“Creativity requires the courage to let go of certainties.” – Erich Fromm
Go back to those times in your nursery school days when you were given blank sheets of paper and a case full of colorful crayons. If you were anything like me, you excitedly grabbed each crayon and scribbled and doodled to your heart’s delight. After creating your masterpiece, you rushed back home to share your magnificent work of art with your folks who showered you with praise (hopefully they did!).
No matter how silly or amateurish your drawings looked, you took pride in them and never once questioned their beauty. Yet as you grew older, you became more sensitive about your creations and fearful of how others would judge your abilities. Pablo Picasso identified this issue when he said, “Every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist once we grow up.”
As a writer, I’m all too familiar with the vulnerability that a creative person feels when they express their emotions through their work, be it in the field of music, performing, writing, or even in business. Every time I post a new blog piece, write an article, or when I send a book to publishers, it feels a bit scary. But I’ve learned to make fear my ally and see it as a positive sign of me getting outside my comfort zone.
I’ve also realized that this fear that we all experience is there for a purpose. It’s an evolutionary mechanism that gives us our survival instinct, similar to other living creatures on the planet. But we humans have the gift of will to move forward, despite the terror that we may experience. In the shadow of the unknown, we can push through our fears when we’re led by the light of our inspirations.
The truth is that creative expression is not for the faint of heart. It takes courage to express one’s individuality and present it for the whole world to see, especially in the age of the Internet and social media, where you can receive instant feedback. While you certainly could gain some fans along the way, there’s also a chance of attracting critics, haters, and people who don’t really care much for what you do.
But behind every successful idea that emerged from a creative impulse is a determined individual who backed it up till the very end and did not succumb to their fears. They dared to create, follow their passion and go against the status quo, even in the midst of challenges and skepticism from others. All of this requires a special kind of courage and an unequivocal belief in oneself.
They’re also able to let go of their need for certainty and validation because they know that there’s no guarantee that any original work will be appreciated by others. In her book on creative living, Amanda Palmer writes, “When you’re an artist, nobody ever tells you or hits you with the magic wand of legitimacy. You have to hit your own head with your own handmade wand.”
You have to be prepared to make mistakes and fail as many times as it takes to “get it just right”. While there are some individuals who are naturally more creative, it’s still a skill that you need to develop with time and practice. In fact, tenacity and determination might even help you go far beyond those with “natural” talent because they help you stay in the game long enough to find the best opportunities.
What most people don’t understand is that creativity is a numbers game and you have to be willing to produce dreadful work and face rejection before you can finally reach a level of competence that makes you stand out amongst your competitors. Even artistic geniuses such as Van Gogh and Michael Jackson produced numerous paintings and songs of mediocre quality before reaching their level of perfection.
So it’s okay to mess up and create things that people won’t appreciate in the beginning. In the initial stages, 95% of what you make will be “bad” and 5% will be great. But as you practice and get better, you’ll find a shift in the percentage of “great work” – it may jump to 10% or even 30%. They key is to focus on building that 10-30% instead of beating yourself up for the 70-90% of your not-so-great work.
It’s also precisely during this period of producing “crappy work” while you hone our skills that you’ll need to strengthen your courage muscles and overcome any negative thinking around your abilities and identity as an artist. Tempering our sensitivity and being aware of the internal triggers that get set off in the face of failure and rejection is a must if we have the desire to share our work with the world.
Creativity is a need of the spirit and it feeds our soul in a profound way. For this reason, I believe that it’s imperative for us to overcome our creative blocks so that we can express ourselves fully and authentically. Here are some ways by which you can achieve this:
- Manage your inner critic: Your inner critic represents the negative aspect of your internal dialogue that tells you that you aren’t good enough and constantly magnifies your flaws. This voice originates from the limiting beliefs that you’ve developed about yourself over the years, especially in your youth. If you plan to traverse the emotional minefield of creative living, you have to learn how to manage your inner critic. You can’t let the harsh and unreasonable demands of your inner critic sabotage your creative efforts and restrict you from acting on potential opportunities. I’ve written an extensive piece on the steps that you can take to deal with the inner critic in this previous post.
- Be open to constructive feedback: When your inner critic is in check, you’ll be in a stronger position to hear what others have to say about your creative endeavors. When you avoid viewing your work as an extension of you, you’re less likely to perceive any feedback or rejection as a personal onslaught. But just because your doors are open to others opinions, doesn’t mean that you should allow anyone to pass through the door. You want to be selective about whose feedback you take seriously by establishing some criteria. I like to get the opinions of those who have some street cred in my area of interest. I also ensure that they have my best interests at heart and have a neutral stance on the matter.
- Let love and inspiration be your guide: Creating from a place of love and inspiration is totally different to when you create from a space of ego and fear. When love and curiosity lead the way, it gives us a panoramic vision of what we’re capable of doing and it cracks open the possibilities within our existence. I’ve noticed that the common thread amongst all successful artists is their sheer passion for their art. They love it so much that they’d even do it, even if they weren’t getting paid for it. To tap into the real magic of creative living, we have to look past the glamour and accolades and engage in the sheer joy of creating and expressing the potential that lives deep within us that’s just waiting to come out.
- Focus on adding value: Although creating for our own enjoyment and personal evolution is a good enough reason to dabble in it, what would make it even more powerful is if we use our creations to improve the lives of others. Author Brené Brown said, “The only unique contribution that we will ever make in this world will be born from our creativity. If we want to make meaning, we need to make art.” We have to cross the realm of the ego that’s only interested in fame and fortune and elicit our natural drive to be of service to others. Making a contribution to society through our creative talents can add value in so many ways, such as enhancing beauty (fashion and interior designers), entertaining others (musicians and actors), getting people to think differently about life, or temporarily escape it (writers).
According to me, creative living is like a treasure hunt. A treasure hunt to uncover the jewels that the Universe has planted deep within us all. It’s the hunt for these jewels that can transform a mundane existence into a magical one. Once we find the courage to push past those barriers, we’ll have access to the grace and transcendence that lies at the heart of a creatively-driven existence.
All my best on your journey,
Question for you: Do you believe that creativity requires courage? Do your fears tend to get in the way of your creative expression?