How to do the work AND give yourself grace

Oct 4, 2022

I’ve got a reputation for being pretty hard on myself.

I know where it came from, of course. A lot of self-reflection, journaling and excavating moments of my childhood reminded me that my parents expected a lot from me. I was “the smart one,” a title that, while flattering, was also intimidating and at times, stifling. I heard a lot about how, despite an IQ of 145, I had no common sense. When I got a good grade and was proud of it, I got a shrug and a, “Well, we wouldn’t expect anything less.” Which led me down a very destructive path of always needing to do more, be better, get more done, succeed, work hard, succeed, work harder, succeed, succeed, succeed. 

It is something I struggle with even today. I get into these vicious cycles too, when challenging things are going on in my life and I end up shutting off the computer and going to the couch with a blanket and Gilmore Girls reruns. I give myself the grace in that moment, but I’m feeling the guilt even when I’m sitting there. Then the next day I give myself a good flogging. Which, for the record, NEVER increases productivity or creative output. 

I’m getting better at that, but man it’s been a long road. 

I was talking recently to a friend who also started a membership for writers that has some parallels to The Creativity Lab, and as we were talking about our frameworks I mentioned that one of my foundational pieces to having a creative practice was actually doing the work. I call it the Steven Pressfield method—he literally wrote a book called “Do the Work.” He maintains that if you don’t sit down every day, even if it’s just an hour or less, that you’re not doing the work, not truly committed to the practice. 

Which makes sense, right? You can’t really have a creative practice if you’re not doing any kind of creating. But while my drumbeat for that particular pillar was a bit more…militant, she reminded me that a big part of doing this writerly work is giving yourself grace.

Which is funny, because I’m always telling the people in my membership to give themselves grace. To credit themselves for showing up, regardless of how messy the showing up is, or any perceived shortfalls related to the showing up. But my default mantra remains: Sit down and do the work. 

I think my friend and I might have slightly different views on this. She believes there are other ways out of a creative block than writing through it. I believe that writing—whether it’s finding a way through your actual project or picking up a journal or turning to something totally different—is always the way through. So even if you sit in your chair one day and only write a sentence, it’s still getting you through the block, ultimately, because you’re still showing up. You’re still putting words down. Maybe they are self-reflective and aren’t related to your writing project. Even better, because that means you’re doing the REAL work of healing the wound that put you in this place. 

But we definitely agree on one thing: Grace is necessary in the sitting down. Whichever way you choose to handle your blocks, self-flagellation at the performance or the result is never the right answer. Pushing harder is not the right answer. Being mean to yourself is never the right answer. 

So yes, we must do the work. But we can do it softly, sweetly, by cheering ourselves on and being kind. 

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