I wrote this post for WeaveTech a couple months ago, for someone who was having trouble figuring out what to tackle next, but as I mull over the question of what I want to do next in my quest to become a “serious” artist, it seems apropos to reprint it here. (More on the “what next” in my next post!)
There’s an interesting concept that comes out of modern software development methodologies – collectively known as iterative development. Instead of starting with a fully thought-out plan (which almost always changes anyway between the start and finish of a project) and executing to completion, you develop your product in quick iterations, each of which produces a usable product. This allows you to change plans rapidly as you learn new things about what works and what doesn’t, while still having something finished and usable at any given moment (i.e. it prevents you from wallowing in dithering forever).
The application of this concept to your dilemma seems pretty straightforward. You can’t plan everything out in advance because you honestly don’t know where you’re going – you don’t have enough information to make a decision. (That’s what your indecisiveness signifies to me, though I could be wrong.)
So – make a list of the four or five goals that are important to you. Pick one to get started. Write down a description (“story”) of what that means to you, and pick out one or two items out of that description that you think would be most valuable to tackle first. (It might be something that is so basic that you can’t achieve the goal without it – e.g. “learn to weave” in the goal of “becoming a master weaver” – or it might be the most important thing on the list, or it might be the easiest to knock off the list. It’s entirely up to you.)
Once you have those one or two items, break it down further into something you can complete – usefully – in a relatively short time period. (For Agile software development, the suggested timeline is 2-4 weeks, and I think that’s a good place to start.) “Get the COE in handweaving” is a big task, but the first phase, something achievable within a few weeks, might be “Weave the first two samples in the COE requirements”. (It should ideally produce some sort of useful end product, so “study tapestry for two weeks” doesn’t really work – you need something more concrete.)
At the end of the first time period, you go back and re-evaluate the goals and priorities. Maybe you discovered that you weren’t interested in the COE in weaving after all. In that case, you can decide to do something different. The effort isn’t wasted – you still have the samples, and you still have everything you learned doing the first two samples. But you consciously re-evaluate every two to four weeks and ask yourself, “What did I get out of the last iteration? Is it getting me closer to what I want? If not, what do I need to change to get closer to what I want? Should I change my goals?”
In this way you can get useful things done while identifying and refining your goals. It will probably also be much less frustrating than trying to decide everything up front and then be faced with perpetual temptation.
In a related note, I’ve always loved Rainier Maria Rilke’s “Letters to a Young Poet” (Stephen Mitchell translation). Among other insightful things, he says this:
Always trust yourself and your own feeling, as opposed to argumentation, discussions, or introductions of that sort; if it turns out that you are wrong, then the natural growth of your inner life will eventually guide you to other insights. Allow your judgments their own silent, undisturbed development, which, like all progress, must come from deep within and cannot be forced or hastened.
…have patience with everything unresolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves as if they were locked rooms or books written in a very foreign language. Don’t search for the answers, which could not be given to you now, because you would not be able to live them. And the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps then, someday far in the future, you will gradually, without even noticing it, live your way into the answer.
There are lots of different ways to interpret those quotes, but what it specifically brings to mind in this context is the importance of experiential, intuitive decisionmaking vs. intellectual analysis when it comes to life goals, and particularly to artistic goals. I don’t think you’re going to get to a decision about your priorities by making lists, you’ll need to approach it iteratively and experientially in order to get good clarity. “Living your way into the answer” is something for which the iterative approach works really well, I think.