When I work with my clients one of the first things I have them do is create a vision for themselves, their lives and their Art 5 years in the future. When we have a vision of our future-Artist-self we can use it to determine what we need to do today in order to have that future turn out the way we want it to. It is a magical process and one that motivates a lot of action in the present moment. In the process we become connected to our future-Artist-self.
One of the dilemmas that I think we face as humans is we don’t really connect with our future self. Neuroscience research shows we think very differently about our present and future selves. They have discovered that we use different regions of the brain to think about ourselves in the present vs. in the future. Interestingly enough, the regions that are activated when we think of ourselves in the future are the very same regions that are activated when we think of a completely different person (even a stranger).
We are, in our day-to-day lives, rather detached from our various selves. We live a lot in the past and some in the present and mostly are not connected to our future self at all (except to worry or project re-occurrences from the past into it). We certainly not very busy creating our future self at all. I find this particularly amusing with Artists since, as Artists, we are creators. We will spend our lives creating but not creating ourselves … we will just wait and see what happens instead.
What do I mean by our future-self? Our future-self is the BIG picture, not the one-to-two-steps-ahead-of-you picture. I am one of the first people to say, “Live in the moment”. I think being present in our moment-to-moment lives is critical to having a fulfilling, alive and connected life. It is definitely important in the creativity process. But that doesn’t mean that we should ignore our future self.
I also think that one way we can have a really juicy now-self is to create our future-self so that then we can be in the moment doing things that leads to the future we really want. Having a created future to live into has us behaving differently now. It takes a lot of the guessing work out of now. It allows us to be in the present moment knowing that the future is also being taken care of.
Thinking about your future-Artist-self is a foundation piece in making decisions today that will not leave you stuck tomorrow. Having no relationship to your future-Artist-self may perhaps have immediate gratification as we can avoid things in the moment. However, in avoiding short-term costs we can lose out on long-term gains in our lives and those fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants decisions today may come around to bite you in the butt tomorrow.
For most of us, it is hard to see how much our current actions influence our future. We underestimate it in a big way. However, if we look to our past we can pretty quickly see that we are now living in a life that is a factor of what we chose “back then” and many times it is very clear that had we made “that one decision” differently we might have had a whole different life right now. WARNING: Please do not use this to make yourself wrong for the past … we did what we did and it is done! We just want to use this to have us think more carefully about the future!
Treating our future-Artist-self as separate from us allows us to treat our future-Artist-self really badly. We may want to live in a pleasant little present where everything is easy and we suffer no consequences for making whatever choices we want to make in the moment. It becomes obvious that a really less-than-pleasant life could result from living such an in-the-present-only approach. We could learn, instead, to strike a balance.
Also, the hints we currently have about our now-Artist-self could actually help us to create the future we really want. How many times in your adult life have you been annoyed at the past you? “Jez, past Kym, why did you stop making art for so long?” The truth is when we look back there was often a piece of us that knew that we had certain habits that were going to run us amuck but we ignored it. We reasoned that some miracle was going to come along that would change things.
I stopped painting and making art right out of Art school because I didn’t want to “sell out” and do commercial work or hold a film camera for someone else or do wedding and baby photography to make money. I was fixed in the thought that I must create art only for art’s sake. I needed money to live and I thought all I need to do was amass some money doing something else and then the future Kym would have money and be free to make all the art-for-art’s sake she wanted and it would all turn out.
Looking back I can see how skewed that thinking was for me. I was pretty stubborn and I frankly wanted it easy back then. I wasn’t willing to figure it out and work a job to make money and still create my art in my off time. Unlike many of my other cinematography and photography peers who took those jobs that I labeled as “sell out” jobs, I grabbed a corporate job to make the big bucks. Somehow it didn’t occur to me at the time that at least my peers still had their hands on their cameras and paints and I didn’t … so I was the one that was selling out. LOL
So I worked and worked and worked and made no art year after year. I did amass some money but I was now caught in the money trap. Finally, at a point when the Artist in me was screaming to create I had to face into the same thing I could have faced into years earlier. Had I considered creating my future-Artist-self at the time, it may have been very different. I may have struggled at first but I would have figured it out along the way towards my goals.
OK … so I did what I did, end of story. Bottom line is that my now-Artist-self and my future-Artist-self had a horrible relationship. They weren’t very close at all. I had a bad habit of putting things off in some la-la land about how it was going to just turn out. It turned out … it always turns out… time marches on no matter what. But it didn’t turn out the way I would have created it had I taken the time to do so. I had my alliances lined up with my now-Artist-self, to not sell out and not suffer at the moment and left my future-Artist-self out of the conversation.
Ongoing research into the perception of the human brain about long-term habits found that you are more likely to change your habits to better ones if you start to view your future self as you. It isn’t just a now-Artist-self vs. only one future-Artist-self game, either. There is not just one possible future-Artist-self.
The amount of future-Artist-selves we have is practically limitless and we get to say how it goes much better if we are willing to create it and live into what we create. If we don’t create it then we will have tons of different future-Artist-selves jerking us around in many different directions and with a lot less say in the matter.
When all your Artist selves — your past-Artist-self, your now-Artist-self, and your future-Artist-self — can make friends with each other and be kind to and conscious of each other, life somehow seems to go a lot smoother with less worries, concerns, gnashing of our teeth and frustration.
There are several exercises you can use to create the connection between your future-Artist-self and your now-Artist-self. One is that you can create your future-Artist-self and his or her life 5 years in the future (that is enough time to bite off in the beginning – you can always expand this exercise later to go 10-15-20 years out). To begin ask yourself questions to such as:
- What visions/dreams do you have for your future-Artist-self?
- Who do you want your future-Artist-self to be known as in the world?
- What strengths do you currently have that will keep serving your future-Artist-self?
- What challenges are you currently facing that you want to breakthrough so you are no longer need to deal with them as your future-self (fears, obstacles, etc.)?
- What kind of people do you want around you that will support your future-Artist-self?
- What things will you have already accomplished by then and what did you need to do to accomplish them?
Get it on paper. Define it. Get it as clear as possible. Once you have captured what you imagine your future-Artist-self and his or her life to be like then you can imagine yourself standing out in that future that your future-Artist-self would have. At that point you can have your future-Artist-self write a letter to your now-Artist-self or give your now-Artist-self advice on how to get from here to there from the perspective of already being there and imagining what it took and what it took.
If just jumping out and beginning to create your future-Artist-self seems too challenging then you can begin thinking about it by working a little backwards from now to the past. To do it this way start by looking at where you are now and what you would have told your past-Artist-self had you written advice to them before now. You can have your now-Artist-self get the ball rolling by answering this question: “If you could tell your past-Artist-self some important things now, what would they be?” Then get it on paper and watch to see what great wisdom rolls out in front of you.
I asked my now-Artist-self that question and saw a lot of advice I would have given my past-Artist-self, that I can still put to work today, such as:
- Stop waiting for someday (when you have more money, etc.) and make it happen now.
- Create good creative habits and create daily in some way – any way.
- Decide what your values and passions are and live those every day no matter what you are doing to make money.
- Make conscious choices about you will let the things that happen in your life affect you.
- Always make progress towards your Vision for your Creativity and Art.
- Don’t stop learning techniques and skills
- Don’t be afraid of failing or back away from changing.
- Don’t sell out for anyone or anything but most importantly know what selling out really looks like and don’t sell out to your own brain.
- Look at what successful Artists have done and do that.
- Pick the Creative projects that you are the most passionate about and let the others go,
- Choose the people you surround yourself with wisely.
- Don’t fall for the myth that money is scarce.
- Don’t fall for the myth that time is scarce.
- Look for opportunities to help other Artists.
- Let other Artists help
- Learn to Communicate about your visions for your future and communicate constantly especially when you don’t want to.
- Know that you can hit the restart button anytime and are never stuck with anything.
- Learn how to make money off your Art and do that.
- Stand up for yourself, always.
- Never forget who you are.
- Know your worth.
- Stay open-minded.
- Don’t compare yourself to others except to improve yourself.
- Find and be a mentor.
- Develop mental and emotional resilience.
- Be willing to work hard for what you want.
- Know that being an Artist is a journey not a designation.
- Listen to your Soul first, heart second and your monkey mind last and if possible never.
Most of us will be able to recall who we were and what we were doing five, ten or fifteen years ago, but we have a much harder time trying to project who we are going to be and what we are going to be doing even a year from now. Funny enough, since we can’t imagine it then we think we can’t make things happen. Worse yet, this is exactly why we don’t even try to create our future-Artist-self.
The fact is you made it this far, perhaps without any advice from your future-Artist-self. Time will pass and we are either going to create how we want it to go or it is going to go however it goes with no input from us. Imagine how much more you may have accomplished had you gotten advice from your future-Artist-self and taken the actions in the past to get you here today.
Well … it’s not too late! The good news is your future-Artist-self is out there and you can begin creating him or her today!
What is some advice your future-Artist-self might give your now-Artist-self if you were willing to listen?
Please feel free to share any feedback you may have about your various Artist selves and also share any advice you may have discovered that your future-Artist-self may have for you because it may apply to all or some of us too! I love hearing from you and being able to interact with you.