Let me tell you a little story about creativity and vulnerability. My mother (an incessantly creative person), once tried to do a simple art project with my grandmother (her mother-in-law). It was some sort of pre-made painting kit. I believe it was a small ceramic peach that could be hung on the wall. All it required was a little orange paint on the fruit and a little green on the stem. That’s it. Grandma refused. “I can’t do that!” she had said. My mother was mystified, but there was no bending Grandma. She knew she couldn’t do that. She just wasn’t creative. Period. And she wasn’t willing to risk failing at it in front of someone else. I wonder what experiences led her to that belief about herself and her abilities.
Creativity serves so many purposes and provides so many benefits, not only for the person who is doing the creating, but also for the people, communities, and environments that surround them. And yet, so many people believe they are not creative (or at least not “enough”). In addition to this simply not being true, I believe this leads to a major limiting of our experiences, confidence, and satisfaction with life.
Why do so many see themselves as uncreative and perhaps even look down on those who are? I think the number one reason is fear of vulnerability. Fear of being found out as not good enough. Making something new is for the experts. It is for those few outliers who are born with a gift.
There is a misconception that is common to most of us that those people who are exceptional at things were born that way. I’d wager that 99% of the time, that just isn’t true (yes, that is an entirely made up statistic). There are those few prodigies out there who seem to be born with certain talents, but even they have to at least have opportunity to express and develop those talents. They have to be born in the right places and times and to the right families for those innate abilities to express themselves, and yes, even they have to work at it. But, most of the people out there whom you may admire as being great at one thing or another weren’t born great at it. They loved it and they worked at it. They produced sub-par things. Repeatedly. They practiced. They tried again. They were criticized and they didn’t believe that meant they should stop. I’ve told my children many times that just because something doesn’t come easily and naturally to you, like it seems to for someone else, doesn’t mean you can’t become good at it. In fact you could become even better at it than the person for whom it is easy. When things seem easy to us, we often don’t value them and don’t put effort into them. And so it often happens that the person who has to work hard out paces the person who doesn’t.
Usually our beliefs about ourselves, for good or ill, come from a childhood experiences. Perhaps in your childish exuberance you made something – you drew a picture, you made a clay model – and you didn’t even consider if it was “good”, you just made it for the joy of making. Perhaps you had in mind someone you were going to give it to and that added to the joy of the process. But, then something happened. Maybe the kid next to you criticized what you were making and said it was ugly (rotten kid). Perhaps the person you gave it to wasn’t as excited about receiving it as you were about giving it. Perhaps someone else, whose creativity had been stifled, let you know that apples aren’t purple and wanted you to “fix” it. That was it. Now you knew you weren’t good at being creative. You’d been found out. And, unfortunately, this thinking perpetuates because the things we fear being vulnerable about ourselves are often the things we look down on others for being vulnerable about (why are they wasting productive time drawing/sewing/writing/inventing?), and so we judge. And it hurts…both of us.
But, even if you believe you are not creative, I’ll bet that you still do creative things all the time. They just aren’t the kinds of creative things that are as likely to bring criticism. Perhaps you garden, or you find ways to solve problems, or you “rig something up” when you don’t have the materials to fix something right away, etc. The creative ability and drive is there in all of us. I want to challenge you to be more purposeful and obvious with your creativity. If you ever bought into the idea that you weren’t creative, now is the time to call that idea what it is: a lie. It is time to let your inner creative come out and play.
What experiences have you had that may have led you to believe that you aren’t creative? What were the results of that belief for you?