Life Lessons

15 Things I learned As A Creative in 2017


As 2017 comes to a close, I noticed that everyone is sharing lessons learned from 2017.  As artists/creatives, there are so many things we learn as we continue to create and lessons are good reflection points to start with.

I thought I would share my lessons learned as way to hold myself accountable for them and to let people know that they are not the only ones moving through life, learning, one thing at a time.  Who knows, there may be some of the same things listed for you, synchronicity is never a bad sign!


1. Be present:  With the national/political landscape and everything else screaming at us daily, there was days where I literally had to shut stuff down.  I took mini-breaks from social media (which was ironically right at the time when people decided to tag me on everything on IG or Facebook, LOL!).  I decided that constantly being “on” did not help me stay creative, a matter of fact, I turned to the studio more during these times.  Also, when I was  out , whether it was volunteering for a cause, spending time with a friend, or fully immersed in an experience, I found myself reducing my time checking the phone or not bringing my laptop to work with when traveling to visit people.  You catch things in the moment and truly connect with people, which is needed these days.

2. Define What Success Is For You:  There is society’s version or definition of  “success” and there is yours.  Many people boast on social media what society’s version of success is….fabulous trips, awards, speaking engagements, “exclusive” events, sharing about who “beat” their face, what designer clothes they have on.  But I had to really take time to define what success was for me.  And I realized that although I will always celebrate people’s wins either directly with high fives and you-go-girls or send light their way silently, a lot of that wasn’t my definition of success anymore.  It was in small, tangible or intangible ways.  Seeing people’s reactions and being able to discuss the art they created in a meaningful way after guiding an inutitive meditiative painting class was success for me.  Seeing a person who hasn’t drawn or painted in decades create over 100 pieces of art since the spring through my guidance is success for me.  Trying new things creatively and other wise is success for me.  The bottom line is, success is what you define it is, not what others or society does. Now I believe in reaching high goals and that often includes recognition, material things, etc. and we should strive to reach those goals because they can be important depending on your field.   Just be sure that you are  in alignment for what success is for you.  And be clear, there are almost always sacrifices for any level of success that people may share: which may mean that they took compromises to appear that way including maxed out credit cards, bad or nonexistent personal relationships, or other “trades” so be mindful.

3. Be patient and take your time:  It’s not a race.  Don’t get caught up trying to rush or push things that energetically is not a good fit or the timing is off.  Don’t let what others do make you feel you have to run like hell to catch up.  Think through things…research, set pause, educate yourself, take classes, whatever you need to do to get more information.  It’s not about what other people may or may not be thinking, it is about what you want to create or offer the world.  And having rushed myself way before time in other pursuits, I am taking my time for my new creative practice.  And even though I want to go from 0 to 100, I know it will pay off in the long run to double check and slow down the pace that I normally roll at.  If what you are doing is for the long run and is meant to be, it will be….and more .

4. Respect the Muse:   I used to ignore my muse, my inner creative that says let’s get up and make this, or an idea for a art series.  I would clean the house, go out and do something else….anything but create.  That leads to blockages down the road.  I believe the muse is an energetic spirit and if it comes to you, embrace it.  If it takes a day or two do it, make it happen. Your creative work will thank you.

5. Self-care/spiritual grounding is important:  This is probably one of the most important lessons I have learned….self-care in the form of yoga and meditation has really helped me this year.  It has grounded me on days that went side ways and when disappointments and confusion ruled the day.  Spending time in nature has also grounded me in ways that are hard to explain.  Find what works for you to help you stay connected to creative muse and your peace of mind.


6. Plans are often fluid- stay flexible:  Things we plan for no matter how well we do, can get derailed. Staying flexible,  and keep expectations light….things don’t always go perfectly…you might have cancel,  postpone or re-design as needed.

7. Connect with new people and experiences:  For over twelve years much of my networking and social interaction was at fine art exhibition openings, fairs, talks and related events.  As I changed my interests and my business model, I found some of these events not feeding my inspiration or were not aligned with the person I was becoming.  Some were beginning to be down right boring because I had seen a lot of the artwork before, I was among the same art crowd and not seeing or meeting anyone new.   I decided to open myself up to new experiences and to interact with others in expansive creative circles.  I started attending expressive arts conferences, podcast seminars and taking in more live musical and dance performances than ever before.   I also participated in arts advocacy and education events which expanded my interest and knowledge of different areas of the arts community.  I met new people and was exposed to new ideas and information.  Shake up your world, widen it and explore other interests that fuel your creativity and understanding of the community at large.  You will be surprised on what you learn but also new things that may inspire you to explore other areas of your creativity.   For example, I started painting rocks (something that I considered serious fine artists never should do), creating a shell wind chime, decorating journals and creating manifestation boxes as part of my creative practice!  I started including hiking as part of my fitness/self-care routine and not only have a better appreciation of nature but met some wonderful people I consider my friends in the process.

8.  Only make high-vibration commitments:  A few years ago I started working with Danielle LaPorte’s Desire Map process, which includes really defining core desired feelings (CDFs)….more on how you want to feel instead of  identifying a thing or achievement you want to receive.  For me as a creative, focusing on how I want to feel was more important….you can receive and achieve a lot and still not feel satisfied or really much of anything about it.  During these third year of working with the process, I found this really helped in making business decisions or major decisions that involved my time and resources.  If the energy or vibe wasn’t right or if things showed up a certain way that did not honor my CDFs, I either postponed, cancelled or stopped the planning process altogether, said “no”, or just didn’t committ in some way.  It has been a life saver for me in many of my decisions this year.

9.  Unfollow/Disconnect what no longer resonates:  We are responsible for much of the vibes we choose to take in daily, especially on social media.  As the world  and  I have changed during the last three years, what and who inspires me and the messages they share also has changed.  I decided that what inspired me and aligned with my values was more important to be reflected in my social media timelines than even some people who I considered friends were showing up as.  Nothing against them, everyone has an audience to cater to, but I had to honor what was right for me and realize I was no longer a part of their audience/tribe/squad/fan club and started to focus on who  inspired me to be who I am becoming.  And vice versa….some people were not feeling how I was showing up as a creative versus a fine art professional, and dropped off.  I had to give them permission to do the same. I decided that it was not a reflection of who people are negatively, it’s natural evolution and growth.  Staying the same and dealing with things that no longer inspired or interested me just to get along was not serving me well.  Growth and change continue to be.

10. Celebrate your wins no matter how big or small:  Often we look to others to give us the kudos we need to keep going.  Often, the reality is that may not happen.  The people you want to receive high-fives from may  be indifferent or could care less, may be self-absorbed in other issues, or don’t even realize how much the accomplishment may mean to you.  The most important person to get kudos from is you….celebrate every win, no matter how big or small,  whether by treating yourself to something special, an impromptu dance around your living room, or a loud squeal….give you the love you think you need from others to keep you going.   Share it with the world despite what people may do or think….when you shower the love on yourself, others do take notice and will give it back to you.


11.  Keep those who celebrate your creativity close and show appreciation for their support.  Number 10 leads me to this lesson– celebrate and show appreciation to those who celebrate your creativity either as patrons, supporters, or compliments.  These are the people who show up to your openings, participate in your events, and share their thoughts.  They may not be the people you thought would show up or those you feel will validate your work, these are the people who are your squad, the folks who are watching and admiring your courage and talent.  Don’t forget them during the holidays or to celebrate their wins when things go well for them.  These are the people you need to keep close and honor at all costs.

12.  Find a way to use your creativity for the greater good, that works for you.  A lot of social justice issues found national platforms this year and people were very vocal and active in addressing them.  Some did marches, others demonstrations,  and the creative community was one of the most visible this past year.  Many people used their art and ceativity in response to it, whether by participating in exhibitions or doing things independently.  Others focused on immediate issues in their communities and used their creativity as appropriate.  Many of us tried to explore ways to share our passions for causes that worked for us.  There will always be someone who will say that the level you participate in these issues wasn’t enough….follow your intuition as to where, how and when to enter and share your creativity as form of healing or to support a cause.  One size does not fit all, and everyone has situations which may allow for different levels of participation.  Work with what you feel most comfortable but by all means don’t shy from sharing your creativity for the benefits of others.

13.  Good things often come in unexpected ways and packages, stay alert.  Sometimes an opportunity or a blessing comes in disguise rather than a trumphet announcing it’s entrance.  The least suspecting person can provide break throughs and opportunities that others who you may think have the connections,  cannot or depending on the circumstances, will not.  Be open, observant, and kind to allow for magic to happen.

14.  You are often more of an “influencer” than you realize.  In social media especially, people throw that word around, she’s/he’s an influencer…they even put it in their bios to tell you so (just in case you didn’t know how important they really are).  The media in general may bestow someone as a pop, fashion, music, whatever “influencer.”  But I’m here to tell ya, you don’t need to be defined as an “influencer”…in fact that doesn’t make or break you as someone people can be inspired by.  There are people who cannot imagine creating art for any reason, or wish they had the talent and courage to show their work publicly.  There are others usually the least suspecting person who will let you know how much of a positive influence or inspiration you are to them.  Don’t let “titles”, number of followers on social media or likes define your influence on other people…the most effective influencers are those who genuinely show up bravely to express who they are, without apology. I have found that many people are more attractive to authenticity and humility than anything else.  And that includes you.

15. Your sensitivity and unique view of the world is a Superpower – Use it!  Don’t get caught up in people who want to define your uniqueness as something wrong or needing to be “fixed”….use what some consider a “weakness” as a superpower.  Many creatives are Highly Sensitive People and often critcized for that.  Use it to identify the person in a crowded room that is most uncomfortable and connect with them, as a way to creativity express yourself about a social justice issue  or to look beneath a problem behavior with someone that others have shrugged off.  We can all leverage who we are to bring kindness, peace and love in this world…being defined as a “problem child” can block the healing for others you natural possess. Don’t buy it.


Choosing from Aliveness Instead of Pain: Making Better Decisions from Your Better Self

The last two weeks have been quite crazy as a result of the recent death of my father (I plan to share a blog about my Dad, who passed on March 7th at another time).

As I pick up the pieces of my life without both of my parents (mom died on April 8, 1998), I have been reflecting on my decisions regarding my life, my passions, pursuits, etc. See, my main reason for being in the DC area in the first place was to assist my family in caring for my Dad after my mother passed. A ten year journey (I say ten because the stirrings to come here from Atlanta started shortly after completing my graduate degree) has been completed as of his burial this past Monday. My mission here has been accomplished and now, I have been focused on “what’s next.”

This though process has evoked many emotions, from pain, anger to sadness. I took a lot of hits after coming here, a left a job I loved, friends who had my back, a life that was very affordable and comfortable to prepare for my Dad’s care. Along the way, I have encountered some wonderful things, my return to my own art, starting my own business among them.

As I now contemplate the future, I want to make the best decisions that support who I am.  A part of me is ready to just walk away from all I have accomplished because quite frankly, I’m tired.  I’m tired of feeling I have to prove a point, move past those who are angry because they feel left out or I choose not to continue to include them because of the “costs” (non-monetary) they have demanded that I “pay” in exchange for just plain ole friendship and support for their involvement.  Dealing with those who want to silence what I do, take it over, overwrite or discredit or delete it.   Making that kind of decision based on the obstacles and the pain is not something to do irrationally.

I ran across this interesting essay by one of my favorite creative coaches, Tama J. Kieves.  In case any of you are contemplating decisions like me, I thought it may be helpful. 

Choosing from Aliveness Instead of Pain: Making Better Decisions from Your Better Self

If you wish to “follow your bliss,” you need to know how to face pain. Otherwise, the bully wins. You will give up on a big life. You will blame it on statistics and common sense. But I will tell you you’ve just fallen asleep. You’re making a decision from the reactive mind, the drug of hard-wiring, instead of the purity of the present day self, the alive you, the amazing one who has a billion options.

This life is one of learning how to walk forward no matter what. We are choosing from love, the power of being awake and on fire. We are discovering what it means to stay conscious. Going on autopilot is a suicide bomber. It’s trained to keep us the same and not allow us to thrive. It’s wired to destroy or flee any circumstance that rocks the boat. This life requires the radical will to go beyond conditioning. It takes an act of mutiny to step into your destiny.

But how do you get past that immediate impulse to fight, flee, or eat massive amounts of pasta? Let’s face it—these stellar options are brought to you by the amygdala, the primitive reptilian brain that didn’t know a thing about finding yourself or getting a book deal. I don’t know about you, but I don’t want a lizard being in charge of my evolution. I want an eagle. I want an angel. I want to choose from the golden place of being centered, alive, and attuned to what I really want. I hope you’ll join me in being committed to making choices from a different place.

Make Bold Choices with Bold Kindness

As a coach, and personally, I’m not into fundamentalism—commit like a rabid Doberman Pinscher attacking a bone, or like a Navy Seal, go all the way, all at once, no exceptions, no excuses, no whining. I’m not into hedonism either—slip into the hot tub of life with a glass of white wine, seek happiness, and if an activity doesn’t immediately send you to the moon, go to the liquor store instead and just hang out until something does.

I’m into inspired pragmatism. I want you to know that a true, big, gorgeous life makes some demands of us. It asks us to face uncomfortable things. I want you to face those things. And I want you to face them with infinite kindness for yourself. I want you to win. I don’t want you to have one great week of discipline. I want you to crack something open. I want you to learn a way that allows you to keep walking forward, no matter what, into the wide open arms of your destiny.

I’ve had success with actively facing my fears….as long as I give myself permission to get out of the situation, if needed, and without self-attack later. I make exquisite deals with myself. I encourage myself to dare. And I show great compassion and care for myself all along the way. Because I give myself permission to take a step backwards when I need it, I’m willing to take a step forward. And then I’m in, into the flow of moving in the right direction.

Let me give you an example of what I mean.

I am part claustrophobic, part control freak, and the owner of one finely tuned overactive mind. Last summer, I was in New York City on a day that was probably 140 degrees Fahrenheit, but it only felt like 200, and I was riding the subway, which had turned into a trip to the rain forest, or in my guidebook, the ovens of hell. Packed into the uptown 3 train, in which the air conditioner had quit working, I felt walled in by the heat. Naturally, it crossed my mind, compulsively I might add, that I was in a tunnel under a city of more than 8 million people. Normal people read the newspaper or listened to their iPods. This is where “intelligence” is way overrated. My insanity is articulate and plausible, though missing the obvious point of being self-destructive.

Here’s how I worked with myself. I did not say “buck up for Christ’s sake, no one else here needs a paper bag to breathe into and a therapist, now do they?” And I also didn’t say, “Okay, break the window, hurl yourself out, get to freedom, now, now now.” I chose a loving voice within, a sane voice that simply asked gently, “Can you be with this discomfort right now?” It continued with rationality and compassion. “You can get off at the next stop if you need. You can take a cab. I’ll do anything you need, even if it’s expensive. But can you go a little further? Would that be okay?” The crazy part of me settled down, knowing she was loved and that, unlike times in the past, say when she had to graduate Harvard Law School, she could have a definitive say. “Yes, I can ride a little longer,” she said in a ragged breath. And so it went. I kept that dialogue running for the next 6 stops, until my station.

I walked out of that train like an Olympic athlete that had taken home the gold. I had turned a knee jerk situation into a series of mountain top shamanic awakening experiences. I had stepped beyond the savage pull of gravity and familiar identity. I had moved beyond black and white, either/or. I had stepped into the realm of a thousand possibilities and new emotional muscles. I had discovered the wonders of staying honest, present and kind. It’s astounding to become your own comfort in an uncomfortable situation. You can expand your “comfort zone,” your world, and your options and capabilities.

Riding the Train of Discomfort

I have learned to “ride the train” of many of my discomforts. I have stayed with writing, when I wanted to burn everything, and spontaneously run to the hills and yodel. I have shown up at speaking engagements when some part of me might rather have shown up for brain surgery, with at least the hope of anesthesia. I’ve shown up for “my bliss “over and over again, paused before the disguise of terror, and then walked into larger possibilities. Part of me died every time. Part of me was born every single time.

When I work with clients I tell them, “We’re not here to prove anything. We’re not here to force growth or commitment. We’re here to stay honest about what is possible in any given moment. So sit down and write or paint or makes some sales calls for your business.” Resistance will kick in. “I’m bored. I’m hungry. I suck at this. This isn’t fun. I’m not going anywhere,” the complainer will prattle.

Just as with my clients, I’ll ask you to turn this into a holy encounter with yourself, a meditation or active quest. Stay with the activity the larger part of you really wants to do. Stay a little longer. Go a little further. One day you will hear that complaining prattle as some habitual songbird in the forest. For now, it still grips you. So, when you hear it, can you stay honest with yourself? Ask yourself, not with sarcasm but with playful kindness and availability, “Can I stay with this activity a little longer? Will this boredom kill me? Will hunger really waste my bones, if I don’t get up to eat that brownie? Or is this too much for me right now?”

I want you to go beyond, even a little, where you have gone before. I want you to walk past that demon of automatic reaction. It’s worth staying present. You can discover an untapped well, a spring of generosity, your inner Atman or Goddess. Ask yourself, will it hurt more to stay with this—or will it hurt more to not stay with this? Slow down, breathe, and make a conscious choice.

Buddhist nun Pema Chodron says in her book The Wisdom of No Escape, “Once you know that the purpose of life is to walk forward and continuously use your life to wake up rather than to put you to sleep, then there’s that sense of wholeheartedness about inconvenience.”

I want you to have a world of ten thousand opportunities. I want you choosing from love instead of fear. I want you to meet your Real Self, the one who can breathe through anything, and walk you through any circumstance, in this or any lifetime. I want you to meet yourself—instead of avoid yourself. I want you to be unstoppable, unflappable, invincible and at ease in your soul.

I want you to ride this train, no matter how hot—or beautiful it gets.
Love and blessings,


©Copyright 2011 Tama J. Kieves. All rights reserved.