I’m just going straight after the tough subjects, right? People can be so unnecessarily (and many times unintentionally) cavalier about subjects like emotional and mental health and in my experience I find it so healing to hear how others cope with stress and process different situations in life.
I could write you an entire list of my many awkward and difficult experiences growing up that led me into a habitual cycle of vicious self-criticism but I will save you the pain for today. (Maybe I will tell you more if you ask nicely…bonus points if you want to buy me a coffee.)
As I entered my late twenties it became brutally clear that I was no longer a “twenty something" young person and I truly entered full adulthood without really realizing it. What shouldn’t have been a surprise to me was that along with my many difficulties in my younger years remained while balancing new stressors like student debt with less-than-ideal paying jobs. As much as I tried to deny it to myself and everyone around me, my past traumas were still there deep down. For years upon years I put the unnecessary pressure upon myself of appearing put-together and strong while not recognizing that my inability to process emotions correctly would be my biggest weakness.
Many days my internalized frustrations would hit a crisis point and the self-criticism would only continue to escalate. Back in those days it was far too easy to grasp onto a “life isn’t fair” mentality comparing my reality to others - any of this sound familiar? So much of what I am describing is cultural and part of our human condition and what we believe about the world around us bleeds into everything we do and say.
One day I decided to start paying attention to what the voice inside my head was saying about me. That voice and I often did not get along and I didn’t like or agree with anything they had to say. How did I get to this extreme point of believing that everything I start will not be worth it in the end? I began unpacking what lies have I believed about myself and when I began to grasp onto such hurtful negativity. Many instances that the lies were rooted took place in a comment someone made in a fleeting moment and I realized that most of my memories were of hurtful things people said in a time of escalated emotion. The negative thoughts about myself quickly turned into negative thoughts about others - I had so much internalized frustration about how they made me feel even though they most likely were unaware of the damage they caused in a single moment. Other traumas are more complicated and difficult to unpack but it is amazing to see how many of my insecurities were rooted in a simple comment made by a person while passing by. When did I decide that meaningless, fleeting moments should define my life?
I know so much of what I am describing here should really be discussed with a therapist if you have access to one, but even beginning the process of working through your thoughts and feelings can be the game changer in your art - your career - your family - your life.
Art has always just been a reflection of me, all of the good, beautiful, and ugly parts about being a human. It amazes me to see how all of my favorite songs I have written came from some of the worst traumas of my life.
Do not get me wrong - the process of turning your pain into something beautiful is no easy task. What I can (almost) guarantee you is that not only do you desperately need to create art to discover the beautiful in your life but so does everyone around you. How many people are you going to inspire by opening yourself up and pushing through the self-criticism? I look at it this way: instead of feeling isolated and alone I understand that the more I involve others in my processing means the more people I am surrounded with.
What I wish I could tell my past self today is to push through every critical thought towards myself and through the process I will gain more in support from others and creativity than I thought was possible.
I am not an expert in mental health so if you are struggling, please reach out for help and know that there is always hope. I have gone to therapy throughout my life and I am proud of what I have overcome. That being said, here are a few ideas that can keep the creative juices flowing!
#1 use a junk journal to jot down every fleeting thought
i’m talking the bad, the good, and the ugly here! i adore seeing people’s journals because it is a rare opportunity to see how their mind works. often times the best and most prized journals are junky, stacked full of sheets with circles, arrows, lines crossed through…these journals are great for to-do lists, call mom notes, quotes, and negative thoughts that you want to address. you don’t need an answer for anything in this journal but getting in the habit of writing things down will begin the process of processing all of those thoughts you wrestle with.
#2 give yourself one achievable goal each week
maybe you are not so critical about your art itself but instead other factors about your day-to-day life clutter your mental (and physical!) space to do the thing you love the most. for me i would get extremely down on myself for not being as physically fit as i once was so i joined orange theory one early morning out of a place of desperation and never looked back! now i am doing physical training and weight lifting and my spirits could not be higher. instead of feeling exhausted and incapable i replaced those thoughts by reminding myself of how strong i am and how far i’ve come. for others it could be as simple as cleaning your desk every night before bed or taking an extra 10 minutes in the morning to stretch and reflect on your day before it begins. these goals mean more to your mental and emotional health than you probably know and the impact can be huge.
#3 withhold all judgement while creating
this was the biggest lesson i took away from my music theory professor in college. he told me that i cannot forget the phrase “withhold all judgement” while referring to my songwriting process. it took me years to figure out that most days i can’t just sit down and write a song. since music is always coming to me at random moments like in the car or walking the dog, he encouraged me to record every idea in a voice recorder and NEVER throw away lyrics i write. since then i have kept every single voice recording and i can now point back to random 2015 voice memos in my phone as later becoming some of my best songs. every sketchbook page and horribly-painted watercolor flower i painted when i was first learning are now some of my most cherished items in my collection. this was my biggest takeaway in my entire music career and now i am giving it to you, right now, for free. you’re welcome :)
Okay, that’s it for now! I hope that opening up and sharing more of my story and how I deal with self-criticism encourages you. Feel free to send me feedback or questions at any time.