Motivation for the lackluster potter

This morning from Seth Godin in my blog reader:

A friend was in a meeting with a few colleagues when my latest book came up.

One person said, “After I finished it, I was all fired up, and I felt like quitting my job to go do something amazing.”

The other one said, “That’s funny. After I finished it, I was all fired up and I couldn’t wait to come to work to do something amazing.”

Fired up isn’t something you can count on, but it’s certainly possibly to create a job, an opportunity and a series of inputs and feedback that makes it more likely that people get that way.

And fired up sometimes drives people to do amazing work with you, especially if you’ve built a job description and an organization that can take that energy and turn it into work that matters.

Give people (give yourself) projects that can take all the magic and energy and enthusiasm they want to give.

Lately I have been feeling undermotivated for making pots, glazing pots, firing pots, looking at pots, in short anything to do with with this one true passion of my life. There is a lot going on right now, and I am doing my best not to feel guilty for letting some dust collect in the studio. My father passed away while I was visiting last month, having collapsed in my arms just before his fatal decline…. I’ve also been mysteriously taken off the teaching schedule at the place I have faithfully taught for the last 17 years, without any warning or explanation…… So you could say at this point that I am lacking a bit of my luster. If not for my cheery natural disposition I’d be in the dumps.

Maybe I can be excused for not feeling like making pots. Perhaps its easy to understand that right now I don’t have the proper motivation to do good work, do any work. I don’t doubt that I will dig back into my clay at some point, dig out of the hole I’m in. In fact, without the income from teaching that I have relied on for 17 years, I had been counting on to pay my bills, now I either need to get some other paying job to replace my lost income or find some way to get my hands busy in clay again. If I don’t find the time for my studio or some inevitably less inspiring day-job, I will be eating Ramen noodles again for all my meals…..

Which brings me to a conversation I was having yesterday with my friend Julie. Her sister has recently returned from the hospital and is pretty depressed. She’s got the same sort of lack of motivation I have. And talking about my friend’s sister helped frame my own situation in a way that helped me see things more clearly. And I really know this stuff already, but its so easy to lose sight when the world just seems so… blech.

What I came to understand (again) was this: We can’t always wait to do things until we feel like doing them, with the risk that we may never feel like doing them. If the incentive necessary to do something is that we feel like it, in a sense we may be confusing the cart with the horse, but not in a straightforward sort of way. You see, the truth quite often is that we don’t simply do what we like, but that we also like what we do. Stepping into the studio would remind me why I love making pots. Making pots would help make me FEEL like making them. I would enjoy it, and have no trouble justifying my time spent in the studio.

But that’s not where I am right now. Right now I feel like I don’t want to be there doing anything, much less making pots. I have no emotional/motivational desire or justification for being there, so I’m not. And yet, as I’ve hopefully just demonstrated, the primary reason I don’t feel like being there is that I AM NOT THERE ALREADY. Being there would itself quite possibly solve that.

I don’t want to downplay serious depression issues, but I know that in my own case, from my own extensive history in the studio making things, you can have the excuse that you won’t make pots because you don’t feel like it, but that if you DO make them anyway you can actually turn a negative day into a positive one. You can change from being the victim of your emotional state into its master.

Its sometimes like a kid who doesn’t like waffles because they look weird, not at all like pancakes: Try them, you’ll like them. Its at least occasionally the difference between an open mind and one that has already decided. Waiting for the right ‘feeling’ is simply saying that feeling is necessary. Without it, why bother? Its also saying that we can’t manually adjust how we are feeling, but that we are simply stuck with the cards we are dealt. In some severe cases that may be true. But as Julian Baggini says:

“Emotions are assumed to be beyond our control, ebbing and flowing in anarchic independence from the rational mind. But if we question the judgments that lie behind our emotions, we will often find that those feelings do, indeed, change. We can help the way we feel, if the way we feel flows from a mistaken judgment that we can correct.”

Sometimes the feeling has to follow the doing. The mistake we sometimes make is in putting the cart before the horse. We can’t simply wait for the cart (feeling) to lead us. If we only do the things we like, there is this tremendous but unseen roadblock in front of us. The cart itself blocks our path. Sometimes we look at the roadblock and are unnerved. We see the obstacle and it prevents us from crossing to the other side. But the roadblock is only stopping us because we refuse to navigate it. Its a form of intimidation. The child whines to its parent “I don’t want to”. As if wanting was the only or most important reason to do something…..

And the weird thing is that once we have crossed over, if we look back, often we can no longer see the roadblock. Once we have rediscovered the joys of doing, our lack of motivation was only ever apparent from the side of ‘not doing’. Its like a see through mirror: from the one side you can see through, but from the other it is blocked and reflects back on you…..

Maybe the mirror analogy is a good one, with maybe an Alice through the looking glass twist. There are times when you need to look at yourself, do a bit of contemplation, but there are others where you need to see what’s going on on the other side, you need to push beyond the barriers, and the mirror is either in the way or it lets you pass through. It shows you what’s on the other side and how to get there….

Stuff to think about, at least…

Peace all!

Happy potting!

Make beauty real!


About Carter Gillies

I am an active potter and sometime pottery instructor who is fascinated by the philosophical side of making pots, teaching these skills, and issues of the artistic life in general. I seem to have a lot to say on this blog, but I don't insist that I'm right. I'm always trying to figure stuff out, and part of that involves admitting that I am almost always wrong in important ways. If you are up for it, please help me out by steering my thoughts in new and interesting directions. I always appreciate the challenge of learning what other people think.
This entry was posted in Art, Arts education, Creativity, metacognition, Pottery, Teaching. Bookmark the permalink.

7 Responses to Motivation for the lackluster potter

  1. Carol says:

    Grief has this effect . . . plus the unexplained cancellation of a longtime teaching job, which you not only enjoyed but also depended on. Who wouldn’t go through such a period?

  2. Stephen says:

    Hi Carter,

    Very sorry for your loss. I lost my dad in 2010 and it is a hard jolt in life. He was 77 and I was just shy of 50. I miss him and think of him often. Hope you feel better soon. Hey work when its needed and just get through it all. I would say though that you might not want to not trust melancholy feelings right now.

    As an aside, I wouldn’t assume the 17 gig is over though until its confirmed by more than an omission, give them a call and find out what’s up. Worse case at least you will know the reason and best case it works out. Sounds more than a little odd to sever a 17 year relationship like that so maybe someone forgot to call or email first or its just a mistake.

  3. Pingback: Potter from another planet | CARTER GILLIES POTTERY

  4. alison says:

    grief is an odd beast. it inexplicably takes away all motivation for engaging what we love, a motion beyond our capacity to control, leaving you with nothing but facing it … i understand your words and experience all too well, and they don’t seem strange to me. they just point to what an inexplicable experience it is to have death sit in your lap and hang out awhile. peace, brother. am loving reading your blog. thank you for writing.

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