The Sensitive Creative’s Guide to Recovering from Bad Breakups, Natural Disasters and Other Heartaches of Modern Life
I wrote an ebook because I wrote an email.
I wrote the email because of an outbreak of violent racism that shocked and shattered me.
I posted a video of me reading the email on Facebook, and it got more clicks and likes and shares than anything else I’ve ever done, I think.
All that attention made it clear to me that sensitive, creative people needed a way to process all the darkness in the world.
Whether that darkness is coming from civil unrest, political corruption, natural disasters or personal heartbreak – we need a road map out of the pain.
So I’ve written out a few of the ideas and simple strategies that have helped me over the years in the sincere hope that they might help you.
Because the world needs you.
The world needs your light, your love and your art.
Now more than ever.
(Here’s the link to the video on YouTube: https://youtu.be/xdjuwLtr5BQ)
By way of introduction, here’s the text of that email:
Clearly, this has all gone too far.
The news has made me weep almost hourly and I am done with feeling outraged, feeling powerless and feeling frightened.
It’s time to reclaim our creative power and become a relentless force for kindness.
And when I say “time” I mean right now. This very minute.
We creatives have been OK with taking a back seat for too long.
The time for change is now. This very minute.
If you want to live in a world in which creativity matters, then you must act like creativity matters.
And then everyone else’s.
If you want to live in a world of compassion and tolerance, then you must behave compassionately and tolerantly.
Starting with yourself.
Then everyone else.
And most of all: no quitting.
You don’t get to call yourself, “lazy” or “a failure” or “not good with money” anymore.
You don’t get to point the finger at the family, the teachers, the economy or the media and blame them for your lack.
You don’t get to stand on the sidelines and pretend like the world economy doesn’t have anything to do with you.
You don’t get to huff around making loud noises about moving to Canada when there is a whole world of people out here who need your art, your stories and your voice more than ever before.
I know it’s hard.
I know it’s hard to not let the state of the world turn your mood dark.
But our weapon is the light.
Our weapon is politeness, good humor, firm resolve without violence and most of all, of creativity.
The time to find unusual solutions and out-of-the-box ideas is now.
We’ve let those other guys be in charge for too long, and it’s time we reclaimed our rightful place as the shamans, jesters, prophets, documentarians, dancers, poets, potters, teachers, healers, music-makers, magic-makers and makers-of-things.
Our work brings people together.
Our work reminds people of our shared humanity.
After all – we all want the same things.
We all want to eat good food and love somebody special.
We all want to feel like our work matters.
We all want to laugh at good jokes and be with our friends, especially when times are especially good or especially hard.
All of us.
Every person of every stripe throughout all time has wanted these things.
So if you want to bring people together, do it around the things that you have in common.
I’ve heard that marriage equality progressed faster than anyone thought it could thanks to “Will and Grace.”
And I know for a fact that “Uncle Tom’s Cabin” helped end slavery.
Matthew Bourne’s “Swan Lake” changed our ideas about masculinity, and Neil DeGrasse Tyson is now regularly on my old friend Stephen Colbert’s Late Show, making astrophysics cool again.
And wasn’t it teeny-bopper-Tweeter turned pop-culture-goddess-superstar Taylor Swift taking the stand against sexual harassment this week?
So do not allow yourself to sink into despair.
Rather: allow yourself to sink into the work that has been calling your name.
You don’t know how much your novel, your sexual empowerment workshop, your yoga, your paint (or paint-by-numbers) might change the world.
So don’t let anyone (not even the voices in your head) tell you that your work is foolish, is selfish, is unnecessary or should be put off until tomorrow.
It is time to be a relentless force for creativity, kindness and joy. This very minute.
Pass it on.
Heartbreak Is an Invitation to Heal
I don’t need to tell you about the problem.
You’re right in the middle of it. Right now.
Heartbreak at the senseless tragedies.
White-hot fury at the cruelty and indifference.
Unending sorrow for the loss.
Whatever the cause or condition, here you are again – on the verge of tears.
Feeling like you just.can’t.even.
This book is designed to help you heal your heart and restore your spirit.
Because we need you.
I can’t do anything about the natural disasters, human-made disasters or suffering of the world. (Neither can you, really. At least not in your current state.)
But I can do something to help you turn your light back on.
And once your light is on and you are filled back up with energy and love – then you can go and inspire others. Who can, in turn, inspire others. And so on.
Your healing is the opposite of selfish. Your healing can have a domino effect on the whole planet. The time you take now to dive in to your feelings and sort yourself out can start a virtuous cycle (the opposite of a vicious cycle) that will have wide-ranging positive effects.
Yours can be the smile that illuminates the world.
But first we have to get you smiling again. Not in a fake, “cheer up, honey” kind of way, but sincerely smiling because you are right with yourself.
This process of healing your heartbreak needn’t be hard or time-consuming, but it will take some willingness.
A willingness to change.
And maybe you’re feeling something like, “How come I have to change? They should change! The world should change! I didn’t do anything wrong – they did!” and that’s completely understandable. Unfortunately, they didn’t buy this book (yet) and you did. So we’re going to start with you.
If you’re game, go ahead and write out this phrase:
I am willing to change.
You could even make it into a sign and post it somewhere. Decorate it, if you like.
That’s it. We’ve begun.
Your willingness to change is the first step toward healing, and even if that willingness comes with a boatload of skepticism, cynicism, resentment or exhaustion, you have already begun to heal.
Well done you.
Why This Will Work
Here’s how I know this will work:
You are the strongest person I know.
You may feel weak or vulnerable or broken or even ashamed right now, but hear me out.
Here’s what I know about you and the depth of your strength:
You have already survived the unsurvivable.
First of all, you survived growing up. If your life has been anything like me, you’re not exactly a member of the Happy Childhood Club, and some parts of your youth were just plain awful.
Even if you were born into the most wonderful family in the world, you still experienced feeling different. Weird. Too sensitive, too dreamy, too manic, too ADD, too intense, too emotional. Being a highly creative person, you perceive the world differently, and that can make growing up a very lonely experience.
As you’ve matured, I’m going to guess that you have also survived a variety of health crises, financial nightmares, relationship train wrecks and crushing humiliations. And you’ve survived.
Not only have you survived – you took the experience and learned from it. You might even feel now as though you are glad that “unsurvivable” thing happened, because of how much you discovered. Plenty of people who survive severe illness, divorce or crisis will say, “It was the hardest thing I ever had to do, and I’m so glad it happened. That event woke me up and taught me about life.”
LITTLE STEP TOWARD PEACE:
Write down 3-5 “unsurvivable” events from your life. Then write in what quality of yours helped you, and one valuable thing you learned from the experience.
|Unsurvivable Event||Quality of Yours That Helped You||Valuable Lesson Learned|
|Parent’s divorce||Compassion, Flexibility||Self-sufficiency|
|Car wreck/broken back||Optimism||Apparently I have a relentless will to live|
|Near-bankruptcy||Deep-rooted Faith||How my friends love me no matter what|
Write out some notes about what you notice about this exercise.
You are probably not yet at the place where you can observe your current situation as a blessing. But reflecting on how other painful situations have contributed to your growth might serve to remind you that nothing is permanent.
You, my darling, are a true survivor.
Make Some 5-Minute Art About It
As we work through this book together, I want you to take note of anything that feels especially highly charged, and consider making some 5-Minute Art about it.
Making some 5-Minute Art is not actually about the art. It’s about giving your feelings some place to be expressed.
So you might just grab a piece of typing paper and a pen and make stick figures. Maybe just draw shapes, or colors. You might make up a little song. Or perhaps you feel moved to get up and perform a short, expressive dance, get out your sculpting clay, or whatever medium appeals to you.
Don’t intellectualize. Work fast.
Work with the firm intention of throwing it away as soon as you’re done.
You may or may not actually throw it away, but it’s amazing what happens when you work as though you’re going to.
The point is just to get the feelings out of your head – or wherever they’ve been locked away – and give them form.
Because feelings just want to be felt.
Once a feeling knows it’s been felt, the pent-up energy around it is released.
Once a feeling has taken form, you can begin interact with that feeling, and the event that caused it, differently. You may get a whole new perspective. You may just feel some relief at the release.
One of the big advantages to being a highly sensitive, highly creative person is this ability to turn the hard parts of life into art. Everybody else just has to live with their memories. We get to turn those memories and feelings into something.
You may decide to keep your 5-Minute Art, of course. It may set you off on a whole new artistic adventure.
And if you decide to share it with the world, you will be giving the world a mighty and precious gift.
A Word About Sharing Your Work
Your family and friends love you, but chances are good that they are not your ideal client, customer or fan.
Do not expect anyone who is not an ideal client to approve of or appreciate your work.
If there are people in your life who have the power to discourage you from creating, please do not show those people your work. Don’t even discuss it with them. Do not seek approval or support from people who are incapable of supporting you.
Don’t go to the empty cookie jar.
Please DO share your work with your best cheerleaders, fans and like-minded colleagues. As soon as possible, OK?
Quit Praying The Problem
When you are upset, it’s tempting to find a sympathetic ear and tell them all about it. And then to find another sympathetic ear and tell them all about it. And again and again and again. Some people do this for years at a time.
This is called “praying the problem.”
Praying the problem means you turn your hardship into a litany. You repeat your tale of woe over and over again, never varying. (This is particularly gratifying when you feel you are clearly in the right and someone else is clearly W-R-O-N-G. Outrage is so addictive, isn’t it?)
Getting support, sympathy and insights from people who love you is wonderful. Remaining deaf to their insights so you can stay stuck makes you, at best, a tedious conversationalist.
So let’s get clear on what your problem actually is, and then figure out how to start praying the solution.
Because my guess is that the problem you think you have is actually only a symptom of the real problem.
Here’s an example of what I mean:
You may feel like your problem is that you’re broke because your client isn’t paying you on time. And it’s easy to turn that into a long story about how much work you’ve done for them, and how you’ve bent over backwards for them, and how disrespectful it is of them to delay paying your invoice.
It’s easy to feel like someone else’s neglect is a personal attack.
Now, while it is true that your client should be paying you on time, the fact is that sometimes people pay late.
So your actual problem is that you don’t have enough income to cover the occasional lapsed invoice.
Can you imagine the result if, rather than calling everyone you know to complain, instead you called a few smart, respectful friends and said, “Say, could you help me brainstorm some ways I could create more consistent income?”
Taking responsibility for the problems you face is the first step out of victimhood and into true spiritual and emotional maturity.
That is praying the solution.
LITTLE STEP TOWARD PEACE:
Write down what you think your problem is.
Then write down how that problem makes you feel.
Knowing that the way you are reacting to the problem is the only actual problem that you have the power to solve, write down your new understanding of your problem.
Now, if you’re up for it, write down one possible action you could take.
Keep digging until you feel you have gotten to the truth of the situation.
The Problem: my ex is dating someone new
How This Problem Makes Me Feel: lonely & unlovable
So My Actual Problem Is: I need solutions for loneliness. I need to find ways to be reminded that I’m lovable.
One Action I Could Take Is: Start that book club I’ve been talking about forever so I see my friends more often
Finding The Courage to Be Kind
Cynicism is easy. Sarcasm is cheap. Negativity is as contagious as the flu and twice as virulent.
It takes a stout, stubborn heart to maintain a belief in the essential goodness of people.
Because gracious – people sure make it hard to love them sometimes, don’t they?
All people are lovable. Even when they do horrible, unconscionable, unlovable acts.
Meditate on that for a moment: everyone is, at core, worthy of your love.
I’m not saying you need to approve of everyone. Or not be mad – furious, even – at them. Or that you should not fight with every ounce of strength in your body against the bullies, dictators, savages, petty bureaucrats, criminals and sociopaths of the world.
I am saying that while you fight the actions of those you oppose, you will do yourself a big favor by remembering that they are just people. People who eat dinner, get frustrated, crave understanding and want to protect their children, just like you.
The moment you allow your feelings to twist into cruelty, you have become the same as those you despise. The moment you take away their humanity, you lose your own.
You cannot end name-calling with name-calling. You cannot cure violence with violence.
You can, however, be unmovable in your conviction and tireless in your search for justice. You can be undistractable from your quest for what is right.
Uncompromising non-violence is not an easy path.
It will get you derided. Mocked. Abused.
But if we want the world to be different, then we must behave differently.
LITTLE STEP TOWARD PEACE:
Make a short list of your favorite moments of non-violent heroism. You may include historical incidents, personal memories and even fictional events.
Start With You
You know all that stuff I was saying about love and non-violence just now?
That goes double for you.
If you want the world to be a kinder place, you must start with being kind to yourself. Then be kind to everyone else.
If you want the world to value creativity, then you must value your own creativity. Then encourage creativity in others.
If you want the world to be more generous, forgiving and good-humored, then you must stop the stingy, self-punishing, dour voices in your head.
Most of the sensitive, creative people I know rip themselves to shreds on a regular basis. This must end. You are not a perfect person, and you make mistakes. You are not as young as you once were, and your body does not look like the models in the magazines. (To be fair, the models’ bodies themselves don’t even look like that. The deception of Photoshop is everywhere.)
Start greeting your shortcomings, failures and missteps with sweetness. Just as you might wish that the adults in your life had been compassionate and understanding when you erred as a child, change your self-critical voice into a voice of uplift, comfort and true learning.
From now on, when catching yourself mid-self-punishment, change your tune. Rather than think, “Oh, I am so stupid! I’ll never succeed at this,” try, “I am so looking forward to succeeding at this! I can’t wait until I improve. It’s so exciting to be in process around this!”
I found this approach enormously helpful when, following a fairly serious surgery, I neglected to work out for over two years. I was beating myself up constantly for not taking better care of myself. But the berating wasn’t helping. I simply could not make myself swim, dance or do any kind of exercise in any significant way.
Finally, I changed my inner dialogue to be, “I wonder what will happen to inspire me to work out again? I can’t wait until that happens! I just know that some moment soon, I’ll get an irresistible urge to work out. That will be so fun!”
I allowed myself to dwell in happy anticipation.
Any time I caught myself beating myself up, I deliberately altered my thought. Sometimes I even said those encouraging thoughts out loud. It felt a bit silly, but it also felt a lot better than the stinging whip of self-loathing.
And sure enough, one day I saw an ad for a $99 trial membership to a fitness studio in my small town. “Hmmm…..” I thought, “Could this be the invitation I’ve been waiting for?” I went, checked it out, and fell in love. I am in love with the caring people at this place, I love the workout and I love the way I feel my body getting stronger every time I go.
What changes are you excited to welcome in to your life?
LITTLE STEP TOWARD PEACE:
Here are some sample “replacement” thoughts for you to try on for size:
“I can’t wait to feel better about this situation. I’m sure that day will come and all this pain will be a distant memory.”
“I wonder what will happen to inspire me to stop this self-destructive habit? My willpower alone isn’t enough, so clearly I’m going to need some extra help. I’m keeping my eyes open for that help!”
“I’m so curious to find out what will happen to allow me to have the financial breakthrough I’ve been waiting for. I know that I will recognize the opportunity and take quick action when it comes.”
“I dwell in happy anticipation of a better tomorrow. I keep my heart open to transformation.”
A High Tolerance for Ambiguity
“The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in mind at the same time and still retain the ability to function.
One should, for example, be able to see that things are hopeless and yet be determined to make them otherwise.”
– F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Crack-Up
You love the mystery.
Every road you take is the road less traveled.
You think so far outside the box you didn’t even know there was a box.
While this may drive some people close to you nuts, I think that a high tolerance for ambiguity is one of the most exciting qualities of the highly sensitive, creative person.
Your ability to see all the grey area might be a liability when you’re trying to make a decision, but it’s tremendously useful when you’re recovering from heartbreak.
Consider leaning on your love of the unknown.
Consider that this situation is like getting a graduate degree in being a person.
Consider the possibility that whatever you are believing in this moment, the opposite may be true.
LITTLE STEP TOWARD PEACE:
Write down three thoughts that trouble or upset you.
Now ask, “What if the opposite is true?” and investigate what comes up, even if it seems absurd.
A Note About Opposites
I realize that if you write down, “This war is evil and awful,” or, “This natural disaster is causing great suffering,” you are going to find it very difficult to believe that the opposite is true. Because, clearly, it’s not.
But I want you to experiment with it anyway.
Writing down, “This war is good and a blessing,” might lead you to a thought about how much medical treatments and technologies advance in wartime. And writing “This natural disaster is causing great rejoicing,” might lead you to notice the courage of the first responders, and generosity of those who offer aid.
Medical progress does not make war into a good thing. But we’re not trying to make it into a good thing. That’s not the point.
The point of this “examination of the opposite” is to add a little bit of light to the shadows.
As artists, we seek nuance, subtlety, and, where we can find it, hope.
There Is No Shortage of Love in the World
Do not let the temporary sensation of a love-shortage fool you.
Love is the soul’s oxygen.
And like oxygen, love is everywhere, sustaining you, no matter what.
Like oxygen, love does not wait for permission to give you life.
You cannot be separate from oxygen, and you cannot be separate from love.
You may feel sometimes like love has gone away from you, but that is a painful illusion.
The illusion is perpetuated when you confuse the love you feel with the person you felt it from. But that’s as foolish as believing that just because the faucet in the kitchen is broken, you can’t have any water. You know that you can fill your cup from the faucet in the tub, and it’s the same water. Water doesn’t care which faucet it comes from. And love flows just as indiscriminately.
LITTLE STEP TOWARD PEACE:
List 100 evidences of love you have seen today.
So here is a recap of some of the ideas we’ve covered.
Your Heartbreak Is an Invitation to Heal
You are being challenged so that you might grow, and your healing heals the world.
You Can Make This Work
You are stronger and more resilient than you know. It takes extreme mental toughness to stare into the abyss, and you’re just the person for the job.
You Can Make Some 5-Minute Art About It
Art explains our feelings to us. Putting your feelings into form transforms them, which in turns transforms you. And if you let your art out into the world, perhaps it can transform the world.
You Quit Praying The Problem
Be solution-oriented, no matter what.
You Have The Courage to Be Kind
Spiritual maturity is not for the faint of heart. Peace takes far more strength than war.
You Have A High Tolerance for Ambiguity
Leaning in to your ability to perceive complexity and uncertainty can help you find the tiny pinpricks of light in an otherwise dark time.
You Know There Is No Shortage of Love in the World
Like the line in the movie, “love, actually, is all around.”
Remember: The World Needs Your Art
I would love to hear about your experience of working through this book.
Please email me at Sam@TheOrganizedArtistCompany.com.
P.S. You are exceedingly good and brave.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Sam Bennett is on a mission to create a world in which all creative people spend at least 15 minutes a day on the projects that matter most to them.
Originally from Chicago, Sam Bennett is the author of the bestselling, “Get It Done: From Procrastination to Creative Genius in 15 Minutes a Day” (New World Library) which Seth Godin called, “An instant classic, essential reading for anyone who wants to make a ruckus.”
Her latest bestseller is, “Start Right Where You Are: How Little Changes Can Make a Big Difference for Overwhelmed Procrastinators, Frustrated Overachievers and Recovering Perfectionists” (New World Library). It has been featured in SELF Magazine, The Daily Word, PsychologyToday.com, ReadersDigest.com and about a grillion podcasts.
A creativity/productivity specialist, she is the creator of www.TheOrganizedArtistCompany.com, dedicated to helping creative people get unstuck, especially by helping them focus and move forward on their goals.