"Creating a Life Worth Living," Carol Lloyd

Pros: Creative, inspiring; ideas for all types of people; you can skip around easily
Cons: Not every artist needs help figuring out what they want to do
Rating: 5 out of 5

First published 10/6/2003

Carol Lloyd’s book “Creating a Life Worth Living” bears a subtitle that declares it to be ‘a practical course in career design for artists, innovators, and others aspiring to a creative life’. In that, it succeeds quite well. So if you’re already snugly fitted into your creative career, you’ll have little use for this book. But if you’re struggling to figure out what to do next or where to go, this book could help you turn your interests and desires into a concrete plan of action that fulfills both emotional and practical needs.

Redesigning Your Own Career Path

I’ve been struggling lately to redefine my own career. I thought I was stably settled into what I wanted to do–freelance writing. I’d enjoyed it for a while and had found it both fun and satisfying. Yet this year it wasn’t doing the job. I read a few books (in the effort to jog myself back into feeling excited about my work), and somewhere along the line came across a review of “Creating a Life Worth Living.” The book sounded interesting, so I picked up a copy.

The course (developed from workshops Lloyd teaches) starts pretty much from ground zero, with the assumption that maybe you have a yearning to do something different with your life, but you don’t yet know what that is or, at least, how to do it. Starting with a “daily action” and moving on to some material on idea generation and abstraction, Lloyd mixes thoughts on creativity (“It’s good to simply look at your lived experience and separate it from your concepts about ‘life.'”) with concrete exercises and interviews with successful creative people from all walks of life: teachers, painters, actors, writers, inventors, entrepreneurs, performance artists, dancers, directors, and more.

Although I read the entire book all the way through, I should note that it’s easy to skip around and pick and choose chapters based on what you want help with and how far along you are in your own process. Footnotes will lead you to occasional bits of material referenced from other chapters, and Lloyd’s sense of humor generally keeps the reading interesting even when you’re reading about something that doesn’t particularly apply to you.

A Bit of Everything

Inspiration, excitement… your own memories and ideas are used as jumping-off points in this course. If you haven’t yet fully tapped into your creativity, this kind of exercise-work can be handy in helping you to get started. Lloyd brings her own experiences, as well as those of her students and other professionals, into the mix as she tries to help you figure out what you want to do and why:

Tricia, an aspiring opera singer and entrepreneur, waited until our last meeting to tell us that what she really wanted to do was graphic arts.

“It seemed so impossible,” she shrugged when the rest of us expressed surprise at her not having told us before. … Allow yourself to consider all your ideas seriously. There will be time later to make commitments to specific goals and eliminate certain options.

Lloyd helps you to let go of your preconceptions by having you write down everything, no matter how silly, and by sharing stories of people who succeeded by doing what everyone told them they shouldn’t do. She discusses her own list of artist personality “archetypes” and encourages you to create your own if you don’t find yourself listed. She discusses the practical aspects of a creative life as well: money, time, family, and so on. While she encourages you to find a way to “create a life worth living,” she also keeps in mind that food and shelter cost money, and that not everyone can find a way to make money with their art.

She discusses the pros and cons of various sorts of day jobs and careers that you might use to support your art as well as the ways in which you can use your creativity to make money. Her “work environment questionnaire” asks about everything from minimum yearly income to the ideal level of responsibility and human contact you desire in a job.

But most useful of all, to my mind, are the chapters on exploring various paths you might take: career options, individual projects, and so on. Questions encourage you to take both the short and the long view, the practical and the ideal. The interviews with professionals serve to show you that different people do the same things quite differently, so you’ll understand that the key isn’t to emulate someone else’s perfect process–it’s to find your own.

By the end of it all…

By the end of the book I’d explored some of the options I knew I had much more thoroughly than ever before, and thought about ones I hadn’t even considered previously. I had a much better handle on why each option appealed to me, what about it filled a need in my life and what didn’t, and thus how best to tailor my path to my needs.

A book like this won’t bandage up your life and make everything better in five easy steps. It won’t reveal a magical key that will show you how to make millions from your watercolors, but it can help you to see your life a bit more clearly. It can help you to see the options and resources you might have missed, and it can help you to figure out what needs you have, creatively speaking, and how best to fulfill them.

I still plan to come back every now and again to re-work some of the exercises in this book. I might use the exercise “the three paths” if I’m trying to choose between major projects I might devote the next few years to. I could use the “exercises in developing good day jobs” if I just can’t make the money I need by writing. The chapter called “A Map to the Moon” presents a handful of different ways to organize tasks and projects that might help me get started on individual goals. In short, there are many useful tools in here to take you from choosing your creative path in the first place to planning and getting started on your individual projects. If you have any trouble setting out upon your creative path, then this book might give you a helping hand.

Posted in Reviews, Writing

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