Know your gatekeeper

Who stands at the gate stopping us from embarking on our most important creative adventures?

You can be very proficient. Good at doing a hundred things. Confident at doing a hundred more. And yet… there can be one thing that feels off limits. Way too hard. Likely impossible.

You are equally attracted to it and repelled by it.

‘I. Must. Write.’ part of you says, with gritted Clint Eastwood teeth.

‘I. Must. Not. Write!!!’ a shrill Lauren Bacall yells with hands in the air.

Yes. No. Push. Pull. The urge to act. The urge to not act.

No wonder you stay stuck. It’s not laziness, it’s just physics – two equal and opposite forces butting heads against each other, and you, the meat* salad in the too-tight sandwich with your insides spilling out all lettucey and over the place.

Likely you have an inner visionary, who can see the project, feel the project, wants in on the project. And then you have also an inner gatekeeper, who stands at the threshold of the project, hands on hips, saying ‘What you? Coming in here, with those shoes? Nope, I don’t think so’.

Now these gatekeepers look different for different people, and the words they say to us are different:

  • Yours might say ‘people in this family don’t play music – life is hard and serious and needs proper attention, so just you get back to doing something useful thanks very much’. 
  • Mine might say ‘there’s no point trying to print fabric because it’s all been done before and you’re just going to be disappointed when people don’t like it and you realise you’ve made something not very good.’
  • That woman who works in the shop up the road might have one that says ‘only ball-breakers become businesswomen, you’re too nice, you’d be eaten alive, you’re better off working for someone else than going out on your own.’
  • Your friend on social media who loves art but never makes any might have one that says ‘aaaah if you paint beautifully people will notice you and you will be weird and different and life will feel uncomfortable so just don’t even think about that’.
  • The guy siting next to you on the bus might have one that says ‘look, I think just between you and me no one will like what you make so let’s just avoid all that laughter and derision and horrible reviews in the Times and not bother trying to make films’.

On and on and on. These gatekeepers talk to us in voices of ‘let’s not bother’, ‘who are you to try’, ‘it’s not ok for you to be doing this’, ‘you don’t have what it takes’, ‘life wont be safe anymore if you do this’, ‘people wont like you any more if you do this’….. on and on and on.

And beyond them, our gatekeepers and those giant double barred gates they keep locked, we sense glimmers of the gold of our projects – finally embarked upon, finally experienced.


Reflection questions:

What is it that feels really charged and dangerous for you to embark on? Which creative endeavours feel full of dread and portent?

Are you aware of your inner gatekeeper? Have you listened carefully with curiosity to what it says, or written it down in your journal?

Have you ever imagined it as a character and wondered what it’s motivation is? Are you aware of what it is trying to protect you from? Have you listened to see whose voice it reminds you of?


*I don’t eat meat so I figure my metaphors should be brought along for the ride as well

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