Recently, I was conversing with a friend about the projects we want to start but never did. I'm going to call her Jo. Jo has been involved with a specific artistic scene for years, gathering material, browsing resources, and incessantly talking with everyone in her circle about this idea she had for a small business of her own. She has been toying with her vision for a project, and it suits her so well it feels like an extension of her personality. Every now and then, she participates in little gigs in her field and always does well. Everyone recognizes her creativity and innate talent. Her identity is so intertwined with her craft that everyone already identifies her with it, even if she isn't yet established in the field.
Jo keeps doing preparation: she buys a new camera, then decides the device is not practical enough. She rents an atelier just to realize it doesn't suit her as well as she had envisioned. She accumulates material that rests unused in her storing space, after just a couple of try-outs. She is never satisfied with her creations and, for some reason, she can't bring herself to work committedly on her passion project. (There is a lot of competition around, too, which is daunting.) Jo is as enthusiastic about her art as she is blocked. After years of preparation and delay, she feels defeated.
“The most regretful people on earth are those who felt the call to creative work, who felt their own creative power restive and uprising, and gave to it neither power nor time.” - Mary Oliver
Last week I made plans to write but, for some reason, didn't. I have a very important writing project in hand, and it felt so intimidating. As usual, my funk started small, unnamed, uncomfortable as a day of bad mood. I don't know exactly why, but I dwelled on it for a minute and, unsurprisingly, it started taking the shape of something insurmountable. The thing with self-defeat is that it is quick to set in, especially when it's an emotion you're well-acquainted with. Accumulated self-defeat is paralyzing as well. If you're feeling *that* bad and you haven't even started, it becomes very difficult to take the first step in whichever direction. It's like you're at this crossroads. If you're static for long enough, another vehicle will pass and knock you over.
There I was, again, last week: immobile in Amsterdam traffic, bothered by everything and everyone around. Plus, I was watching every car, motorcycle, and bike overtake me like I’m stuck right at the intersection Haarlemmerstraat with Korte Prinsengracht on a delivery day. And I'm STAYING BEHIND. It was so stressful that it got me thinking I wouldn't be able to start the engine anymore, or worse, that there was something wrong with it. One would think that, after a lifetime of crossroads, the intensity of the feeling lessened when you find yourself at another. Dwell for too long at the configuration of the junction, spend too long staring at the yuppies coming out of Stach, and, before one knows, hell breaks loose. I thought a lot of Jo last week. I felt her pain in my bones.
(Me, in 2013, when I created a blog called Amsterdive, on which I wrote the total amount of four posts. I had so many ideas but literally didn’t know how to make myself sit down and write. It felt horrible. It wouldn’t be until 2016 that I’d finally start working consistently.)
Procrastination and delay arise as an instinctive form of protection against the terror of the unknown. We might not love where we're at, but at least this place *feels* familiar. The Haarlemmerstraat is exasperating but who knows what the Damrak could bring? So we find excuses. For Jo, it’s the camera that isn’t good enough. The studio didn't have the best lighting. She is not yet as good at her craft as she would like to be. And now, every time she thinks of this thing that once brought her joy, she gets a sense of dread. It's a paradox. What once started as sheer pleasure now feels dangerous. She hesitated so many times before that the pain of restarting feels too great. She doesn’t want to lose what’s left of her self-respect so she doesn’t even try anymore.
If the thing that my friend loves brings her so much suffering right off the bat, that must mean that it's not for her? That she wasn't made for it? I bet she mentally reviews all those interviews with renowned creatives who once said "I can't help myself but to do this thing," and she decides that, nope, that's definitely not her, her ideas are not propelling her forward, they're making her struggle.
Once I believed that my chronic procrastination was something very unique to me. I lived in shame. I overate to forget. Then I met Jo. My blog introduced me to other blocked creatives, as well. And the more I met like-minded people, the more I realized that most of us harbor ideas and aspirations, secret passions, or dreams of more fulfilling work, even if we are already accomplished in our work field. Realizing how universal my struggle was definitely helped me start moving past it. There are so many of us at intersections of some sort, trying to decode traffic signs and figure out how to move within the crowd of other vehicles, in a direction that feels right.
(2013: Back in the day, all I did was eating. I ate to try and escape feelings of worthlessness.)
Jo told me recently that she often thinks of this blog post I wrote in 2016 called Gewoon Doen or What I Learned From The Dutch. In it, I describe that precious if unsettling moment of traversing my personal crossroads in 2016 and getting to the other side. That day, I had decided to do things in this order: Wake up early - Do a yoga class - Head to my neighborhood cafe (at the time, that was Toki,) - Write my blog post in two hours. And, most of all, I had committed to not thinking about it, just following my schedule (that's the mantra of another friend: Don't Think, Just Execute.) Sticking to my plan worked and that feeling of accomplishment felt so novel that I almost didn’t know what to do with it.
Last week, as I tried to make my way out of yet another standoff, I clearly saw a frozen food truck from multinational GENERAL FEAR & PARTNERS almost hitting my vehicle, then a bagger motorcycle with flashing lettering stating WHO DO YOU THINK YOU ARE swerving past me. An angry taxi driver spitted a GET OUT OF THE WAY, LOSER! at me too. What happened next is a bit blurry. I do remember giving the man the middle finger, squinting at the road, and pressing the accelerator. And after a while, I noticed the road got calmer. Oh, hey, I'm doing the thing. It was distressing, but crossroads often are, right? The key to getting past the junction lied in those first moments of action. The movement wasn't complex I see with hindsight; in fact, it shouldn't be. There is a video that illustrates this in perfection. Watch it here.
As for me, I vouch for Dutch pragmatism. Gewoon Doen, Jo! And you, my dear friend, you can drive past your crossroads too. Start small, always. And if you’re stuck and could use some support, DM me. I’m happy to talk.