit in between.
With all that mumbo jumbo, my takeaway is simple: embrace the uncertainty of it all. Let the journey guide you. Let go of the reins a bit and see what happens. You don’t have to have it all figured out. It’s ingrained in us to feel in control, to know the outcome and to alleviate all risk. But I say, once you step off the cliff into the unknown abyss of creativity, release your grip of what is or what was and embrace what could be.
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