You have finally decided to pursue your dream creative activity. You want to be a professional artist, writer, musician or actor. You are really passionate about it. If you’ve been doing a regular day job then you can’t wait to leave the tedium of that job behind and follow your passion.
You start off enthusiastically and perhaps you make some initial gains. But then the going gets tough. Your endeavour is harder than you thought, much harder. You have to do so much more than just the artistic activity which you are passionate about. You realise you might have to get good at activities like marketing or networking as well as working on your craft.
You wonder if you have what it takes. You look with envy at people who have ‘made it’. You might even think that your work is better than theirs. What do they have that you don’t?
Are you prepared to eat the shit sandwich?
One of the things that inspired me from Elizabeth Gilbert’s book, Big Magic, is the concept of the Shit Sandwich.
The theory is that most lofty goals involve having to suck up some bad and difficult stuff too. For example, if you want to be a top flight lawyer then you are going to have to work some serious hours. If you can’t take the shit sandwich of the hours then you aren’t going to make it to where you want to go. If you wat to set up your own company then you are going to have to get used to having an erratic income and maybe not being able to take cash out of your enterprise for the first year or two. This is the shit sandwich of being an entrepreneur.
For creatives the shit sandwich includes facing rejection, spending years working on our craft and still getting rejected or overcoming fear every day in order to create. The shit sandwich might mean that we never earn a living from our art but if we keep creating anyway then we will experience creative satisfaction as well as affect other people’s emotions along the way.
Do those who make it eat more shit?
One of the differences between the wannabees and those who actually ‘make it’ is the capacity to eat the shit sandwich. It is tempting to think it is talent but this is only part of the equation. Gilbert goes as far to say that the capacity to eat the shit sandwich is more important than talent. She talks about a writer she knew when she was younger whom she considered to be more talented than her. However he struggled with the rejection, was impatient about how long it took to ‘make it’ and eventually gave up. Despite his talent he couldn’t handle the shit sandwich.
She, however, was prepared to eat any shit sandwich that came her way in order to achieve her goals. So figuratively she looked over at him, said “Are you leaving that?”, grabbed his sandwich and kept eating.
Turns out I wasn’t so good at eating shit
When I read Big Magic, this concept of the shit sandwich really hit home for me. Over the previous few years I had tried to have a successful life coaching business. I loved coaching and I really loved speaking in public but I couldn’t make the business a financial success. One of the major shit sandwiches of this type of business is marketing activities. I wasn’t a natural at it and I realised too late that you have to master this or you don’t have a business, just an expensive hobby.
Like many people who want to ‘follow their passion’ I went into the venture with an idealistic frame of mind. Having spent years doing a day job that didn’t inspire me I wanted my coaching business to be on my terms. But without mastering and being willing to master vital business skills things didn’t go so well.
Following your passion is only part of the equation
Following your passion is only part of the equation. The shit sandwich is the other part! I’m much more open to this than I was in the past. I realise that there is a whole host of other stuff that I will have to do if I want more people to read my blogs and books. There will be times when it is very hard going and I will have to keep moving forward during these periods.
The joy of realising this is that I am also happy to take responsibility that I might not achieve my goals if I don’t chew on that sandwich enough. This is liberating. If things don’t go the way I want them to then I know it is purely because of my own shortcomings and lack of effort. There will be no one else to blame and no one to be envious of. It is all down to me.
What’s in your sandwich that you need to come to terms with?
What’s in your shit sandwich? What will you need to do in order to achieve your creative goals?
Dealing with the shit sandwich is hard to do alone. This is why it is good to be part of a creative community and/or have creative buddies. We can learn from each other. We can support each other along the way. The creative path is not an easy one but if you can follow it, it is wonderful to know that you are being true to yourself.
Let’s hold hands, suffer what there is to suffer, enjoy what there is to enjoy, and keep creating.
Over to you
What’s in your shit sandwich? How do you cope with eating this as well as getting on with the creative work that you love? Do you have any great stories of having victory over the crap? Please share in the comments below. We all need your inspiration.
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Every month I also share the ups and downs of my own creative journey – but only email subscribers get that insider view.