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Stop Limiting Yourself & Start Living

Photo by Tyello
The limits of the possible can only be defined by going beyond them into the impossible. ~Arthur C. Clarke

It’s said that there’s a common, first-year art major exercise where the teacher divides students into two groups and gives each group a different assignment.

The first group must study how to throw a perfect pot on a potter’s wheel and spend one week perfecting the process so as to get the proportions just right.

They are to create one pot and refine as they go, in pursuit of creating one perfect final work. In essence, they are to create systemically, according to a system or plan.

The second group’s assignment is to simply throw a lot of clay on the potter’s wheel, making multitudes upon multitudes of pots.

At the end of the week they are to choose which one is best, of the many they have created. In essence, they are to create “prolifically,” or in abundance.

At the end of the week, the art teacher assesses their work. Guess which group tends to turn out better work?

The group that creates prolifically. Guess which group has more fun?

The group that creates prolifically.

To create prolifically requires that you abandon perfectionism and instead aim for the act of creation itself. The aim is to create, not to perfect. Paradoxically, it seems in these art studio experiments, focus on creation seems to result in more “perfect” work.

I think about that, and can’t help wonder: How does that translate to everyday, ordinary life?

How It Shows

My entire career centers around our experiences of fear and how we practice courage, and I run into a lot of different “forms” of fear. Contrary to popular belief, there isn’t just one form of fear out there. There are dozens.

Fear can show up as the typical anxiety, but it can also show up as chronic forgetting, resistance, deflections, and — pertinent to this particular example — doubt, hesitation and second-guessing.

The adversary of living prolifically is an abundance of doubt, hesitation and second-guessing. You simply cannot create prolifically if you’re killing time dealing with that trifecta.

And why do people go into a space of doubt, hesitation and second-guessing?

Because they’re going into that space of perfectionism, which is what breeds second-guessing. They are at the metaphorical potter’s wheel, trying to get one pot to be just so, rather than creating many pots and trusting that one of them, somewhere among the bunch, is going to turn out to be good — and enjoying the creative process, along the way.

Implications for Life

Consider the last time you felt stuck around a decision-making process.

Chances are — if you’re like me, and most of the rest of the world — when you’re in that process, you feel like you can’t make a move in any direction until you know which move you want to make.

This can get really real, really quickly. The stakes feel high. Perhaps you’re dealing with a possible divorce, loss of a job or deciding how to handle a teenager who is in a downward spiral.

Deciding how to move forward under such circumstances is no small feat, and several options are before you, all with their pros and their cons. It can be overwhelming.

Now — and I don’t mean this to come across as trite, given the examples I just cited — consider the artist, the creative at work in their studio. Consider that there are a thousand ways to take a picture, a million ways to create a painting, and the artist must decide which one to begin with or the creative process does not happen.

The person who creates either their life or their art from the point of view that there is one way to do it is going to feel stuck until they figure out that one way. Their internal “critic of consequences” will perpetually be lording over them, watching for the mistake to be made.

Create Your Own Luck

By contrast, there’s the person who decides to approach their life (or their art) prolifically. This person trusts that any forward motion is a worthy endeavor.

They trust that they’re quickly going to learn the truth of what does and does not work for them simply by making a lot of choices and being prepared to course-correct as needed.

The first person might get lucky and all will turn out according to plan. If they don’t get lucky? Cue the frustration.

The second person might get lucky, too, and everything will work out on the first go. Or they’ll create their own luck in the form of making ever-more decisions, as needed, if the first decisions aren’t quite right.

They’ll throw clay on the potter’s wheel as much as it takes to get where they need to be. And they’ll quite likely create better “work.”

So here are three questions to consider, especially if you’re currently in the throes of a tough decision-making process where there’s doubt and hesitation:

  • What if we are actually holding ourselves hostage to the idea of thinking it over carefully and choosing the best course of action?
  • What if the ultimate liberation from fearful thinking would be to realize that there is no best course — that instead, multitudes of choices can carry multitudes of outcomes, and we can never truly predict how things will turn out?
  • What if the best “insurance” for living well is not trying to chart the best course, but instead to explore how you can work with and through a wide range of outcomes?

Living Prolifically

Recently, my husband and I were invited to dinner at the house of a local designer. While there, it turns out that the designer’s (now-deceased) father was a famous photographer in Spain.

We began pouring through several of his father’s coffee table books, these massive portfolios that ultimately comprised a complete retrospective of his work.

The designer shared little anecdotes about his father’s work and what his father been thinking about at the time.

But this really struck me: When I asked if his father had had a pre-conceived plan of what he had wanted to create with his work, the designer smiled affectionately, shrugged, and said,

“No. He just followed what interested him.”

Ah. So this photographer didn’t sketch out a complete plan, try to get it perfect and then get upset if life took him in a different direction.

He didn’t wait for the right idea to hit him, the one that would be commercially successful or that would go over well with the critics.

This photographer followed what interested him, living and creating prolifically, and look where he ended up! The photographs were so full of life and passion. I don’t know the specifics of how this photographer lived in his private life, but I have no doubt that his creative life was one of fulfillment.

Consider the places in your life where you’re trying to plan it all out, stick to the plan, wait to make the big decisions until you know if it’ll go well with the critics (and the critics, of course, can be anyone).

Take Back Power

What might happen if you dared to live prolifically? What if you started making a prolific number of decisions, taking on a prolific number of challenges or creating prolific joy?

What if, on the verge of divorce, you decided to go to a prolific number of couples therapy sessions?

What if, having just lost your job, you brainstormed a prolific number of creative, out-of-the box approaches to either landing a new job or finding a new line of work?

What if, confronted with a family member who seems hell-bent on self-destruction, you asked a prolific number of people for advice or had a prolific number of heartfelt conversations with the person or spent a prolific amount of time being quiet with yourself instead of trying to figure it out for them?

These are just examples, of course. There are, well, a “prolific” number of ways to live prolifically. The point is that this is a fast-track out of the land of indecision.

Options? Infinite and endless.

Power? Back in your hands.

There’s much to be gained from the life that is lived from a point of following what interests you instead of mapping it all out and trying to get it to be just right.

If the choice is before you to create your life systemically or prolifically, choose the path of the prolific.

It’s a courageous step in the direction of trust and faith — the trust and faith that you are infinitely equipped to design your life to your liking. There’s never a time when that’s not available to you. It requires that you start by taking the first step.

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About the author

Kate Swoboda is a life coach, speaker and writer who specializes in courage. You can learn more about her at YourCourageousLife.com, where she writes about courageous living, integrity, and ferocious love. Life Coaches can check out her resources for business and leveraging your practice over at YourCourageousBlueprint.com

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8 thoughts on Stop Limiting Yourself & Start Living

  1. Tracy

    I needed this article today — thanks! I’ve been trying to be open and experimental and “in motion” during a period of life changes, yet I still fall into old patterns of ruminating and planning before I take action… or numerous improvement cycles when I’m in action (not perfectionism, but certainly not going with “good enough” or — GASP — failures and course correcting). I understand the important of prolific living, but sure takes practice and reminders like this blog (especially with big fears standing watch in the corner). Would be great to have a follow-up article to “strengthen this muscle” — tips for loosening up the grip some of us have for control and choosing well. If you can recommend any brain-freeing exercises or whatever, thanks even more!

  2. Wow, so inspiring! I was actually just feeling like “I don’t know if I have time to do this and this and this…” as I was starting to read this post. It is so reassuring that we don’t have to feel that way. As a blogger, I find myself doing exactly what you describe in trying to get everything perfect. It is limiting. The idea of creating with abandon is so much more refreshing and liberating! This reminds me of something Anita Moorjani repeats several times in her book Dying To Be Me: Life is meant to be lived with abandon. Great post – thank you!

  3. Thanks very much for this great article. So many times I do not know which decision is the right one and spend most time trying to find out instead of choosing one and doing my hardest to succeed.
    I enjoy the section you wrote on creating my own luck. Even though I do not believe in luck as much as hard work meeting preparation I got your point.
    Thanks again for your article.

  4. I love your point about liberation from fearful thinking. Most of the time, I know that I overthink things and it’s usually because I worry about what will go wrong, instead of focusing on all the things that can go right. My new mantra lately has been ‘It is what it is’ and I go forward from there. I refuse to plan for everything single small thing and instead, let my intuition lead me. It’s usually smarter than I am! Great post!

  5. Kate, I really appreciated your insights this article. Shared it with my own blog audience. :-) I couldn’t agree with you more that casting off the restraints of fear to pursue iterative life learning is the key to creativity, freedom, and prolific living. A blog post that I wrote recently on “Your Brain Is Cheating On You” ties into this concept –I’d be thrilled to hear your thoughts on it! http://sometimesdancing.com/your-cheating-brain-part-1/

  6. I mostly like the part where you say we need to create our own luck. Words of wisdom. Thanks for sharing.

  7. Rachel

    Hey Kate, great article. When I start a writing project with an idea, I always get excited at where it will end. I have a plan but over the course of writing – other ideas reshape and have the right to change the path of where the writing may go. Which leave me with several ideas and other subject matter. Your article also reminds me of when I went travelling I had a lose plan (itinerary), but after speaking with people and hearing some things repeated over and over at how extraordinary some sites were, I rearranged my plans and the benefits were all for me. And fear you speak of; I have just got so used to walking towards it that it is now more an uncomfortable feeling rather than stagnating or crippling me for moments. But most of all this article excited me and told me to expand, I am doing it right. Not being so militant in my plans for creativity I benefit more. Thank you and I look forward to reading more of your work.

  8. Hello Kate, thanks for this inspiring post. I agree with your thought: Deciding how to move forward under such circumstances is no small feat, and several options are before you, all with their pros and their cons. Thank you for this great post :) I love it!

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