The Creative Impulse

When you were a child, did you dream that when you grew up you would be spending 8 to 12 hours a day typing emails, surfing the Internet, answering the phone, running to meetings, and leveraging company politics in order to get higher up the career ladder? Neither did I. Yet this is exactly what I  did as my job for many years in the responsible world of adulthood.

For children, being creative is natural and instinctive. As a child, I did not define what I did as ‘artistic’ or ‘talented’ or ‘special.’ Drawing, performing and making things was synonymous with playing and having fun. At junior school (aged 8–11), my numerous extra-curricular activities included dancing, acting, gymnastics and violin lessons. Though I achieved varying degrees of skill and success in these, I also paid no attention to my siblings when they teased me about the screeching noise that sounded more like an animal in pain than music. I appreciated having time to myself to practise my violin every day and cherished the acknowledgement from my teacher that came with the small improvements I made over time.

At some point, though I wasn't aware of it at the time, the adults around me shifted their intention from nurturing ‘play’ and ‘learning’ to the rather more serious business of ‘education,’ namely education with the aim of getting a good job, career progression and preparing myself for adult life. My focus shifted from being in the present to emphasis on the future. My teens became a constant race towards exams, goals, and achievements. In my mind, I lived for attainments in a future where the here&now was just never good enough.

Sadly, most parents and teachers tend to propagate what they know, or are influenced by, onto their children. They do so with good intentions and more likely than not, a similar process they went through themselves (if it was good enough for me…). Children and adults crave certainty, which in the modern world generally equates to the delusion that a good degree, job, house, spouse, friends, family, etc. will give us security and stability and make us happy.

Then, some twenty or thirty years later, how many of us end up in therapy to lament the lack of encouragement we received (or in some cases too much support, which creates an alternate kind of pressure to constantly perform) from parents and teachers to accomplish our childhood dreams? Upon reaching this point, the baseline for me was when did I let go of my dream, my creative instinct, and instead start walking a path where I solidified my limitations, not just for my ‘self’ but also in my perception of the ‘selves’ of my family, friends, and colleagues?

We cling to our identity as though our life depends on it. Otherwise who are we? How many times have you found yourself saying, ‘It's just the way I am’ or ‘I'm no good at [fill in the blank]‘ or ‘She always gets mad when I [fill in the blank]‘? We imagine that by repeating the stories of our little foibles, likes, dislikes, strengths, weaknesses, over and over, this will define who we are and make us a unique individual. Yet this is not freedom. This is putting our ‘self’ (and others) into a box.

Many of my clients think that they are not creative. The truth is closer to admitting that we are insecure and that fear is what limits our creative expression. We don't want to be vulnerable, or even to concede that we may not know how to be. To take the leap and be a student again takes courage. The gestation period of taking action, any endeavour that will make us creatively vulnerable (be it writing, painting, making, dancing, playing music, designing, collaging, anything that we love to do for the simple enjoyment of doing it) is really difficult. We are impatient and harsh with ourselves, especially in staying with the discomfort of a process that has yet to generate a form, mould, and structure, and is still only flashes of inspiration and disconnected images. Creative endeavour is not always fun, yet the enormity of the pressure we put on ourselves to instantly create something ‘beautiful’ is overwhelming. A first draft, let alone an entire novel, takes months of drafts and edits, perhaps years of writing ‘bad’ novels beforehand. Creativity is in the practice, maybe half an hour each day to begin with. The delightful and exciting will emerge, without force.

The question is do you value your life enough to carve out a little time to do what you love? Don't worry about what your family and friends will think. They are more concerned with what you think of them! There is no ‘right’ way to be creative. Explore and experiment, have an adventure, accept what unfolds instead of wanting to control every twist and turn of your life. And most important of all, have a sense of humour.

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