How many times I have cut my hair after a breakup, or rearranged the living room when I didn’t get the job?
Reliably, I am drawn to clean out my closet or rearrange my record collection when real life gets frustrating or boring.
If I find myself obsessing about making an aesthetic change, I can almost guarantee that I’m avoiding some larger change or creative pursuit. My theory is that we spend energy changing our outward expression because we want to change something bigger, but don’t feel like we have the power to do so.
Does my story sound familiar?
Maybe you’re writing your next book/album/dissertation and instead of putting your pen to paper, you spend an hour in the mirror examining the weird way your ears stick out. In a burst of inspiration, you run to the nearest hip salon and get perfect highlights put in. (They really draw the eye away from my funny ears!)
It’s interesting to look back through my own life and the choices I’ve made. Did I avoid making big changes by focusing on the small stuff? Examples permeate my life: instead of breaking up with an aggressive boyfriend, my friend pierced her nose. Instead of finishing her thesis, my old roommate dyed her hair.
Instead of telling my friends and family that I had been raped by an acquaintance in college, I cut my hair off, dyed it magenta, and pierced my eyebrow. For years, I “acted out” in the name of art and self-expression, instead of putting my energy towards healing this huge trauma.
My best friend was in a long-term relationship with a manipulative narcissist. She did everything she could to outgrow the relationship, except for leave. She dyed her hair, lost weight, started modeling and designing fashion shoots—she literally changed everything about the way her life looked, except for eliminating the one big thing that sucked her energy and stopped her from creating her art.
This paradox is called Resistance.
Resistance is human nature. Almost everyone is faced with the choice to change the world or change the wallpaper. But here’s the thing: most of the time, changing the way you look is not self-expression but self-repression. To give in—to give energy to a superficial change concocted while in resistance—gives energy to that resistance, siphoning power away from true creative expression.
How do you defeat resistance? Imagine someone standing next to you, leaning into you with all their weight. They’re crushing you; it takes everything you’ve got to stay standing. You’re pushing back into them, as forcefully as they’re pushing into you.
Resistance and the Artist are locked in this position—Resistance pushes you down, and you push back.
Now, take a step forward. Their hands slide off of you and they topple over. You slide out of resistance and into flow. For a few metaphorical moments, you are free. Resistance will pull itself together and catch up with you; this duality is the nature of being a creator.
That is why it is important to keep taking a step forward.
Do Your Work
I propose that the solution is in doing our work. (When I say work, I mean our divine purpose. We were all put on this planet to make something happen. That is our work.) Cut through resistance with a lethal but compassionate knife. Sit down to your unique work, every day. Sometimes it will flow and sometimes it won’t. However, by committing to the time in your life when you sit down to make magic happen, you give yourself an opportunity to meet inspiration and overcome resistance.
The only way to “get rid of” self-limiting beliefs or self-sabotaging acts is to move forward in spite of them. Create, create, create! Even if you are afraid—even if you think people will laugh, or that no one will take you seriously, let alone pay you. The most powerful thing you can do is sit down and do your work. The more you create, the higher your chances are of creating the thing that will transform your life and our world. Sit down and do the work.
If I still feel like radically transforming my appearance at the end of a day filled with creative expression, then I go for it. If my work inspires a change in the way I look, that’s great. But if I’m changing my look in an attempt to find inspiration, I know that I’m resisting deeper creative expression.
Resistance is fine, but I try to be clear with myself about what I’m up to—I own that I am getting a haircut from a place of resistance, and I’m not ready to do my work yet.
Author: Lily Calfee
Editor: Renée Picard
Photo: Author’s Own