Creativity — what does that word evoke for you? Do you consider yourself a creative person? Does it make you think of artistic endeavors like painting or dance? Over the years, one thing I have observed is that many of us have lost touch with this key component of human nature — our creativity. When we were children, most of us perceived of ourselves as creative because we knew that creativity was about expression. We were not only allowed, but actually encouraged, to be creative. Every day, we made up imaginary people, we choreographed new dances, and created gorgeous works of art. Whether our medium was crayons, finger paints, or even mud, we were not hindered by the concept of being judged – we just had fun.
One of my favorite books on creativity is Orbiting the Giant Hairball by Gordon MacKenzie. He used to visit elementary schools and in the first grade, every child would raise his or her hand when asked “Who here is an artist?” But by sixth grade, only one or two would and tentatively so. That’s a tragedy.
As we grow up and experience judgement, we start to learn that it is bad to make mistakes — and worse, that there is a “right way” to do something. I vividly remember the moment when that happened to me. I was in first grade and I had been coloring in my coloring book — it was a sophisticated book that featured rather realistic pictures of animals and birds. I chose this picture of a dove and made each individual feather a different color. When I was done, this bird was AMAZING! Beautiful, vibrant and truly unique.
I went downstairs to show it off and I first received lavish praise from my mom. She oohed and aaahed appropriately about my creation and I was full of pride (cuz I had done a darn good job of staying within the lines too). But then she asked her friend who was visiting to look at it, and I will never forget this, that lady said, “I don’t think it’s good at all. Doves are gray, not rainbow colored. That looks nothing like a dove.” My mom tried to fix it but it was done — I felt crushed and worse, embarrassed that I had screwed up. My art was not something to show off with pride, but rather something to be ashamed of and to hide. From that day on, every artistic endeavor of mine was overshadowed by first trying to figure out how to do it “right.”
Mary Lou Cook says, “Creativity is inventing, experimenting, growing, taking risks, breaking rules, making mistakes, and having fun.” How can you be creative if you are trying to do it right? You can’t.
Now before you get all mad at my mother’s friend, know that I would not have escaped my childhood without having my creativity crushed. None of us did. If it wasn’t a family member, it was a friend. If it wasn’t a friend, it was a teacher. Schools are notorious for killing creativity–something that Ken Robinson has been speaking about for years (check out his great TED talk).
The truth is that our creativity is a key channel for our soul to express itself. How can we do that if we set down our paints and mud long ago? I encourage you to reclaim your creativity. Not the creative thinking you do in your job or even the silly fun you have with children. I’m talking about the messy, risky, juicy, delightful sense of play you had as a child. Trust me, it’s still in you. What was your favorite medium back then — before you cared what others thought? Whether it was paints, or music, or mud, schedule yourself a play date with your inner child and recapture your creative spirit.
“There is only one of you in all time, this expression is unique. And if you block it, it will never exist through any other medium and it will be lost.” ~ Martha Graham
For more, visit the creativity section of The Wheel of Wellbeing.