How do you feel about getting feedback on your work? As I write this question, I get a sick feeling in my stomach. That’s how I feel about it. I suppose that’s because I have a special blend of being extremely sensitive, tending towards perfectionism, and feeling that my work is my purpose for this lifetime. And yet feedback is vital for progress with my work.
This week I was introduced to an idea from Eckhart Tolle: “Life is the dancer and we are the dance.” You may want to pause here and ponder this one, because I was so dumfounded when I read this that I felt like I was just tossed around on an upside down ride. What the F!?! I am the dance?!?! When I finally calmed down and digested it properly, I realized that my problem with feedback and other blocks I have with work have to do with confusion in thinking that I am the dancer. Sewing progress insanely slow. Conclusion: I am a bad sewer. I am not good enough. Wrote a crappy first draft. I am a bad writer, etc., etc.
Nope. Turns out, I am the dance. Ok got it. It should only take me about a decade to integrate that new piece of information.
To return to the topic of feedback, I have been letting my imagination wander with the thought of how different my work would be if I were taught that I am not my work, but a vehicle for it, however imperfect. As such, we would get feedback regularly in school for the purpose of improving the work that comes through us, not to make US more perfect or faster or more efficient or more accurate. I.e. we learned to separate our ego from what we produce.
So imagine with me for a moment, that I write something that is unfocused and hard for the reader to understand. A friend gives me this feedback. Though I am getting better (mostly from dating someone that gives feedback openly and often), I am going to share a typical response here:
When we begin the conversation I have a knot in the center of my stomach before she can even get the words out. My fear creates such a ruckus that I can’t clearly take in the particulars of what she says, but I’m sure it is mostly about me sucking as a writer. She says a bunch of things, I take some notes, I miss some stuff as my mind wonders to the doomsday scenario of being a failed, unemployed kooky old writer lady.
Now imagine that I see myself as the dance not the dancer. The work comes through me, not from me. It is ALWAYS a work in progress. And the people around me are there to offer help to make the work even better than it would be in isolation. Their feedback is a gift to make my dance that much more beautiful.
This time the advice reaches me in a calm state. I listen carefully so I don’t miss anything. I feel gratitude for how valuable it is that she is taking the time to help me make my dance more beautiful and to provide a fresh perspective on it. I digest it fully. I ask follow-up questions. I take a moment to consider which pieces of advice work from my viewpoint as a steward of this work. I figure out what changes I would like to make. And I make them. I have learned some good stuff here, which will make each next bit of work that much better since I am working from an increasingly vast arsenal of knowledge.
How do we get to this second reality? I am experimenting with meditating on the thought of being the dance, not the dancer, during my creative time. Perhaps if I do this enough I can change my orientation to the work and reverse the decades of confusion caused by thinking that it was mine.
Go, fight, win.
I so appreciate this exploration, Reid. I, too, am going through some new thinking, trying to separate all I do from "ego" and re-reading lots of Eckhart Tolle. I'm noticing that I'm attracted to collaborative work, where my contribution is perfect in combination with another's - so we pursue clients or build projects together. It is WONDERFUL to take the weight off your own shoulders, but trust that it helps deliver the whole. Seeing yourself as the dance and not the dancer is spot on. Keep writing.
Thanks, Andrea. It is very interesting to think about it in terms of collaborative work. Going to do some reflecting on this for my next collaborative project.