Is your comfort zone getting uncomfortably small?

April 23, 2018  •  Leave a Comment

Do you remember how you got started creating? I bet you worked very differently from the way you are working now. I know that when I started out as an artist 21 years ago, I was very experimental. I just tried whatever popped into my mind. I honed my skills whilst not minding about anything being perfect. I was a beginner in my field and so I was ok with creative adventures even if they did not lead anywhere. I learned as much from what I did not like, as from what I did like. Then I got established as an artist, I won awards and I sold my work. If you had asked me in the beginning what success would look like, I would have replied : " Winning this or that award and selling all my work." But the weird thing was....it did not feel very successful at all.

Beech trees along a Dutch country roadDutch lane lined by beech treesA foggy country road in the Achterhoek, The Netherlands, lined by beech trees

What had happened was that I created within the boundaries of what was successful. I had found my style, I had achieved that at least, but then I became stuck in this style and winning the awards kept me even more closely confined within that box. People expected to see a certain type of work and I felt very worried when a new idea would pop up in my head, that would be outside my style, that was also my comfort zone with very well defined barriers. 

At one point on your creative path you will probably run into this issue of not being as experimental, as free in your creating, as you used to be. You have a following on social media perhaps and you know they expect a certain type of work from you. You have clients who buy your creations and you feel you can't just be playful and create whatever you like anymore.

Trees in a foggy autumn mountain forest in FranceGrey beech trees in a foggy mountain forestGrey beech trees covered in moss create a fairytale scene in this mountain forest in France.

I do think that this is a risky thing for an artist though. I believe that the playful aspect of the creative process is where growth and evolution has its roots. If your comfort zone gets to be a harness that you can't grow out of, you are in trouble, because we are meant to evolve into ever better versions of ourselves. With the comfort zone also usually comes a dose of perfectionism. You have honed your skills in one area and so if you try out something new it is almost impossible to feel comfortable with being a beginner at some new endeavour. Your perfectionist self will dismiss any new idea as risky, because it might just not be good enough. To put it into just a few words : With a comfort zone come boundaries set by what you think others expect of you and what you expect of yourself.

With a comfort zone come boundaries set by what you think others expect of you and what you expect of yourself.

That then stops you in your tracks if you want to experiment like you did in the beginning. It is important though to accept this nagging voice in your head which will tell you that you might just fail at this new endeavour and then move forward anyway. Why? Because you are where you are now because of the risks you took when you started out. Growth is outside the comfort zone, always...

Foggy fairytale forestFairytale Forest SceneWhimsical oak trees in a foggy forest

I noticed that in the past year or so I felt the same kind of unease that I had felt in my soft sculpture work years ago. An unease caused by my comfort zone getting a bit too tight and preventing me to evolve, to take risks. I chose to become more playful again in my work and to focus on authentic creating. I decided to listen to my curiosity and to grab the camera even on mornings when it was not foggy or I could not go to the forest and to make things very challenging at times. I went to natural mountain forests with no structure in it whatsoever, no paths, no lanes and avenues like many Dutch forests have. It was a bit of a shock at first, I was turning around and around and kept saying to myself, feeling slightly panicked: "I just don't see it, I can't see how I can make this work!" I kept at it though and made it into my challenge to find structure where there was none. I must make a note though that I had not challenged myself to do something inauthentic, because I love natural forests more than anything else and I especially love rocky forests. I had however pushed myself forcefully outside my comfort zone. 

 I would love to hear your responses to the following questions...please comment below if you would like to share

Tell me if your comfort zone also sometimes feels constricting? 

And if you feel that you have come to create what you think is expected of you (by either yourself of others)? 


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