July 5, 2016

The 3 Paths Exercise: A Journal Practice for Visualizing Our Creative Future.

painting create mess play make art

I consider myself a creative generalist—and I don’t see this as a negative or a temporary thing.

To me, this means that I don’t really draw boundaries between art forms. I can see as much creative potential in setting a table as I can in writing an article or blog post. I’m glad I have a generalist attitude, because it makes my whole life richer.

In the past, my generalist tendencies worried me. I liked writing. I liked drawing. I loved collage and sewing. I made ‘zines and burnt CDs with sharpie cover art. I was a multi-sensory artist with multiple passions with multiple outlets. How was this going to bode for my future? If I never chose one single path, I’d never have “my thing.” I’d never be able to make money from my creativity and I’d always be doomed feign confidence among other specializers like I did with the drama group and in the art room, always feeling like I lacked the deep-seated passion and knowledge they had.

Picking one thing felt impossibly limiting, though. My drawings incorporated words and poems. My homemade patchwork quilt pants made a statement about my favourite band. My journals had handmade collage and tape-laminated covers. The crux of my creations was the mashup of forms, making a brand new statement. That was the most satisfying part. It still is.

I’ve learned that I don’t want to and don’t have to resist that. It’s what I’m good at. I didn’t know then that choosing a single path doesn’t mean choosing a single goal. And that a single path—a single, very multifaceted path—was what I was looking for all along. A creative career will more than likely have multiple goals at any given time. Some creative paths require that people have skills in multiple different areas; mine certainly does and likely always will.

Direction does not have to mean a singular focus.

I recently read a book called Creating a Life Worth Living by Carol Lloyd that helped change my perspective. I wish I’d discovered it when I was worried about my creative direction. In it, the author explains a writing exercise that Anaïs Nin recommended to Judy Chicago when she was feeling torn between art, activism and teaching. Judy Chicago said: “Anaïs suggested I use writing to ‘try out’ all the paths I could see myself taking and as a method of exploring the many directions for the arts…she said that writing allowed one to act out what one could not live out.”

In this exercise, creative generalists actively imagine their future as three different paths and, in doing so, can get a sense of where their real priorities lie. This prompt made a big difference in helping me to feel more empowered on my own path.

Here’s how you do it:

Step 1: Pick the 3 main path options you’re considering and write them down.

Aim to be specific with your choices, but don’t limit yourself by being too detailed. Carol Lloyd says, “If you’re ready to get clear about the particulars of your art form or creative pursuit, the three paths may fall into the same career.” So, if you’re into photography, you might choose photojournalism, portrait photography and science photography. Or, your path options might be areas in totally different areas…which is okay too. The only requirement here is that the options you choose excite you enough to consider taking each one seriously.

Step 2: Explore each path with an non-judgmental mind.

Free-write your way onto each path, one at a time. Consider things like your working environment, the people around you, the tools or technology you’re working with. If you had to devote your life to this one path and only this one from today onward, what would you want to accomplish in one year? Five years? Ten years? What creative opportunities would surprise even you on this path?

Consider each path its own unique an adventure and let it take you where it “wants to.” Get curious about your feelings and reactions. Do you feel bored? Afraid? Excited? Don’t edit yourself in this stage and don’t stop writing until you fill at least three pages for each. This step isn’t about being realistic, it’s about exploring and experiencing. Oftentimes, artists believing that their dreams “aren’t realistic” is the reason they don’t take action on them.

Step 3. Analyze your path options.

Once you’ve finished your three adventures, close your journal, take a step back—go for a walk if you want, which might help you to clear your head and integrate the feelings and thoughts you’ve just experienced—and ask yourself:

  • If you had to step onto one of these paths right now, which one would you choose?
  • Which path truly excites you the most?
  • Are you not thinking big enough? Are you thinking so big that it causes you anxiety?

You might return with an idea of a specific goal, a general idea of a path, or even an image of yourself in the future that helps grant you some perspective. If nothing else, this writing exercise will help you see some new possibilities.

When we allow ourselves to play out in writing the unlived lives inside us—and creative folks will likely feel they’ve got lots—it helps to relieve some of the weight of possibility they carry and the power they have over us. In our journals they have a chance to become more real, less intimidating, more malleable. Exploring them in this way is just more practical and self-supportive than fooling ourselves into thinking that can and will do it all.

Chances are, if you’re multi-passionate, there are any number of creative careers that could make you happy. But finding one that’s genuinely aligned with your heart, mind and guts is just the way to be all-in. Finding that way requires more inner work than conventional wisdom tends to assume. Sometimes we need to sift through a few different voices in our heads in order to arrive at what feels to us like the right direction. It’s worth it though. When our paths are aligned with our truth, they’re full of synchronicity. They set the stage for a rich, passionate and focused life.

This writing exercise demonstrates that it’s not about deciding on one specific end goal, art form, or job title to define our creative path so much as it is being willing to see our desires for what they are. When we do that, we can accept and support our creative selves. We prove to ourselves that we can trust ourselves to master our journeys—no matter how many different, wide-ranging goals we may have.






Author:  Kait Fowlie

Image:  Suzette at Flickr

Editor: ; Apprentice Editor: Lois Person 

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