The more time I spend talking to humans, the more convinced I become that we are ALL fundamentally creative beings.
I believe that all humans are not just capable of creativity, but that we long to exercise creativity in our own unique ways. I’ve been really inspired by two women along my own creative journey, Elizabeth Gilbert and Julia Cameron, who both have rather poetic ways of speaking about creativity.
Elizabeth Gilbert defines creativity as: “The strange partnership between a human being’s labor and the mystery of inspiration.”
In The Artist’s Way , Julia Cameron’s legendary book on cultivating a creative practice, she states that “Creativity is the natural order of life. Life is energy: pure creative energy“
So if creativity is so natural for all of us, then what gets in the way? As far as I can tell, there are four main culprits that get in the way of so many potential creative moments or endeavors:
1) Cultural ideas about who is creative and who is not, or who is “talented” and who is not. We tend to be defined in this way early in our lives, by our teachers and/or our families, and this division can be damaging to our creativity, whichever side we’re on. Being told we’re not creative/talented can scare us away from something we love but are not yet skilled at, and being told we ARE talented often becomes a burden in itself, crippling us with a fear of failure if we don’t live up to the title.
2) Narrow definitions of what creativity actually is. The Oxford dictionary offers this classical definition: Creativity is the use of the imagination or original ideas, especially in the production of an artistic work. So someone’s a painter or a writer or they’re “musical”. But in reality creativity can take on so many different forms. In Big Magic, Elizabeth Gilbert talks about figure skating as a creative act, which allowed me to see that for me, surfing is a major creative outlet.
I tend to see creativity as any experience where we are engaged and in flow, we are connected with our intuition and inspiration, and we feel a sense of playfulness and freedom. That’s what creativity feels like for me, but I think everyone is entitled to define this for themselves.
3) Another belief I see a lot is that creativity is not “worth” anything if it is not “productive.” In this hyper-competitive world we find ourselves in, it’s easy to get caught up in the belief that if we can’t monetize something or turn it into a “side hustle”, then it must not be worthwhile. The idea of creating for its own sake is often seen as silly or even self-indulgent, as though everything we do must be productive in some way. For so many people, doing something just for the sake of it, just because it makes you alive, can be a revolutionary concept.
4) And, of course, old faithful, Fear. In my experience, creativity is all about following our intuition and trusting our unconscious when it takes over and starts directing the process. This can be incredibly frightening because it will often take us somewhere that we didn’t expect, and fear really hates the unknown. Steven Pressfield (https://stevenpressfield.com/books/) , another author famous for talking about the creative process, calls this fear “The Resistance”, which he describes as an internal force that keeps us from showing up as our best selves and doing our most meaningful work.
“The more important a call or action [is] to our soul’s evolution, the more Resistance we will feel toward pursuing it.”
Oof. That one hits hard because I know how true it is.
So, what do we have on our side that counters this powerful resistance?
According to Elizabeth Gilbert, the essential ingredients for creativity are: courage, enchantment, permission, persistence and trust, and I think these are really beautiful antidotes to the beliefs and fears that often get in the way. These are qualities we all carry within us, and just like creativity, they are muscles that need to be strengthened.
If you’re feeling a desire to let your creative juices flow, or to reconnect with some of these life-affirming qualities, give these prompts a try. Insert your own name in the first blank, and see where they take you:
Dear ________, this is your enchantment, and I want to remind you…
Dear ________, this is your persistence. I was the one who got you through…
Dear ________, here is why you can trust me with your life…
Dear ________, this is your courage talking, and I want to remind you…
And finally, for that most crucial component of permission:
From the office of the principal. Dear ________, I am the principal and this is your permission slip. You are officially allowed to…
These may seem silly, but hey, creativity doesn’t always have to be so heavy.
Wishing you playfulness and trust,