As we are concluding our final week as apprentices at Elephant Journal, I’m thankful for the skills I have learned and for the challenges this experience has posed.
Before this summer apprenticeship began, I had a goal to develop my skills as a writer and even deeper, I wanted to join a thriving community whose mission was to inspire and be of benefit to the world. It was a thrilling time for me to realize this was what I wanted to do and to be accepted into a journal I admire and have followed for years. I started the apprenticeship and dove in head first with an open mind and heart.
The true work of the course set in about three weeks in. Reality hit me that my skills in writing and in life were being challenged in some interesting ways. I didn’t sign up for an ego butt-kicking, but that’s truly what I got.
The apprenticeship challenged me to express myself to others in new ways I’d never practiced before. I was brought face to face with myself, and at times I felt naked. There was a moment I asked myself, “What am I hiding from?” I realized just after posing that question to myself, that my struggle in this apprenticeship, were actually my struggles in my life. That was a fear of being honest. Honesty brought on a whole new can of worms, and once that can was opened, I had a whole mess of vulnerability hangovers.
Three months later, I’m okay with being over-exposed, and vulnerable, like I felt shortly after the beginning. I now see writing as a piece of me, that I must respect in all its chaos. This has helped me to be better understand what a thriving community is more about. It’s not about perfection. It’s about community, help, understanding, compassion, honesty and vulnerability. To meet myself in these places of real human experience is what I’ll take with me from this summer.
Below is a list of 11 things I learned as an apprentice and how these lessons have shaped me to become a better person.
1. The key to growing as a writer is listening.
“To gain your own voice, you have to forget about having it heard.” ~ Allen Ginsberg
When I first started the course, I was already feeling insecure because I thought I was surrounded by professionals who knew way more than me. I felt like a fraud. I was worried about not being enough, so I tried to be all of the things I thought were important. I got to a point where I was inauthentic in my speech or words. I felt hurried, and rushed, and under processing my own experience. So I knew I needed to slow down this idea of hurrying to the finish line. I wanted to learn, which was the ultimate goal.
All of a sudden life got a bit clearer. I started to pay attention to the details and really hearing what people in my groups had to say. I had moments of weakness, when I wanted to chime in, but quickly stopped if my ego was speaking or my truth was speaking. I learned that sitting with an uncomfortable silence with myself is hard, but waiting through that, became easier. I was awarded with a new and, most of the time, better understanding of writing and life. By listening, you learn to be a better person. You connect better with others and learn to connect to the needs of your readers.
2. Learn from others: They are our best teachers.
The individuals I met in this apprenticeship were interested and curious about life, just like I was. I realized this made me feel less alone, which gave me courage in areas I needed most. Because of this, I was able to ask more questions and open up, which allowed me to learn more.
I also learned my community of fellow Ele-apprentices were supportive, which helped me get over that mountain of fear at the time. There’s empowerment in being a part of a group that understands you because they are just like you.
I encourage anyone seeking to make a difference in the world by exploring your own curiosities and passions, to start by finding a group of people who have the same interests. There is magic in finding people who share similar interests with you and together you can make a difference in the world.
3. Creativity will come to you. Just be prepared.
“Ideas are conscious and living and they have will and they have great desire to be made and they spin through the cosmos looking for human collaborators.” ~ Elizabeth Gilbert
So many times during the past three months I put pressure on myself to come up with something inspiring. That mere act of “trying” blocked me. Eventually, I let it all go because it was too heavy to hold.
What I found out shortly was my most fulfilling work was in spontaneous moments of joy in my natural self and environments. In these times, inspiration would come literally out of nowhere. They were the walks in nature, taking a shower, doing yoga, or on my bike.
What I learned is that most of the time when we are stressed, we are thinking, and the creative sparks are turned off. Letting the stress go, and allowing for creativity to come to you is key. The caveat: Be prepared to have your catcher’s mitt on for those ideas when they do come floating by.
4. Vulnerability hurts at first, but it’s how you realize your voice.
I wasn’t used to being in a group where my writing is shared among others. So, when I joined the apprenticeship, that was basically the number one challenge I was faced with.
My first lesson in vulnerability came when I was afraid to submit my first piece for publication. I had a fear of rejection and also fear of being accepted and published! Being published meant all my words would not only be spilled out in front of few people I was comfortable with, but perhaps thousands of people!
I expressed this fear to my group, and a fellow apprentice who’s work I admire, said to me, “It’s now or never, Lauren.” It was his words that pushed me beyond my comfort zone, and when I heard this from him, what I realized was the only way to get what I truly want is if I do something I’ve never done. So I submitted. I got published!
To be open and honest and accepting of your own fears, and to just do it now, is really and truly the best way you’ll make a difference and also being able to get exactly what you want.
5. Perfection is boring.
In our small groups, each week we had writing prompts. We were given a mere four to eight minutes to write about a topic that our teaching assistant would assign to us just moments before, giving us zero time to think. It was in those moments of spontaneity, where I got to explore my imagination, and it was in my fatally flawed self, that I found a sense of humor, and acceptance, and writing style that allowed me to be who I truly am. It allowed me an excuse of freedom in being me, which I found out is ironic and humorous and a little, dare I say, taboo?
In our fictional writing, I was able to join forces with a kidnapper and his muse and open up a yoga studio in Mexico. I also faked an Australian accent, while simultaneously falling in love with the stranger I lied to, and having to confess my dishonesty to him.
Going beyond my typical beliefs, and breaking the rules a little bit brought so much gratification. I celebrated my imperfections! I’d rather laugh, and pour unabashed honesty out to people, rather than being perfectly woven and articulate. More importantly, I realized I like people who are just as conflicted and ironic as I am. I saw this all working out in the benefit of my writing and in life because it’s relatable when you’re not perfect.
6. The smallest things in life can spark inspiration and change perspectives.
In the apprenticeship, I administered Yoga & Everyday Life on Facebook. It was my responsibility to find meaningful, and mindful quotes that were relevant to the page. Sometimes I would find the sincerest messages that would change my views, and give me just the boost I needed for the day. Even though I was posting them for the thousands of viewers of this page, I was finding myself looking for inspiration that helped me at the time. There is a quote for every mood, every experience, and every quark of our human behavior. I found in these searches, just one positive message or writer’s perspective can change your whole day for the good.
7. Creativity saves lives.
If I am not writing, I have lost connection with myself. It has saved me.
The freedom and the permission to put thoughts on paper, was one of the most important realizations. The assignments, the coaching, the inspiration, all allowed me to build a foundation for a creative outlet that I have deep down always needed. It’s a messy process sometimes, and sometimes a really ugly session of hair-a-mess, mascara-under-eyes, wearing-the-same-clothes-as-yesterday, sort of time. It’s something I’ll never let go of. Now I have seen through this and how this has been a carving out of a more beautiful piece of art. When discovering our creativity, there’s a new layer of self-discovery.
8. Rejection hurts, but without it, you’ll never know.
The first paper I submitted was rejected. In the past, I also didn’t always make the grade I wanted, get the call back for the job that I wanted, and even was told, “You’re not fit for this position”.
The reality is, rejection sucks, and there are not many experiences that hurt worse than being told you’re not good enough. If we find the courage to see beyond initial fear of rejection, we can see the true beauty in both winning and losing. Winning is a means of celebrating your efforts, while rejection gives us a benchmark to make us better.
9. If stressed and wound up, play!
An assignment was almost due. I was spiraling out of control with negative thinking. Stress took over. I told myself, “You know what, if it’s this hard, don’t do it.”
I turned my back on the assignment and decided to play. I did what I love to do when I want to feel instant joy, and I turned on my favorite song in my room. I started to dance and almost instantly I had a rush of energy come through me. This dancing moved around all kinds of pent up energy. I found the secret ingredient to getting my stream of creativity back. I actually wrote out my outline to the assignment immediately after dancing. If you want to get back on your flow of creativity, get out of your mind and play.
10. Having your heart broken creates great writing material.
“Anyone who has survived childhood has enough material to write for the rest of his/her life.” ~ Flannery O’Conner
I read hundreds of articles throughout the last three months and posted what I felt would benefit others. The articles I found a lot of times were writer’s talking about their heartbreak and how they found this revolution from within because of their struggle. I could see the comments from the articles, there were lives changed because of their words.
Whether it’s poetry, art, playing an instrument, or writing lyrics, when you’ve been through any kind of struggle, the art is what saves and mends the broken wounds in our soul.
Carving out our experience on whatever canvas is preferred, is the healing antidote. In your experience and the way you express this, can one day heal others as well.
Author: Lauren Robbins
Image: Author’s Own
Editor: Sara Kärpänen