Illustration: Oscar Ramos Orozco

Is An Inner Argument Holding Back Your Productivity?

Have you ever received the opportunity of your dreams and sabotaged it by not responding? Maybe you got an email about a possible book deal, or an invitation to play an incredible gig, or an inquiry from a mega-client. The dream invitation came – and to your own surprise, you ignored it. Why do we behave in such a clearly counter-productive manner?

I would argue that we often do this because we’ve brought the wrong part of ourselves to the table. As creatives governing our own careers, we have to bring many different skillsets — many different selves, even — to the diverse activities we do on a daily basis. When we bring the wrong self to the table, we can get paralyzed.

That’s what happened to me. After I’d been blogging for a couple of years, literary agents began contacting me to ask, “Was I interested in a book project?” I certainly was.

We’d meet for tea, and they’d ask me a series of questions: “Who is the target customer for this book? How would you say you differ from say, a Martha Beck, or a Deepak Chopra? Are you doing any major corporate speaking?”

When we bring the wrong self to the table, we can get paralyzed.

I’m embarrassed to admit it, but what happened next was this: I ignored their follow-up emails. I’d wake up in the middle of the night, heart pounding, thinking “Seriously, what kind of writer who wants to do a book doesn’t respond to a literary agent’s enthusiastic note?” I wasn’t sure why I was stuck.

Months later, I saw the problem: My inner artist had gotten spooked. Thinking these meetings were about my writing, I brought my writer-self, my super-sensitive inner artist, to the meetings. And guess what? My inner artist is terrified and paralyzed by conversations about how to market her work.

That’s when I realized that there were other selves, other advocates, that I could bring to the table.

There are three voices within every creator:

  • The Inner Artist
  • The Inner Editor
  • The Inner Agent

To have a successful career, we must all learn how to deploy each of them at particular times, and keep them from stepping on each other’s toes.

I would argue that most of the problems in our creative lives stem from bringing the wrong part of ourselves to the task at hand. Most of us under-utilize at least one of the three roles and over-use one of the other roles. A thriving creative career requires consciously shifting between the three voices, utilizing each at the right time.

In the early stage of the creative process, we need the inner artist. The artist’s domain is drafting, receiving ideas and inspiration, fleshing them out. The artist thrives in an atmosphere of curiosity, safety, and play. She needs shelter from others’ opinions and respite from even thinking about what the judgments of others might be.

In the second stage of the creative process, the inner editor leads. The editor’s domain is revising, trimming, structuring. Whereas the artist must forget about what other people might think, the editor brings the audience back into the process, ensuring that the work effectively communicates the artist’s intent.

Then the inner agent takes the baton. The agent’s domain is developing marketing messages for the work, communicating about the work to external stakeholders, and finding distribution. The agent is thick-skinned, brave, and wise about the market.

Most of the problems in our creative lives stem from bringing the wrong part of ourselves to the task at hand.

Of course, the process is not entirely linear. A late-stage problem that requires a highly creative solution might require the inner artist, for example.

Each inner archetype has a wholly different way of being. The artist explores what he doesn’t know. The editor brings to bear what he does know. The agent advocates for what he wants.

If the inner agent shows up in the early stage of idea conception or fleshing out a first draft? Disaster. The agent will impoverish the artist’s ideas by worrying too early on about what will sell. She’ll unknowingly push the work in a conformist direction. She’ll mute the muse.

The inner editor can also disrupt the work of the inner artist — evaluating the work or creating structure prematurely.

Bring the sensitive inner artist into the agent’s domain — into, for example, a business meeting about how to market a piece of creative work? She can become so turned off that she’ll run for the hills, resulting in months of creative stagnation.

To find more ease and productivity in your creative process, I suggest taking these steps:

1. Take a look at what’s been happening in your creative life by answering these questions:

  • Which of these roles is my default/comfort zone?
  • When do I fall into this role even though it’s really not the best fit for the task at hand?
  • Which role is underutilized? Which role or roles do I avoid stepping into?
  • Where do I have “trust issues” between the three roles? Does the inner artist trust the agent to bring her work to market without selling out? Does the inner agent think that the artist is never going to produce anything with commercial appeal? Notice what resentments, conflicts or issues of trust are happening between the three parts of you. Just observing and naming the issues will reduce their intensity.

2. Get to know your three inner creative roles.

Write down a list of words or phrases you associate with each. Give each one a theme song. Identify a color that expresses the personality of each one.

3. Next, look over your calendar for the coming week.

Notice which part of you is best suited for the various tasks, meetings, and work periods you have ahead.

4. As you move through the week, consciously shift into the appropriate mode as you do the work.

Thinking of the color or song you identified can help you quickly access that part of yourself.  Notice when your default role shows up where it’s not helpful, and mindfully move into the mode that’s best suited for the task.

What’s Your Creative Identity?

What have you learned about your different internal personalities? Has your creative work suffered because you brought the wrong self to your creative work?

Tara Sophia Mohr

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Tara Sophia Mohr is an expert on conscious leadership and the creator of the Playing Big leadership program for women.  You can download her 10 Rules for Brilliant Women Workbook here.
load comments (106)
  • Dinar Wibowo

    Thank you for this article! I find it truly enlightening. There were a couple of good opportunities missed. I did a lot of soul searching and each time I just ended up hating myself for being scared. I can’t wait to try the exercise!

  • Vlasta Pilot

    Oh my! I really thought I’m the only one bailing out each and other time when an exciting opportunity comes in)

  • Kapil

    Brilliant ! not only as an artists or writer , but even as an entrepreneur I found myself struggling with same issue, but with lot many Roles, including marketing guy, researcher, artist, finance officer and much…

    Liked the concept of writing them down and give a theme song and also visualizing calendar with colors in advance.

    All in all , Ten on Ten article…. Congrats !

  • SorilbranBuckner

    Awesome. So I’m not crazy. Just bringing the wrong me to the table. Got it. Thanks so much.

  • Asset Point

    Loving the way you have describe the “selves” perspective, you are correct on each and every point of this post. Thanks for sharing this with us.

  • JessJaime

    Let’s make a place to share what our inner artists/agents/editors look and sound like!

  • Accerd

    I’m not quite sure I agree with you, it doesn’t feel to me ever that selves are that disconnected. It feels it’s more about having worries and whether you’re addressing them that moment or not.

  • Nagin

    That is a brilliant article. Its penned down EXACTLY what I have been trying to organize in my head for ages. As a commercial artist or just someone who is as fond of creating as I am of making a living out of it, this struggle might just have become easier! I am printing and preserving this, its worthy of a book. :) Honestly.

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