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Stuck? Lose Your Label!

Here’s a useful piece by Austin Kleon on How to Keep Going: 10 Ways to Stay Creative in Chaotic Times.

I like #3 a lot: “Forget the noun, do the verb.”

Carl Spitzweg, The Poor Poet, 1839

Calling yourself a “writer,” “artist,” "activist," "scholar," “entrepreneur,” or any other label can invite procrastination if you use that label perfectionistically. For example, if you think of a writer as someone who is supposed to:

  • write many hours every single day
  • sacrifice everything else to one’s art
  • happily starve / live in a garret
  • be smarter about all things writing-related than anyone in the room (or anywhere!)
  • write fantastically all the time, and,
  • enjoy writing all the time

Then you’re inevitably going to fall short, and feel miserable about it.

Here are some other labels that get people into trouble: “good parent" (if you think "good" means you must sacrifice everything for your kids) and “dutiful child" (if you think "dutiful" means you must do everything your parents ask). In these cases, you should forget the adjective and do the verb!

Needless to say, these kinds of unrealistic, romanticized, grandiose stereotypes are perfectionist. They often appear ridiculous when held up to the light of day, but are common in our media and culture, and so we absorb them nonetheless. Often, we use them to create a kind of “Platonic ideal” in our minds of how we think we should behave, and how our careers should go. We may not even be aware we’ve done that, and yet are constantly comparing ourselves to the ideal—and constantly falling short. (Here are solutions.)

Now, if you use a label purely informationally, the way you might say, “I’m a tooth-flosser,” then no problem. (Unless you take inordinate pride in flossing!)

Instead of labeling, think of yourself as “someone who writes,” and approach all your work—even your “serious” “important” work (oops! more labels!)—with a playful spirit.

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