Starving Artist No More Blog

015: But What If You Could?

Feb 07, 2023
Starving Artist No More | Jennifer Jill Araya
015: But What If You Could?

 If you could do anything, if you had no limits whatsoever, what would you do? Where would you go? How would you grow? If the impossible became possible, what would you be just so incredibly excited to create? Perhaps, as I was asking you those questions, you journeyed with me on my little thought experiment and allowed yourself to dream. Or perhaps you resisted. “I do have limits,” you might have argued. “The impossible, by its very definition, is not possible. I need to be realistic. I can’t do those things.” But what if you could? What if you could achieve those far-off dreams that you are today labeling “impossible”? What if you weren’t limited? Today, we’re going to stretch your concept of what you can do. We’re going to challenge your limits. We’re going to ask, “but what if you could?”


Hello, and welcome to episode 15 of the Starving Artist No More podcast. I’m your host, Jennifer Jill Araya, and I’m so glad you’re here with me for this discussion about dreaming and imagining and expanding your view of the creative business you can build.

Before we get to that, though, I do have an announcement for all of the actors, audiobook narrators, and storytellers in my listening audience. If you are listening to this episode when it is initially airing, on February 7, 2023, or in the month and a half after that initial release date, I’ve got big news for you. I am hosting an in-person workshop in New York City on March 26, 2023 that will be all about the art and the business of being a thriving actor. I am so excited about this!

For this day-long workshop, I’m teaming up with award-winning actor, audiobook narrator, and acting coach Marni Penning. I’ve worked with Marni many times, and I’ve taken courses and workshops with her, and let me tell you, she is an incredible artist and teacher. The process she teaches for text analysis is game-changing. On March 26th, Marni will be teaching you specifically how to do focused and in-depth text analysis for auditions, so that even when you only have 5 minutes to prepare a text for an audition, you’ll be ready with a one-of-a-kind, text-based read that is singularly shaped by your unique acting style. It’s amazing stuff. Here’s a little secret: I use Marni’s text analysis process for every single audition, every time. You are not going to want to miss this.

In my portion of the workshop, I’ll be discussing how to find projects within what I call your creative and financial sweet spot. You might have heard me talk about this a while ago, in Episode 7 of this podcast, but I’m going to go into lots more detail in this in-person workshop. Projects in your creative and financial sweet spot are the projects that you find most creatively rewarding and that also pay you your very best rates. Working within that space within your business is an incredibly empowering place to be! On March 26th, I’m going to be helping the workshop attendees take concrete steps to grow their business in a way that brings these kinds of projects their way.

This workshop is going to be an amazing day of learning and sharing and growing together, and I cannot wait. If you’re interested in signing up or even if you just want to learn more about the workshop, just head on over to the Events page of my website, And if you’re listening to this way in the future and March 26, 2023 is in the past and you didn’t catch this episode when it initially came out, you can still head to my website and check the events page to see if I have any in-person or online events coming up that you’re interested in. Who knows, maybe I do!

Alright, now that I’ve shared that super exciting event – seriously, I am so excited about this in-person workshop – now that I’ve shared about that, it’s time to look at the topic of today’s episode.

I started this episode by inviting you to daydream a bit with me. Let’s return to that space. If you could do anything, if you had no limits whatsoever, what would you do? Where would you go? Where would your focus be? What projects would you spend your time on? If the impossible became possible, what would draw your attention so irresistibly that you’d spend all your time focused on it, and you’d enjoy every second?

Take a moment, and just let your mind dream and wander. What are your pie-in-the-sky, too-good-to-be-true dreams for your work?

Do you have a few projects or types of projects in mind? Do you have some dreams in your head? Or was your practical mind fighting you? Was something inside you insistently telling you: “You can dream, but it’s not actually going to happen. It’s impossible.”

I know I hear that voice from time to time. It doesn’t pipe up every day, but it makes appearances a lot more than I’d like. When I take time out to do some really big dreaming and thinking and planning, like I did just over a month ago in December, when I was working on my 2023 business goals, that voice really likes to make himself heard. But it’s not just when I’m doing big dreaming and goal-planning. Sometimes it pipes up when I have a discouraging audition result, or when something I’ve been working on doesn’t turn out the way I’d hoped, or when I have a setback of some sort. It sometimes even shows up because of something as simple and mundane as a off day. It’s really annoying.

When that voice starts making its presence known, I have three go-to strategies. First, I think of one of my favorite quotes about what is impossible, courtesy of the incredible Audrey Hepburn. She said: “Nothing is impossible. The word itself says, ‘I’m possible!’” This quote always makes me laugh! Hopefully it’s not just me, and that there are other word geeks out there who get a kick out of this quote.

If the laughter spurred by Audrey’s quote isn’t enough, and that voice is still nattering away in my head, I go to my next line of defense: singing the song “Impossible” from the Rogers and Hammerstein version of Cinderella. I was a musical theater kid, and I’ve been singing this song as long as I can remember. It was one of my audition and competition songs in elementary school. The words are forever etched in my brain. I proudly count myself among the zanies and fools. Sensible rules are not for me. (If you know the song, you understand that reference.)

Now, unfortunately, due to super-tight copyright rules around lyrics and music, I can’t read the lyrics here or sing the song for you or anything like that, but I’ll link a few recordings in the show notes (Recording 1, Recording 2, and Recording 3, my favorite -- who doesn’t love Julie Andrews!) so you can enjoy the song’s delightful silliness for yourself. It’s super fun and almost always helps me fight off the “you can’t do that” doldrums.

Almost always. There are days that that’s not enough. Sometimes the roadblocks and problems I’m encountering are bigger than either of these strategies. Sometimes I just really struggle to see a way through my current predicament or a way to change my situation for the better. And in those cases, what always works is strategy #3: asking myself, “But what if I could?”

I’m going to share a story of an unnamed audiobook narrator who I coached a while back. This narrator is an amazing actor. She is incredibly good at what she does and she loves her work, but when we started working together, she was almost only working in one genre. She enjoyed that genre and liked working in it, but she didn’t like only working in that genre. She wanted a bit more variety. She’d tried a few different strategies to get work outside of the genre she’d been pigeon-holed into, and she’d had a little bit of success, a book here or there, but she’d not really succeeded in getting steady work outside her less-than-comfortable pigeon-hole. She was understandably frustrated by that limitation. She desperately wanted to change the direction of her career.

Her desperation was so deep that it was keeping her from recognizing strategies for getting her where she wanted to go. She had a big goal: narrating in a wide variety of genres. She had half-heartedly tried a few strategies to get her from where she was – the pigeon-hole – to where she wanted to be – genre variety. But she certainly hadn’t tried all possible strategies for changing the nature of her work, and even the strategies she had tried, she hadn’t given them the energy and focus they would have needed for them to really succeed. Her efforts had been half-hearted and scattered, at best. She also hadn’t sustained any of those strategies for long enough for her to be able to actually see results. Strategies take time to bring results, and she’d given up on the strategies before they had a chance to work.

I had enough distance from her situation that I could see those things. I could see that she could try again with the strategies she’d already used, and that they might work this time. I could see that there were lots of other strategies available to her in addition to the ones she’d already attempted.

But she was so close to the problem and so consumed by desperation that she couldn’t. She was so frustrated by her current situation that she was unable to see the many possible paths out of that situation, even when I presented them to her.

For every suggestion I made, she had a reason and a rebuttal as to why it wouldn’t work. Sure, maybe strategy A had worked for others, but it wouldn’t work for her, for reasons X and Y and Z. And maybe she’d had some success with strategy B, but it hadn’t really made that much of a difference, and she already tried it, so that proved it wouldn’t work.

We talked through this for quite a while, with her finding a problem with each of the strategies I suggested. She kept saying some variation of, “But I can’t do that!”

Finally, after one of her “I can’t do that!”’s, I simply responded, “But what if you could?”

What if you could?

If you could do that, what would be different? What difference would it make? If you could give it a try, would it change anything? If that strategy did work, what then? What would follow from the success of that strategy?

For that narrator, this was the question that finally pulled the little thread in her mind that needed to be pulled in order to allow her to unravel her mindset blocks. When I asked “but what if you could?”, she finally saw what she was doing. She realized that her mindset was holding her back. Because she hadn’t really believed that she could ever get out of her pigeon-hole, she hadn’t allowed herself to seriously consider the strategies that I was suggesting. She was writing them off and finding reasons to say “no” without ever really listening to what the strategies were. She couldn’t accept these strategies because her mindset told her that the strategies wouldn’t work for her, even if they would work for others.

Now, I could gloss over all the ups and downs this narrator faced with her mindset and tell you that the narrator was immediately more confident and more open to problem-solving and that she instantly got the kind of work she wanted and she then lived happily ever after. But that would be even more of a fairy tale than the Rogers & Hammerstein Cinderella! One mindset breakthrough doesn’t fix everything. Implementing strategies for change and growth in our businesses is still hard, slow, and ongoing work, even when your mindset is a super positive one that is supportive of your efforts. Change is still hard. But this question, and the thought process that resulted from her seriously asking herself this question, did help this narrator to move from a problem-focused mindset to a problem-solving mindset, and that shift makes a huge difference.

Humans are problem-solvers. That’s part of how our brain is wired. It’s what allowed early humans to cultivate fire and to make tools, and then to teach others to do those things. When we see a situation as a problem with a discoverable solution rather than as an immutable, immovable fact, we start to brainstorm ways to get around it. Without that brainstorming, we’ll never get to the other side of a tricky situation. It’ll just stay there, like a festering wound, constantly causing us pain and grief and anxiety. But once we get to the place where we can start brainstorming ways around, over, or through that situation, a solution becomes possible.

If you’re not even looking for the solution, you’ll never find it. Everything changes once you think of the situation as one that can be improved.

That’s what “But what if you could?” does for you. It forces you to reframe the problem into one that can be solved. It helps you stop focusing on how horribly big and impassable the mountain is, and instead begin imagining how incredibly beautiful the view is from the top of that mountain. If you could get over “this problem,” then “that amazing thing” is suddenly possible, and wow, you want that! So now you’re problem-solving to get there rather than spending all your time and focus obsessing over the problem.

In short, asking yourself “but what if I could” pushes you to think bigger. It forces you to stop focusing on the immediate problem. You can’t think small if you’re truly, deeply asking yourself, “but what if I could?”, and allowing your mind to sink into the answer.

New York Times bestselling author Marianne Williamson wrote a brief passage that I think speaks directly to the mindset snarls that can be found in this problem-focused place. In her 1992 book A Return to Love, Williamson wrote, “Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness, that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, and fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small doesn’t serve the world.”

Perhaps this quote speaks to me so much because I find myself in that problem-focused place a lot. The possibilities do frighten me sometimes. It’s not logical, but I often realize that I’m holding myself back, making apologies for my successes, and wanting to sweep my achievements under the rug. Why? I don’t always know. Sometimes it’s because I think it will make others feel better. But even that answer is often an excuse rather than a truth. More often, when I find myself doing that, it’s because I’m afraid of what the ramifications of truly accepting success will be.

If I accept that I won this award or achieved this career milestone or did x, y, or z, then that means that I’m the “kind of artist” for whom “those kinds of things” happen. And sure, it happened once, but what if it never happens again? What if I can’t ever replicate that kind of success in the future? What if I win one award but never win another one? What if my career milestone is a fluke and I’m really not ready for the kind of notoriety it will bring? What if I’m not good enough to do x, y, or z again, if I can only do them once? Then everyone will see me as the fake I really am. It’s easier never to have those good things happen in the first place, or to not tell anyone about them if they do.

And so I shirk away. I hide my best work. I allow my light, my power, my creativity, to instill in me fear instead of fortitude. I turn solvable problems into insurmountable obstacles in my mind. Goodness, it is unbelievable how much of an impact our mindset has on how we view the world!

One specific experience I had while working as an artisan really drove this reality home to me.

If you’ve listened to this podcast before, or if you have read anything on my website about my experience as a creative entrepreneur, then you know that I worked as an artisan for several years after college. I am a skilled seamstress and also have always enjoyed working with polymer clay, and crafting and sewing have always been hobbies of mine. I worked a desk job right out of college to pay the bills while I looked for a full-time music position, but not long into that desk job, I got sick of it. I needed something more engaging and more creative to pay the bills. The desk job just wasn’t cutting it. So, I decided to try selling my handcrafted items online, primarily through Etsy, which was just in its infancy at the time, and also at craft fairs and art shows.

Right away, I had a fair amount of initial success, and for the most part I enjoyed the work. Making money from my creativity was definitely an aspect of that job that I absolutely loved. However, after more than a year of either playing an orchestra concert or working a craft fair or art show every single weekend, I was ready to find a new avenue for selling my products so that I could have some of my weekends back!

I did some research and determined that the logical next place for me to go with my work was to sell to gift stores and retail shops. If I wanted weekends back, I needed to start selling my items wholesale. And to do that, I needed something other than my Etsy store and my art show portfolio to show the store owner or retail buyer what items I had available and at what prices. I needed to put together a catalog.

And that’s where I stopped. I did the research. I picked a strategy. But I just mentally couldn’t go further. The prospect of putting together a catalog felt like a big, insurmountable obstacle to me. Which was silly! I already had beautiful photography of all of my items, since everything was listed for sale in my online shop. And I already had experience putting together extensive photographic samples of my work when I applied for the various art shows and craft fairs that I participated in, quite a few of which were juried events.

But somehow, a catalog felt bigger than my previous tasks. It felt different and scary and … impossible. I did start the catalog. I put together the first few pages. But I never did finish it, despite having it on my business priority list for months.

Looking back on it, I recognize now that my problems were all in my mindset. I had so many fears and so much anxiety about transitioning from selling directly to consumers, B2C, to selling to retailers, B2B. I was afraid that I wouldn’t be able to make enough products quickly enough to satisfy wholesale orders, that I would get in over my head. I was worried that none of the stores I’d selected as potential buyers would actually buy and that I’d be stuck with my weekends taken up by art shows forever. I was afraid that the shops would think my prices were too high and that I wouldn’t get fair compensation for my work. I had all sorts of fears about what would happen once I started accepting wholesale orders and selling to retail shops.

It was a scary thing that I’d never done before. By trusting other people to sell my carefully crafted items, I would have been giving up a lot of control. It’s understandable that the prospect of selling to retailers was scary to me as a self-trained artisan. But I never challenged any of those scary stories I was telling myself. The problem of the catalog was blocking my self-reflective vision to the point that the problem was all I could see.

I didn’t even realize until years later that all my underlying fears had been the real problem. The problem wasn’t the catalog. The problem was my mindset about what would happen once I completed the catalog. If I completed the catalog, I would have to do something with it, and that “something” was so scary that I stopped before I even got there.

Had I taken the time to examine my mindset, I would have been able to overcome it, and that’s the beauty of asking yourself, “but what if I could?”. If I had said to myself, “Right now, putting together a catalog is giving me really big problems. In fact, right now, I can’t do it. But what if I could?” – if I had asked myself that, I would have been able to see past the immediate obstacle of the catalog and realize that the problem was my fear of selling wholesale. And I could have worked on those fears and changed the stories I was telling myself so that I could adjust my mindset and find a place of excitement about selling wholesale, instead of living in never-ending anxiety about the prospect.

But I didn’t ask myself that question, and so my head stayed stuck on the fake problem – creating a catalog – instead of addressing the real problem – my fears surrounding wholesale selling.

American author Werner Erhard once said, “You can have what you want, or you can have your reasons for not having it.” With my crafting business, I unconsciously chose to have my reasons for not having it. I didn’t do the self-examination work necessary to actually have what I wanted, a crafting business that didn’t require me to work every weekend.

When I started my audiobook narration business in 2018, and again when I launched this entrepreneurship coaching business, Starving Artist No More, last September, I made an intentional decision that I was not going to settle for “having my reasons for not having what I wanted.” Instead, I wanted to actually have the things I wanted. I made the careful, conscious decision that when I inevitably faced obstacles, internal or external, to building a business that was able to meet my needs, I would do the work to figure out where the real problem was and then find solutions for that problem. I knew I would often need to determine what fears were actually underlying my struggles and work to find ways around, over, and through the roadblocks in my path. I wasn’t content having my reasons for not having what I wanted anymore. It was time to do something about it and actually build a creative business that supported all of me.

… which is exactly what I’ve done. And that one little question, “but what if I could?”, is a big part of why I’ve been able to do that and why I am able to continue growing and evolving my business so it continues to meet my needs even as my needs evolve and change.

When you hear that little voice in your head saying, “you’ll never do that,” or “that may work for others but it won’t work for you,” challenge it. Don’t accept that answer. Ask yourself, “but what if you could?” Allow yourself to entertain the impossible. Envision what those huge goals would look like and feel like and be like. Maybe you could make a vision board. Or you can do a dream brain dump, when you spend 5 minutes quickly writing down everything you can think of that applies to your dream reality. Or make a “catalog of inspiration” for yourself, a collection of images or words or phrases or anything, really, that inspires you and helps you dream and imagine. Ask yourself, “but what if I could,” and then allow yourself to answer in whatever way works best for you and your unique creativity. Don’t make excuses for why you should think small. Instead, live into the power of your brilliant, gorgeous, talented, and fabulous self. Live into the truth of your uniqueness as an artist business owner. Embrace the possible in the impossible.

Thank you so much for being with me today for this episode of the Starving Artist No More podcast. I do not take it for granted that you choose to spend this time with me. I hope this episode inspired you to look beyond the roadblocks and problems you’re facing in your business, to view those difficulties as problems that have a solution. Because that’s exactly what they are: problems that can be solved. If you have any questions or comments for me, or if you’d like to learn more about my one-on-one coaching and group workshop programs, you can always reach out to me via my website, I’d love to hear from you. If you found today’s podcast helpful or informative, please take a moment to rate this podcast and to leave a review for me, using whatever podcast player you prefer. Ratings and reviews, especially on Apple Podcasts, help new listeners find me. They really do make a difference. If you think today’s episode, or any episode, would be helpful to others, please share it with your friends and colleagues. Let’s reach every creative entrepreneur out there with a message of hope, that success and thriving is possible. And, of course, don’t forget to subscribe to this podcast. New episodes drop every Tuesday. Thanks again for sharing your time with me. May you have a day full of inspiration and joy. I can’t wait to see what you create.


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