I’ve never considered myself a particularly creative person. In fact, I have many times broken one of my cardinal rules and I have identified with this trait. I’ve often mentally and vocally said, “I’m just not creative.” I have one theory about where this mindset came from.
I’m the oldest of six children and coming from a large family means that each child tends to fill some sort of role. We find ways to stand out and be individuals, often by filling pre-conceived archetypes that we aren’t even aware of. I have a brother who is 16-months younger than me and he was always the artistic one, even from a young age.
For example, I remember living in Sacramento and walking up to the neighborhood park (Colonial Playground) every day of summer. I was probably 5 or 6, he was 4 or 5, and we may have had our next youngest brother in tow who was about 3. The park had this program where they had adults at the park that gave out free meals, taught classes, and generally just looked after us.
This was clearly a different era (holy fuck, how old am I?) when a 6-year old would walk his two youngest brothers by himself several blocks to a park to be watched by strangers until dark. Surprisingly, I have a lot of memories of those days that involved a ridiculous amount of freedom. We would play in alleys and walk up to the grocery store to buy cigarette shaped candy. I walked myself and my siblings half a mile to Mark Twain elementary school (and then to the bus stop to get to Peter Burnett the next year). We also went inside neighbors homes that we didn’t know, picked fruit out of their yards, and accepted candy on a daily basis. We also ran around with a couple of the neighborhood kids who were a little older than me. We never got in trouble but we occasionally went beyond the borders that my parents had established for us. The worst thing that ever happened was a few skinned up knees or minor cuts. I even went with some people my parents didn’t really know to a San Francisco Giants game. One of the older kids that my mom trusted (I think his name was Francisco, actually) was going so that is all that mattered. I basically slept for the whole thing and don’t remember anything except the ride there.
Wow, it was a different time.
Anyway, at the park they once had a drawing contest. Everyone drew something and then we voted on whose was our favorite (we each got two votes). I remember being really embarrassed by my drawing after seeing my brothers. He has a real natural talent for art and that is something I’ve never had or tried to develop.
So, long story long, I wasn’t the artist in my family and I often explicitly identified as someone who isn’t creative. I’m changing that about me. In fact, I just started reading a book called “The Accidental Creative” by Todd Henry that I am hoping will provide me with some assistance in breaking out of this shell I put myself in. I’m only on the first chapter but here are some of the things that have stood out to me so far and my random thoughts.
- Being sustainable creative requires adopting the goal of being Brilliant, Healthy, and Prolific. Without all three you will burnout, be unreliable, or be fired.
- Currently, when it comes to my writing I would say I am partially brilliant, generally healthy, and not at all prolific. As Henry puts it, “To be prolific means that you not only have great ideas, but that you actually do something with them.” Damn, Henry, be nice. I’m trying
- “Many of us view the creative process in the same way. It is mysterious, unseen force that can have powerful, unanticipated effects. We know it is there, but we don’t understand it, and so it seems beyond our ability to control. But like atmospheric pressure, once we grasp a few of its governing dynamics, we can harness its power by building structure to leverage it.”
- This is me. I have often viewed creativity as some uncontrollable force that sparks randomly and not something that can be trained or funneled or practiced. I viewed it as a gift, not a muscle.
- “There is the persistent myth that creativity results only from complete lack of boundaries and total freedom. The reality is that we are not capable of operating without boundaries… Total freedom is false freedom. True freedom has healthy boundaries.
- First, I take issue with the word choice in those last two sentences. I think it would be more accurate to say “Total freedom is destructive freedom. Creative freedom has healthy boundaries.”
- Second, the first part of that passage really struck home for me. I’ve experienced that first hand. When I have an entire day to do a few projects I get nothing done, or at least nothing good. When I have a highly structured day I end up working out, finishing work, writing, meditating, and finding time to see friends. Too many options causes stagnation.
- “You must not confuse structure for formula… There is no formula for effective creating. Structure, on the other hand, is the undergirding platform that gives you enough stability to feel free taking risks.”
- It is interesting that people often join the military to receive “structure” when what they are really receiving is a “formula”. In the military, there is no support for taking risks and the “structure” rarely helps outside of the military, especially if you don’t understand the reason behind the “structure”. There is a huge difference between getting up at 5am and exercising because that is what you were told to do and getting up at 5am and exercising because you understand that mornings are the best time of the day to get important health tasks like that done. The military is about following orders and not learning how to be creative and effective in the civilian world.
- The “‘always on’ approach works against you (in creative outlets).”
- But, many systems do not want creative people. Our school systems, many jobs, religious institutions, political institutions, none of them want creativity to thrive, they want people to fall in line and an ‘always on’ approach helps with that. If you never have a break, if you are constantly treading water, then you are never going to fulfill your passions and create great things. I’m sure I’m not the only one who finishes a day of work and is so mentally exhausted that writing a book or painting or even exercising is impossible. I may have the physical ability but my mental reserves are depleted.
- The goal is to create “creative rhythm” by structuring five elements: Focus, Relationships, Energy, Stimuli, and Hours.
- This is the meat of the book. I’ll be writing about each one as I read about them.
So, that’s it for me today. Now on to the rest of my day. I hope you have a lovely December 5.
Feel free to reach out at any of the ways below while I take a Facebook break!
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Questions: pneiger.sarahah.com or www.surveymonkey.com/r/XYRDXHH
Also, I wrote a book about a cross-country bicycle ride I did!
“Wandering Oak: A Rite of Passage”