As far back as I can remember, I've always been a creative sort. I was always singing, dancing, making up songs--apparently doing all three at the same time in my very early childhood, according to my mom.
Earliest memory of my singing in front of a large crowd of people was probably from when I was 6. I jumped at the opportunity to sing at an open mic at a dining hall at a hotel my family and I were staying.
I remember singing terribly off key, but that didn't stop me from being as big as I could be and loving being on the stage and performing.
At some point in my growing up, I became deathly afraid of singing in front of people. That still didn't stop me from pursuing a career in performing arts because I just loved music, dance, and film, but it certainly hindered me from taking opportunities, cultivating my skills, and taking steps further to make this passion a career.
I let my crippling fear of being bad (or sucking) to prevent me from doing what I loved, which was to express my artistic creativity and share it with others.
Now in my late 30's, I'm a lot more comfortable in my own skin (though the critical voices are still there at times) and I learned to accept myself for who I am (for the most part--it's a process!).
And I realize that I've been developing a different sort of relationship to creativity.
In my earlier days, it was all about being better and doing it better than anybody else, and my attitude was, "What's the point if I can't do it perfectly or at least near perfectly?"
Needless to say, I didn't get far in many of my pursuits. I wanted to be great without having to try too hard. I wanted to be naturally "gifted" or "special."
When I did try, I didn't want people to know that I put forth too much effort, lest they'd know I wasn't "chosen" by the almighty to do the work.
In retrospect, it was a ridiculous notion (how am I supposed to get better if I didn't practice?) that I adopted somewhere along the way in my childhood, but it felt as real as the ground we're standing on.
As you can imagine, this way of thinking leads to a very limited creative flow and actually prevents any kind of development or cultivation of talent. And indeed, it kept me from cultivating my talent in many ways.
I also compared myself or my work mercilessly with others. I had to be like that artist that I admired. I had to be better than the rest of them. If I thought I was better than most around me, I felt good. If I thought other people around me were better than me I felt crushed.
There was only so much room for creativity in the world, I thought. Only the "chosen ones" got to play in that room. Scarcity all around.
To top it off, I lived for approval. It was all about approval--how much, and the level of approval. My worth went right along with it.
No wonder creative path felt like a torturous path of hell, most of my life.
As my life shifted in the past decade, thanks to my life falling apart and with it shedding of my many beliefs, I started to see creativity in a different light.
Creativity didn't have to be competitive or comparative, nor did it have to be subjected to the arbitrary standard of other people, or even my own. Some people will love a particular work and some people will hate the same work. It's all wildly subjective, people's liking that is.
And as my life became more about the journey or the process instead of the destination, I also started to see creativity as a process that is to be enjoyed.
This might be a simple truth that is no brainer for some, but it wasn't for me for a long time.
I was obsessed with making it good, great, perfect, and amazing.
What was my output?
Now that I have embarked on a creative path once again, I'm doing the damn work. I still wonder if it's any good. But I'm willing to let it suck. I'm willing to suck.
I'm creating and it's soul satisfying. It is work but I'm enjoying the process. I'm feeding my soul and enriched by my own creativity. If anybody else enjoys it, that's a bonus.
So, what has stopped you from creating? (Please share your creative blocks below in the comment.)
Here are 4 things to remember on your path to creativity.
1. Enjoy the process.
We all have a vision of how we want something to be and that's of course ok, but if we get caught up in trying to make it exactly as we imagine, we are likely to get frustrated with the process.
“It's all wrong!” A voice inside of you will scream. “I'm not doing this right!” And you will miss the beauty of what is. You stop having fun and the whole thing becomes a statement of how untalented you think you are.
Creativity is not only in the result. Act of creating is very much a part of it, if not all of it. Enjoy the process in its perhaps messy, spontaneous, unexpected form.
2. Be willing to suck.
This is very hard for many of us who grew up in a culture where doing it “right” and “better” (according to a set of standard) is rewarded with praise, good grades, and good jobs, etc.
We are always worried about measuring up in some way and we end up not taking much risk for fear that we “fail.”
Imagine how many ideas and creations you would give birth to if you weren't afraid of failing.
A few weeks ago, as I was writing another blog post, a voice in my head said, “This is totally crappy writing. I can't put this out there. I should stop writing this right now.”
I started to become dejected and I almost believed the voice, but then I reminded myself that there was something I wanted to say and that wanted to be expressed. I was willing to suck.
That was the point. The point is not to create something that is “good.” The point is to give birth to what wants to be birthed.
And let's do a little comparison. What's the output of creativity when you create and suck, and not create for fear of sucking?
You suck - 1
You don't suck - 0
We all heard of a saying, “Don't do it at all if you can't do it well.” (Or something along the line.) This kind of mentality is really not helpful for creativity.
Think about it. You have a chance to experience the magic of creation as a powerful creator. (Yes, that's what you are.) Isn't that a reward in itself?
And it will be liberating for you to have the permission to suck. It will help you relax and you might actually enjoy the process. And that is really glorious.
3. You’re learning.
If you already know how to do something well, you probably won’t learn much. On the other hand, if you don’t, you’ll hit a gold mine of learning--lots! That in itself is a task worth undertaking. It’s a great opportunity for growth and learning. James Joyce said, “Mistakes are the portals of discovery.” Indeed!
Here’s a quote from Thomas Edison: “I have not failed. I've just found 10,000 ways that won't work.”
In addition to that, you will get better as you stay with whatever you’re learning. Don’t quit just because you think you suck at it now (unless of course, you don’t enjoy the activity). You will get better.
4. Someone might appreciate your work.
Truly! There might be someone who wants your work. That person might find your work exquisitely beautiful, interesting, inspiring, entertaining, or whatever else he/she may find it to be.
You never know who you might bless with your creativity. Someone is waiting for your unique expression.
And in some cases, that someone may very well be only you, but who is more important to you than you? You can be the appreciative fan that you can nourish and inspire with your work. You can feed your own soul with your creation. Don't withhold the gift from yourself.
Now go. Go create something badly. I give you permission. And more importantly, give yourself permission.
P.S. I would love to know what your creative blocks and struggles have been. Please share your creative blocks and breakthroughs in the comment below!