Redefining Choices by Defining Expectations and Setting Goals

December 31, 2011


Above: Pentel Pocket Brush Pen Sketches from my photos of a couple dog park pugs. (In the 9 x 11 inch in-studio Fabriano Venezia journal.

Recently I had a correspondence with a friend about redefining choice. This person was at a crossroads in her creative life, moving from one pursuit to another, redefining herself for the future.

Like many other creative people she was pulled in many ways at once. I recommended that she consult with a friend of mine who is a creativity coach for guidance. I can of course dole out all sorts of advice, I do it all the time; but I find it strains friendships if you do that in an unstructured way, when you're as bossy as I am.

But back to redefining choice. People need first to get straight what they view as hobbies, creative interests, creative pursuits. Next they have to decide what their goals in life are.

So many people hop from one "crafty" notion to another, seeking to express their creativity, without developing substance. They end the activity, after awhile (and sometimes for some folks after a great long while) feeling vaguely uneasy or downright disappointed. The activity didn't deliver what they expected. But that's because the practitioner didn't define expectations at the beginning.  

Let's look at some terms.

There is experimentation, which is good and necessary. Experimentation leads to breakthroughs. But I believe that experimentation requires a time table and a plan. Too many people just wallow about in art materials (or in classes for other creative pursuits, you pick whatever fits the bill, cooking, writing, interior design). While you can make some breakthroughs in this fashion the breakthroughs are few with great time in between. Frankly none of us has that much time.

Hobbies and crafts are things that you do because they are fun. The focus is on fun. Your expectations for that hobby or craft are limited to having fun.

There's another subgroup of practitioners of hobbies and crafts who are looking for activities to fill time in a pleasureable way. The result is they create something pleasing to give for a gift or to use for themselves. That's it, period; a pleasureable way to fill time.

Then there are crafty occupations where you learn a skill (bookbinding, pottery, quilting, painting, etc.) well enough, with study and application, to sell your wares, typically at a "craft fair." People go into these pursuits with the EXPECTATION of acquiring enough skill to make stuff to sell. (Well at least they should, I can't tell you how much shoddy stuff I see out there for sale and just wish the people making it would take a little time to learn their "craft" better before selling their wares—but if people are buying it, then hey, what the hell, I can keep on walking.)

Next there are crafty occupations that reach the level of what is formally called Fine Craft or Fine Art and again including things like bookbinding, pottery, quilting, painting, etc. People who have enough skill and knowledge of their craft to actually sell in this group are creating art in my mind, whether it is designated as "fine art" or not. I see people making bindings meticulously cut in with original illustrations in leather; or sewing quilts which are more intelligent and striking than any gallery painting; and so on. It is also not necessary (to my mind) that people functioning at this high level sell their works. I have come across many artists who create superlative work simply for the joy of doing it. Should they be in galleries? It is a moot point, because it has to do with expectations.

Expectations are set by the individual. Some folks never aspire to do more than an activity at a hobby level. If it meets their expectations for fun and enjoyment that's great and they can fill up the rest of their life with, well the rest of their life.

But if people have expectations to master something, and it is the mastery of a craft that allows artistry to come out, then time has to be put into the activity; time that is focused and intelligently spent on reaching goals.

And that brings us back to experimentation which will enable us, once we have set our expectations to help us achieve our goals.

Daily I hear from people whose minds are swirling around with all these ideas about hobbies and turning hobbies into businesses and supporting themselves with their art (and typically they've only been painting for a month, but boy oh boy it has been an exciting month and they want that every month for the rest of their lives).

The difficulty facing these people is that they haven't had a conversation with themselves about expectations. Equally important, they haven't made the hard choices in their lives. Hard choices such as claiming space (either in the home or in a rented studio space) for their artwork. (Don't get me wrong, you can be serious about your art simply by claiming your dining room table from 8 p.m. to 11 p.m. because you make that choice actively with intent and to meet your expectations, not as a default, "well I have no other place kind" of attitude.) Hard choices such as making time for their creative pursuits (instead of blowing off their studio appointments every time a friend wants to go to lunch or there is a sale on at the mall). Hard choices about arranging responsibilities within the family (child-, parent-, pet-care; cleaning, bill paying, cooking; all the stuff of living with someone else or simply living in the world).

I don't expect that everyone reading this blog is looking to make a living from their creative pursuits. In fact I expect the exact opposite based on the statistics Lijit keeps sending me. 

What I do know is that anyone looking to increase the creativity in his or her life will benefit from having a little chat with his or her mind about definitions and expectations, and ultimately about choice.

Choices are affirmation of what you want most.

It's time to have a serious conversation about what you want in life (all aspects of your life) and then behave in an orderly fashion (i.e., not random, "oh, it will happen if it is supposed to happen" fashion) about those goals. There is no shame, disgrace, or embarrassment attached to defining your goals at a crafty level "to have fun" or "to fill the time." You can always upgrade your expectations to include a push to greater mastery, knowing at the same time that you make that choice that you are also willing to be serious about all the steps necessary to acquire that additional mastery (and acquiring greater mastery can be great fun).

If you don't identify your goals, if you don't set your expectations, then all of your choices are simply random. And you are guaranteeing that you won't get anything but a vague notion of uneasiness out of your pursuits.

With these end of 2011 posts I have been encouraging you all to redefine the language you use in relation to your creative pursuits. Flip things from a negative emphasis and instead focus on the positive things that actually get accomplished. Learn techniques to silence you inner critic. And equally important, speak to yourself about expectations and goals.

To achieve those goals you might need to give up your clothing budget to afford classes that will help you jump to another level. Or you might need to seek out a mentor who can help you see where you need training or more thoughtfulness.

Focus is a huge part of moving forward. Without focus (which is a form of choice—choosing one thing over another) people are simply spreading themselves too thin or delaying the inevitable. (For some not jumping in means they can delay the negative feedback they believe is going to come—they are guaranteeing never to progress). 

Things happen very quickly in life, and then there is no time, or no facility. I don't mean to sound negative or harsh, but it is important to me to be clear. The sooner you start "your work" the better. You can spend your life experimenting, and that might be fun (and if you have alternate ways and means of supporting yourself go to it), but if you don't actively select something to pursue (i.e. choose something and focus on it), you are not going to be satisfied at the end of the day (month, or your life).

If all of this talk of expectations, goals, and choices is making your head spin and you don't know where to start check out books which directly address this issue. Callings: Finding and Following an Authentic Life by Gregg Michael Levoy is one such book. I read this book when it came out in the 1990s. I believe it is a thoughtful and clear approach to setting up definitions and internal dialogs with yourself to begin making appropriate choices.

A big part of the equation of making choices is to make a choice and standby it. You haven't got a hope of doing that if you haven't had a discussion with yourself.

Make 2012 a year in which you choose your direction.

    • Diane
    • December 31, 2011

    Wow, what an excellent post for the last day of the year!
    I am not of the type to be thinking of art as Art with a capital A but this really speaks to me about focusing even within my own limited expectations.
    Roz, you really know how to clarify the issues when I didn’t even know the issues need any clarification.
    Thank you for this.

  1. Reply

    Thank you Diane. I’m glad the post was helpful. I see so many students coming through my classes yearning for something and not really making any sort of plan, not having any discussion with themselves, often doing stuff simply because it is the new “hot” thing and finding no enjoyment in it because it doesn’t really speak to them.

    I really hoped to focus on these issues and the language of internal dialogs at the end of the year to get people jumpstarted for the new one. We all have unique gifts and rather than see those gifts frustrated I’d like to see people bring those gifts out. That gives me great enjoyment—to seem something authentic coming out of someone’s mind and hand.

    I hope you have a great 2012 meeting your goals and expectations.

    • Miss T
    • December 31, 2011

    Roz, you are one of my two favorite bossy-pantses (I think you know who the other one is). This is a very timely and smart post, and for anybody who’s reading these comments: Hey, she’s right! I am SO happy that I took the time this year to experiment (and yes, I do have a million different interests), and most importantly, that I also sat down and figured out what I wanted and made the decision to really focus. Making choices and setting priorities isn’t necessarily easy, but boy, does it feel good once you’ve done it. Thanks, Roz!

  2. Reply

    Miss T, I’m honored to be in the same league with Kim! I’m glad too that this has been a good year for focused experiments for you!

    It does feel great when you’ve done it. I can’t stress that enough!

    I hope your 2012 is filled with great experiments and projects.

  3. Reply

    wow, really knocked my socks off with this one…I need to focus and to set goals. Setting goals in other areas of my life has been fairly routine, but I’ve avoided setting goals for my art. afraid of rejection perhaps. not knowing which direction to go. need to have conversation with self! thank you!

    • Miriam
    • December 31, 2011

    That is exactly what I needed to read today! Thank you Roz! I wish you a great 2012 full of art, fun and good health!

  4. Reply

    This is a wonderful post Roz. A few years ago I got swept along into art quilting without much thought or analysis of why I was headed in that direction. After a year or so (including a suprise cash prize in a competition) I realised that I really didn’t want to make art quilts at all! I only really wanted to make nice utility quilts for my family and that was it! Phew!

  5. Reply

    Thank you Diane, my final post for 2011, which I just posted, follows a bit on the focus and self-examination of the journal process and I hope you’ll take a look at it too. (I just posted it.) Rejection, indecision, and many other things can keep us from setting goals, but you’ll feel better when you do, even if you don’t meet those goals you at least have a yardstick by which to measure where you need to work harder or make changes. I hope you have a great dialog with yourself!

  6. Reply

    Thank you Miriam. I wish you the same as well! I’m excited to start a new painting tomorrow. I need to remember to breathe!

  7. Reply

    Claire, thank you for sharing that story of your art quilting experience. I find it a perfect example of how we can get caught up in things. Since you have realized that isn’t what you wanted to do I am hoping that you are now doing what you really want to do, and now and then making a lovely quilt for someone in your family! What a gift to yourself to catch this and shift. Sometimes we can take reinforcement that is positive (like the cash prize you received—congratulations) and allow ourselves to be calcified into a path we don’t want. Have a fantastic 2012!

    • Jean Shannon
    • May 7, 2012

    Hi Roz,
    Better late than never, I just (May 7th)read this helpful post! Also, I stumbled on it thanks to the “other posts you might like” feature you put in this blog. Thank you for your effort and thoughtfulness.

  8. Reply

    Jean, I’m glad you found this post and enjoyed it. Your comment brought me here to reread it and that’s always good.

    I’m glad you like that “other posts” feature, because I quite enjoy it myself. Sometimes I can’t find something I want to cross reference and I see it in the related posts and that’s fun.

    I hope you’re having a productive day! See you soon.

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