Maybe it’s disingenuous to say that each of us has the potential to be a creative genius. Gifts of personality are dispensed in varied measures at birth. Humans are tangled balls of social conditioning, reactions to environment, and serendipity. Life isn’t fair. Luck plays a part. We’ve all heard someone say, “I was in the right place at the right time” or “I never get lucky.”
As far as creativity is concerned, most people believe you’ve either got it or you don’t. I can’t tell you how often I’ve heard someone say wistfully, “I’m not creative.” When I hear a statement like that, I think to myself, “No one has ever shown you where to begin.”
Because the fact is, creativity, like any skill, can be cultivated. It takes a healthy combination of self-knowledge and stamina.
Athletes have an advantage: prescribed methods of building stamina, because physical prowess is revered by our culture. Hire a personal trainer and you’ll start with a series of exercises done repetitively – gradually adding reps as the body gains strength. Exercise is specific, varied, and involves what’s called cross training. One day a session of running to work cardio. Next time? Yoga to maximize flexibility. A steady, balanced program of activity keeps the human machine functioning at its optimal level.
So what about the rest of us? How can we engage creatively with what we care about – whether it’s a job or an avocation? And just as important – how can we identify what works against building creative stamina in every aspect of our lives?
I teach artists how to build stamina through what I call “creativity strength training” but the fact is, the lessons apply to everyone.
Here are three aspects of thinking more creatively each of us can embrace.
The Inner Rebel
Let’s talk about archetypes as a point of entry. Psychologist Carl Jung first described archetypes as universal patterns of behavior; embedded deep in the human collective unconscious. In other words, archetypes are symbolic patterns we recognize in other people, and which they recognize in us. We use terms every day that reference archetypes – a few examples include referring to someone as a miser, a gambler, or saying “he” is a prince of a guy. The terms have such universal meaning they are a sort of shorthand for behavior, even when we don’t consciously recognize them as such. The Rebel is just such an archetype.
From an evolutionary point of view, the Rebel evolved because it ensured our human ancestors’ survival against massive environmental and physical odds. If you didn’t question the world around you on the tundra – and keep moving – there’s a good chance you were self-selected out. So the Rebel was distilled in us as the species evolved.
How can the inner Rebel assist your quest for a more creative approach to life? Engage it to protect your time, resources and energy. How often could you pass on a lunch date – or a Saturday, doing something that doesn’t really matter at all – when you could be pursuing a passion – whether it’s gardening, rock climbing, or visiting people in a nursing home?
Extra credit: the Rebel is a reliable scapegoat – you don’t have to take the hit. When someone else wants you to submit to their agenda, you can blame your choices on your Rebel – and no one’s feelings get hurt.
These troublemakers exist in your head. They are the voices or faces of people who were relentlessly judgmental of you in the past – or are those of people you want to please and impress. It could be parents, a spouse (uh huh…) a sibling, or a teacher. It could be a boss. It could be somebody who’s dead; but could just as well be someone who’s alive and kicking. It could be someone you don’t even know personally.
In any event, sit down and make a list. Who are these Committee members? Why are they there? You may not be able to confront them personally, but you can get a handle on why they’re capable of disrupting your life. Recognizing the power they have is the first step to dismissing them. Dismantle the Committee to the best of your ability. Freedom is associated with this dismantling. The energy it frees up allows you to engage more creatively with your passion.
And have I mentioned cross-training? Getting out a notepad and making a few lists – naming your Committee, considering how to invite your Rebel into your life? Writing generates a record that’s tangible. Idea filled. Vow to keep writing, and keep tracking. Writing is invaluable cross-training.
I might ask “What’s your job?” but more importantly, I’ll ask “What’s your passion?” because when the two intersect, we humans are happier and healthier.
Creativity doesn’t necessarily require a paintbrush, a stack of wood and a hammer, or damp clay and a kiln. If you identify what you care about, you can begin to think more creatively about how to engage with that passion in your daily life.
It’s amazing to me how infrequently we are encouraged to think about how we want to use the negotiable time we have every week. Yes, a big, old heap of time is not negotiable. There are jobs to complete, family to tend, and the cat box probably needs to be sifted as we speak. But picking up a notebook and pen and consciously deciding how to use open time is the first step to sculpting it. You’re worth it.
So identify your passion. It’s personal, not predictable.
Engage your Rebel to protect your time and resources.
Then you can pursue your passion.
Next fire the Committee that says your passion is no good; a waste of time.
What do they know?
It’s your life.
You’re worth it.
– Jane Dunnewold teaches and lectures internationally, and has mounted numerous one-person exhibitions of her art work around the world. The former President of the Surface Design Association, she has authored numerous books on textile patterning and surface design. Her most recent book, Creative Strength Training: Prompts, Exercises and Stories to inspire Artistic Genius (CLICK HERE to get your copy) delves into the importance of engaging creative process in an artist’s studio, but the concepts are equally valid in business boardrooms. Dunnewold lectures and consults from her home base in San Antonio, Texas. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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