Having creativity inside of you is so delicious and also scary as shit. Most people dismiss the creative calling as something to humor as an intermittent hobby (once a year when the paintbrushes come out of hiding) and to absolutely keep under wraps, lest delicate feelings be hurt by the judgmental eyes of others (“oh, is that collage stuff even considered art?”). And you certainly can’t make a living at being creative. Right?
You probably don’t need to take the rather large-sized leap from being a tax accountant in July to a full-time sculptor by September to feel creatively fulfilled and right in life. Most of us need to just start something, to grant ourselves permission to take a Saturday afternoon to start that short story or to go to the art store and buy a new sketchbook, ripe with its unopened potential. Many of us need to re-start something –– to open that dormant book file, to blow the dust off the pottery wheel, to start the Adobe Illustrator classes again. To enroll in a pastry program that might just eventually change the path you’re on when the time is right. To start looking for jobs that let you express yourself in a more creative way. To find a way to make your current job more creative, one special project at a time.
I discovered years ago with the help of a coach (coaches need coaches, too) that I need a creative outlet, and if I don’t get a regular fix of making something with my hands, wires in my head start to fray in ways that make me more even neurotic than normal*. These days I’m scheduling creative projects into my calendar just like I’m scheduling in massage appointments– every three weeks in the interest of achieving a baseline level of positive mental health. I’m not even calling that time decadent anymore. It’s therapy.
It’s at this moment I must share one of the most inspiring pieces I’ve come across when it comes to summoning the courage to be creative:
“Let me list for you some of the many ways in which you might be afraid to live a more creative life: You’re afraid you have no talent. You’re afraid you’ll be rejected or criticized or ridiculed or misunderstood or—worst of all—ignored. You’re afraid there’s no market for your creativity, and therefore no point in pursuing it. You’re afraid somebody else already did it better. You’re afraid everybody else already did it better. You’re afraid somebody will steal your ideas, so it’s safer to keep them hidden forever in the dark. You’re afraid you won’t be taken seriously. You’re afraid your work isn’t politically, emotionally, or artistically important enough to change anyone’s life. You’re afraid your dreams are embarrassing. You’re afraid that someday you’ll look back on your creative endeavors as having been a giant waste of time, effort, and money. You’re afraid you don’t have the right kind of discipline. You’re afraid you don’t have the right kind of workspace, or financial freedom, or empty hours in which to focus on invention or exploration. You’re afraid you don’t have the right kind of training or degree. You’re afraid you’re too fat. (I don’t know what this has to do with creativity, exactly, but experience has taught me that most of us are afraid we’re too fat, so let’s just put that on the anxiety list, for good measure.) You’re afraid of being exposed as a hack, or a fool, or a dilettante, or a narcissist. You’re afraid of upsetting your family with what you may reveal. You’re afraid of what your peers and coworkers will say if you express your personal truth aloud. You’re afraid of unleashing your innermost demons, and you really don’t want to encounter your innermost demons. You’re afraid your best work is behind you. You’re afraid you never had any best work to begin with. You’re afraid you neglected your creativity for so long that now you can never get it back. You’re afraid you’re too old to start. You’re afraid you’re too young to start. You’re afraid because something went well in your life once, so obviously, nothing can ever go well again. You’re afraid because nothing has ever gone well in your life, so why bother trying? You’re afraid of being a one-hit wonder. You’re afraid of being a no-hit wonder” ― Elizabeth Gilbert, Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear (yes! She wrote Eat, Pray, Love and is kind of a creativity guru these days)
What are you afraid of? Can you name it? What’s on the other side of your fear, if you were to start living an even marginally more creative life?
So what does this have to do with work and your career?
If you’ve read this far it might be because creativity matters to you –– somehow and in some amount. If you’re cutting off an important part of yourself by being a dormant closet creative, you’re selling yourself short in the rest of your life. It’s only when I make things and tap into my creativity that I feel like more of me is alive, and I can then bring the best version of myself to my job.
When the clients I alluded to earlier make the time for their own creative endeavors, they shine in the other parts and pieces of their lives, including their day jobs. Some of them use the momentum they gain from coming out of their creative closets to launch them into a more creative way to make a living –– like the talented architect who is on a mission to start her own interior design company. Now that’s what I call living the dream.
“The most regretful people on earth are those who felt the call to creative work, who felt their own creative power restive and uprising, and gave to it neither power nor time.” – Mary Oliver
Regret isn’t what you want to feel, is it? Creatively fulfilled, expressed, and alive –– that’s what you want, and courage is what you need to get there. It all starts with one small move. Open up that file, that violin case, that script. And then see what really opens up for you.
* Getting bizarrely superstitious about what EXACT Q-Tip to pick out of the jar each morning, bingeing on Ben & Jerry’s exquisite Cherry Garcia ice cream, buying all the books from Amazon (of which there are very, very many), etc.