Moving Through Anger and into Artistry at Work

Photo by Raphael Koh on Unsplash

Photo by Raphael Koh on Unsplash

I’ve had a lot of anger to process lately. Like many of you, I’m learning how to navigate what feels like a new level of chaos and distress in our world.

Unfortunately, I was using old coping skills that aren’t very advanced, and the main one I utilized was simply being angry, which of course usually made me feel helpless. While anger is totally normal and justified, it was perpetuating pain in my own life and in the lives of others because it wasn’t being channeled anywhere effectively.  

This started showing up in my worklife as well, not just in my response to catastrophic events around the globe.

I’ve started to feel less and less tolerant toward organizations that are either openly hostile to their employees or that hide their mistreatment of them in language about “culture” or “we’re one big family.” From what I can tell, most organizations have major improvements to make in how they treat their employees, vendors, and the environment.

And while I still believe this, I realized that I was only taking action from this angry and critical place, which was energizing at first but has ultimately been draining. I didn’t know how to transition from that place of frustration into one that was contributing to change in a more nourishing way.

With the help of a new community I’m a part of called Feminist Business School, I became aware that this angry, reactive response was due to a transformation in my thinking about the world.

I learned that I’ve had two competing beliefs operating within me, and that one of them was still informing my behavior much more often than I would like.

On one hand, I believe that we all have the right to live full, embodied lives, which includes the right to do meaningful and creative work while meeting our material needs.

I believe that with my whole being. You, me, and everyone we know deserves to be living out and expressing their unique genius while also being able to provide shelter and food for themselves and their families. There shouldn’t be any either/or here. It should be both, for everyone on the planet. This is a relatively new belief that I’m tending to and nurturing.

I have an even older belief, stemming from my socialization in a capitalist society, that says that we don’t deserve that. This belief says things like, “it’s silly and childlike to want to do what you love.” We’ve been taught since preschool that our worth lies in our ability to produce value and buy things, or that doing work you love is a luxury reserved for the wealthy.

These beliefs were at war inside of me: the newer conviction that living out our genius is our right v. the deeply ingrained belief that it’s not.

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If you’re a thoughtful person who is growing and metamorphosing into a new way of being in the world (and I bet you are), you might recognize this dissonant place I’m describing. Some common cases of dissonance that I see in others are:

New belief: I want to take a risk and try something new in my career. Old belief: Taking risks is irresponsible and leads to failure.

New belief: I have more to offer myself and the world. Old belief: I have nothing to offer, so it’s better to just bide my time and try to enjoy life where I can.

Shifting into these new beliefs, which are ultimately more empowering, is hard work, but when the light comes on, there’s no going back.

When we have seemingly competing beliefs, we feel cognitive dissonance, which I learned more about recently by reading Gay Hendricks’ book, The Big Leap.

Hendricks explains that when we come up against an old barrier like the belief that we don’t have the right to do work we love and make money, the old belief will always win out until we’re aware of it enough for it to dissolve. This happens because our brain has a default setting when it faces something that causes cognitive dissonance: it finds the quickest, simplest route to making sense, and that’s usually to bring us back down to the most deeply ingrained neural pathway.

While I intellectually believed that my old belief wasn’t true, I see now that I hadn’t internalized my new belief enough to really shift things in my life.

Without knowing it, I’d been operating out of resistance to the belief that not everyone has the opportunity to blossom into their genius. I was in a reactive mode, not a place where I could offer a compelling alternative vision.

It’s like there are three steps in a consciousness shift, and I was stuck at level two:

Level I: You’re unaware that you have a deeply-held belief that’s limiting you

Level 2: You’re aware of the old belief but you’re only able to react against it

Level 3: You’re living in alignment with your new belief and taking action to manifest it in reality

This was a painful and, to be honest, embarrassing realization, but one that was necessary in order for me to move out of anger and into actions that cultivate my new belief.

It’s easy to get angry and be critical about what’s going on around us, but the real work is in transforming it into something useful. The task ahead of us is to create beautiful, life-giving art out of what can feel like overwhelming problems.

Photo by Dakota Corbin on Unsplash

Photo by Dakota Corbin on Unsplash

Seth Godin defines art as “... the act of a human being doing generous work, creating something for the first time, touching another person."

As long as we shed our loving awareness onto these old barriers, we can begin to integrate a new reality and move out of angry reaction into the creation of art (and a life that we love).

I spent an hour yesterday brainstorming ideas for how I want to create art out of my belief that we all have a right to do meaningful, creative work that supports our material needs, but I’m not ready to share anything concrete yet.

Instead, I thought I’d share my go-to list of how I’ve supported this new awareness into being in case you’re also trying to make significant shifts in your cognition and behavior:

  1. I notice when I’m angry and look closely at what I’m angry about.

  2. Emotions are signals - they show us what’s important. So I find what’s in there that’s important to me, e.g., “I’m angry that Sharon was fired because I believe she was treated unfairly and fairness at work is important to me.”

  3. I hold that feeling and let it be there as long as it needs to be. I feel it in my body.

  4. Once it dissipates (and it always does if I let it), I ask myself, “In what small way can I help create a world that’s more fair?”

  5. Usually, this moves me into a more empowered place where I imagine the world I want to live in, which also fills me with positive and creative energy.

Behind the anger you feel is an impulse to create a life of integrity and joy for yourself and those around you.

I’ve learned that while the anger often feels good and righteous (and oftentimes it is), it ultimately wasn’t giving me the energy to be integrous or joyful. It left me incapacitated.

By being honest with ourselves about the old belief systems that still inform our behavior and using the energy of anger to guide us but not trap us, we get closer to manifesting the unique genius that wants to be at work in the world through us.

We arrive in our artist’s studio ready to create something beautiful.