What I Learned About Creative Competition As A Massage Therapist

Did you know that I was a massage therapist with my own private practice here in Portland, Oregon, for five years?  Yep.  I had a massage table right here in my art studio until 2016.  But what I want to tell you about today is what it taught me about being an artist.

You see, for most of the time that I practiced massage, my schedule was usually full.  I don't say that to brag, but to point out something powerful about the arts.  As you can imagine, the Portland area has no lack of excellent massage practitioners covering all of the modalities and specialties. There are half a dozen practitioners within a block of my studio!

What this taught me was that there truly is no competition when what you’re doing is an art. Massage is a healing art. To become a massage therapist, one must attend schools and earn certifications to learn the many techniques, legalities, and physicalities of the profession. But you also have to have an innate capacity to empathize with people and determine how to help them out of their pain, and you have to have a sense of touch.

I think that massage parallels art in my life in that I had an instinct and perhaps a natural gift for it, and my background helped prepare me for it. My mom is a massage therapist and healer, and I helped her study when she was going through her formal training when I was in high school. This began my interest in the field, more than a decade before I began my own practice.

So yes, those things helped me to become a massage therapist, and I had my massage table set up in one half of my art studio. And yet no sense of competition stopped me from sometimes renting out my space to another massage therapist. Even when we tried to refer clients back and forth due to scheduling conflicts, we found that clients never wanted to switch.  Our clients liked and trusted us, and it takes a lot of work to find a practitioner that you can trust. Once you find someone that meets your needs, you don’t want to go to anyone else!

This is as true in the fine arts as in the healing arts. I trust that I am the right teacher for my art students, when they come to me. There are many other artists and teachers out there, so I can only be me.  

And there is a way that my trust in this has been tested time and time again. I have had art teachers who are participants in my courses who ask, “I’d really love to teach your technique or a version of it to my students. Is that OK?” Or some participants who are professional artists selling work who would like to incorporate a technique they’ve learned from me into their work. At first, I admit, I was unsure about this.  But as the years have gone on, I have realized that they will be teaching and creating it in their own unique way, and that is not in competition with that I am creating.  From where I am in my current understanding, I do give my blessing! I trust that that participant—that art teacher, that artist—will take that technique and make it their own as they teach it or incorporate it, transmuting it through their own experience and expertise, and deliver it in a new form to their community.  It won't be the same. It will evolve through them.  When other art teachers come to my open studios, I encourage them to take photos of my step-by-step demos - and sometimes they come back to me and tell me they have taught it to their high school classrooms, or have tried it out for themselves.  

Returning to the massage therapist example, I learned to do myofascial release (among many other techniques) when I studied massage. This technique was also studied by all the other massage practitioners in my area as they became trained and certified. But when I delivered myofascial release or the other techniques, it was unique, and my clients came to me for that. And I trust that the other practitioners are providing myofascial release with their own unique set of qualities, transmuted through them—and for their specific clients, they have the ideal therapist.

I’ll admit that a few years ago, I would see an advertisement from a past student who’d be teaching a class on the technique that I’d recently taught them, and I wasn't sure how to feel about it.   But then I came to a realization:  They are making it their own, and reaching their own special people with it.  And I have my own group (if you're reading this, that's you!) that I get to serve with teaching and painting and writing and sharing all the discoveries along the way.  You're my people. I don't have to worry about everyone else.  You've chosen to be here on this adventure with me right now for some reason, and I trust your choice.  And I have learned from so many different teachers over my own lifetime, and so many years of experimentation in my own personal art practice and decade plus of teaching, and what I do is an alchemy of all of it.  I am grateful to everyone who has taught me.  I have come to this core guiding principle:

There is truly no creative competition when we are tapped into our creative truth.

When I was able to book my calendar as a massage therapist despite the fact that Portland has an abundance of other practitioners, I learned that I didn’t need tons of clients: I needed a small group of happy clients that found me the perfect fit. That’s the imperative that I want to share—first, that there is no creative competition when we are tapped into our creative truth (and it’s between you and your own sense of integrity to suss out what is your own truth); and second, just know that there is your special core group of people who will find you the perfect fit. Those people NEED your special type of offering, whether that be your painting, your healing art, your teaching, or whatever your gift may be.

This is why I’m happy to mentor other creatives at this point in my journey, both during 1-on-1 creative mentoring sessions, and in my year-round course, Let's Go Deep.  I approach mentoring with the understanding that I don’t have all the answers—you do.  I know how to do what I do; my own special alchemy of experience and experimentation, and I’m willing to share how I go about it, and figure it out together with my creative mentoring clients. It delights me to see other artists take a hold of their own truth and get set on fire with that clarity.  We are all on the same team, and there is plenty of room for us all.

Photo by  Alicia Schulz

Photo by Alicia Schulz

Annamieka Davidson