It's very simple to name things that distract us from time to time, things that let us fall from our work rhythm and get deep into "procrastination". But the true enemies of anybody who's working on the independent creative field are way more detached form the everyday YouTube video or Facebook scroll. They're deep bound in our life and recognized as true human conflicts and psychological issues. Those kinds of problems are worth pointing at the sooner than anything, because if you let them be, they might come back to ruin your day.
Lately I've been traveling around, away from my country to make a living with the person I love. This has made me confront several issues and truths about myself that were tapped under the comfort of "home" and friends. I've realized over time that there's a huge difference between people that try to maintain this comfortable positions and those who push themselves over the edge to try new things. This is not a critique to those who wish to maintain their usual places of comfort but an honest analysis on my own experience.
Back at home I was living comfortably in a place that I recognized as "where I'm from", people spoke my language, people expressed themselves similarly and friends were in the near. I helped a friend paying for a duplex apartment nearby, making it our office. Two other people joined to work in the same area and we had a very exiting rhythm of work and life. A tight small group of best friends, internet connection, a space we could call our own, and all the comforts that single simple life could bring you.
I woke up at 6 am every day of the week without the alarm, had a nice breakfast and walked my way to the office. At 7:30 sharp I was sitting down working. I would take breaks of 15 minutes, workblocks of 45 minutes, a lunch break of 2 hours. Later at 5:30 or 6:00 pm I would pack a few things and head back home looking at the sun go down, I would do my exercises, go for a run or gym, read something, watch a movie, nice cup of tea and go to sleep early for the next day.
That was my amazing life for maybe two years back in Chile. Dreamy right? Well, life isn't like that always.
It was a good time but I didn't know that I was getting too comfortable. I knew that only half a year later when I was in Colombia, in the city of Bogotá, busiest, nastiest city I've seen.
When I met my current girlfriend I took the decision to move in with her, to apply for a Working Holiday Visa and be able to work while I was staying with her in Colombia. That allowed me to rent an office, have a better schedule and try to come back to that rhythm of life I knew and missed in Chile. But living with your girlfriend is way different than living alone and seeing your friends 8 hours a day. So I started to see some reactions and attitudes in me I never noticed before and that came out of pure stress and discomfort.
Enemy #5: Laziness and individuality
I never noticed I was lazy since I was always working "hard" back at home. Maintaining an adamant rhythm of work and a productivity over 85% according to Rescue Time. But laziness is not only related to work but to those who you care about. I've been used to take care of my needs and challenges my entire life, because I'm an only child and we never had a very close family situation. So everybody looked for themselves pretty much. But it was living with my girlfriend that I realized that caring for others carries a bigger responsibility than remembering their birthdays or telling them you're happy for them. It comes with the responsibility of support, of taking a bullet for the team, of doing things you didn't expect to do and that most of the times creates conflict with your own interests and havoc to your schedule. I learned that being lazy to others is one of my many issues and that was demonstrated by living my life and sharing my time with other people. It would end up affecting my work regardless because there's no such thing as splitting your life on the middle.
But to most people, laziness is present in those times you simply don't have the energy to power through. Got to be careful with that, because it can be easily confused with exhaustion and stress and a good way to counter it could be with a healthy distraction. That being, doing exercise, taking a nap, having a good lunch or go out for a walk. Of course bad distractions are always a big jeopardy to your interests and can become cumbersome on the long run. But laziness itself is a very easy problem to solve, you just pin point the problem and try to solve it with something that counters it effectively. Because what is actually called "procrastination" today might be related to laziness but is just the result of being engaged with something that caught your eye and is happening to be more satisfying than whatever you should be doing now. To other people procrastination might be drawing the whole day and not doing your taxes. But it's understandable that it becomes a problem and to solve it you just need to redirect the objective into something that gives you more satisfaction than just looming around in the office. Discipline sometimes is not the only cure.
Enemy #4: Negativity and defeatism:
A common of the ever learning artist is to become the most humble and down to earth creative in order to learn something new every day. The reasons for doing this might be completely related to achieving a goal and to cap as much knowledge and experiences as you can. But every extreme is a bad thing. I've seen young artists that are really good succumb to these feelings to a dramatic end, falling into depression, and finally retiring from pursuing this beautiful career they used to love so much if not quietly dissipate into something else. It's a real shame, because I knew some that I was quite eager to help and aid in anything they wanted, even provide them with inspiration, sharing knowledge that I wouldn't with anybody, giving them job opportunities that others needed more but were not as prepared. A true shame. And it's clearly a psychological issue, defeatism can truly hurt the existence of a person and make them become nothing as they truly believe themselves to be nothing. In my own experience, I suffered this early (luckily) and got out of it quick because of the overachieving expectations my parents had in me. "If you believe you are a Miss Universe, you can become a Miss Universe" my mom used to say. A ridiculous analogy but an effective one, since it praised mind over matter, and I learned that over my entire life even at my worst days. Become a positive person and looking things on their bright side can change a person chemically and it effectively boosts productivity and evolution.
Enemy #3: Pride and ego:
Of course at the other side of defeatism is pride. Being proud is a good thing, and maintaining a positive attitude and giving yourself a pat in the back is a good way to boost moral and run on that fuel for the next step. But some people can get overloaded with it and quite addicted to "success". The online community is a perfect medium for pride and ego to develop in an alarming way. It is a dangerous thing, because is both good and bad depending how mature and controlled you are about this. Hitting a "home run" in the art community can make you feel on top of the world, but it can severely skew your perspective of your work and self worth. Awards given, features and interviews on webpages, daily deviations? front page on ArtStation? All of these things are good, but there are some who take it in way too much and become carried away by this wave of success. Wanting more. The problem is that these events don't happen too often so in order to keep the hype up, you spam yourself with past wins. This is dangerous because it creates the false image of authority and in a very reactive and ignorant community, it can provoke a die hard fan base willing to support any delusion of grandeur. Making it even harder to see reality as it is.
In my own experience I've seen this in other people in a very clinical state, when they claim to work for companies everyone knows and consider a pinnacle of success, lying to themselves in a compulsive way that showcases their own fabricated reality to the rest. But also on those who are well grounded in their reality, but seek advantages by letting others speak for themselves and not correcting them on any praise, particularly when it's about "the best artist in the world". They won't deny it publicly because their egos are so plump with compliments that is an idiocy to consider. But the biggest damage I will see in these people (from the point of view of an illustrator) is the inability to advance and improve your art. Why move when everything is so comfortable "here". I'm already good, I'm already "the best in Chile", I've surpassed H. R. Giger, the journalists say it. What a sad reality.
I've seen this attitude also in myself. Got to admit that pride and ego has given me problems before. Fake authority, looking down on others, concerning myself too much with attention. To the point you ask yourself "why do I have so few likes here" and not centering on the main thing, the painting. It produces Tunnel Vision. Making you see your work as an amazing piece of art and the rest of the people not having the taste to appreciate it. It corrodes you slowly and gradually in the case of rejection and it shoots you up to a fantasy state if the opposite. I think maybe my first year (at the end of University) was the worst because you don't have the eye to capture your own mistakes and everyone thinks that you're doing great because of the evolution spike that is so dramatically high at the beginning, plus you're surrounded with people that doesn't do the same thing as you, hence being the best at it. Luckily for me, internet and globalization allowed me to compare myself to younger, more centered, and dedicated experienced artists. Making me realize I was not alone in this, and there was definitely a big road ahead.
Enemy #2: Perfectionism:
According to Wikipedia: Perfectionists strain compulsively and unceasingly toward unobtainable goals, and measure their self-worth by productivity and accomplishment. Pressuring oneself to achieve unrealistic goals inevitably sets the person up for disappointment. Perfectionists tend to be harsh critics of themselves when they fail to meet their standards.
You can't become an artist or a professional in any media if you do not take your work and art seriously. There's a road to be walked and is immense. The issue is that you make the road as long as you want, because it could be eternal. Achieving full mastery in something is a beautiful thing, but depending on your point of view "full mastery" becomes a concept that varies from one to another. And for others, it can be eternal. And depending on those people, it can become either a curse or a joy.
I've come to terms with perfectionism and I consider it impossible. That's my own view, each one chooses their own. But for me there's no such thing as perfect. Fitting, accurate, effective, successful, those are words I can relate to a human extent, but achieving perfection is quite godly. I consider myself a human and I make mistakes along the road always. Maybe those mistakes are what gonna shape my work the way it is at the end making it successful, but in no way I could consider achieving perfection. Which makes me happy. Because that means this roads will never end and there will always be a new challenge ahead. Always striving for it, but never obtaining it.
I've seen friends get depression out of this, some of them quitting art for good. It has a bit of pride and ego in it, thinking that you are the center of the problem when the problem is not you, but the context. It's like quitting on a hike to the mountains because there's bad weather and you blame it on yourself because you're so weak. It can skew your mind.
Enemy #1: Loneliness:
My worst enemy so far. Loneliness is a slow cancer that grows inside, undetected to naked eye and that affects everyone, even the sturdiest of us, the ones who were raised as only children and don't need much company. Loneliness kills. It's a certain dead if you let it be, but one you can easily remedy by the obvious. Company and therapy.
Back in Colombia my main issue was the inability to connect with others about my work. It sounds like a superfluous thing to need, but I didn't know I needed it until I was absolutely negated of it. We had friends, we went out with my girlfriend, but I always remembered the friends I left behind, the comfort of an office full of people motivating you to keep at it, having fun by grilling something in the weekend, if you had a bad day you knew you could talk about it with them, etc. Take all of that out and you're at the open. And back in Colombia it was the case. I can remember a week I didn't talk to anybody. My girlfriend went away to a convention and suddenly I was alone working my hours, every day, for a week. And that's when it hit me. By the end of the week I needed urgently to talk to somebody and connect, called a couple of people out there and managed to go out to dinner with one of my girlfriends friend. It was pretty bad, felt I was going a bit crazy.
As time advances obviously I've gotten a grasp of my own needs, but its very easy to mistake the feeling of loneliness with weakness. When you have those urges to get into Facebook just to see if somebody is liking your images. That's connecting right there, it's a small placebo that keeps you updated and sort of in contact with other people. It's just a simple feeling of "someone out there liked my image, saw it and though it was good". We all need that sensation of feeling like you're someone, that you matter. Not to be confused also with being addicted to attention. This is something more basic that keeps us at bay from not making sense. Feeling we have no ground under our feet.
Lately I have to say I've had the worst months I've had in a long time because of loneliness. I can't remember the last time I felt like I didn't make sense. Maybe when I was in high-school, just a teenager. But recently I've had a lot of running around and trying to make sense in an environment that's completely unrelated to me or what I do. New people, new places, it's all good. But if you don't tend to those needs, to connect. It can get pretty hairy. And in those moments it really doesn't matter if you're the toughest guy or girl in the room, you always get a nick that cracks your shell. We can't be stubborn about our own deep needs, because life's too short to be putting those off. And eventually they'll catch up on you and bite you in the ass.
And finally to sum it all up. I believe in feeding my demons, those flaws and horrid variants of myself in a healthy way. Feed your demons right and you won't have to deal with them all angry and big. You must always keep an eye on them cause if you don't they'll grow big and nasty, feeding on whatever they can find, and they could do some hefty damage that you will regret at the long run.
Regretfully those demons are part of us and we can't get rid of them, because they're what keep us human. So we have to carry them and learn to know them, to name them and control them with respect.
Feed the demons.