The words again

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I wasn’t doing much that’s interesting to look at this week, but while creating tons of silhouettes and converting them into vector art in Illustrator, I had the opportunity to listen to the entirety of a podcast Elizabeth Gilbert did last year, Magic Lessons, in which she coaches people through different creative challenges and discusses their questions with other writers, artists, a pastor, etc.

I found a lot of it interesting, of course, since it’s all about creativity, but I think the final episode, Big Strong Magic, in which she talks with author Brene Brown, is more universal in scope.

Brene starts by admitting:

If you asked me five years ago what creativity meant to me, I would say, “That’s cute…I don’t really do a lot of A-R-T because I’ve got a J-O-B, so you go take your paintbrush or your scrapbooking and you have a great time, but I’ve gotta get shit done.”

As she goes into some of the reasons for this anger and the research she subsequently did on creativity and shame, she says she discovered many, many people she interviewed had at some point experienced a memorable shaming incident with regard to their creativity. Some at school, some with parents.

I was a little amazed to immediately remember an incident with my sixth grade teacher making fun of me because a boy in class did a good drawing, which she held up for everyone to see while telling me to eat my heart out.

Thankfully, I was mostly mystified by what was wrong with her (she didn’t regularly pick on me, but did randomly dole out these zingers to all of us) and she didn’t succeed in making me feel bad about myself creatively.

But I do feel like my story speaks to a later point Brene Brown made:

I used to believe…that there were creative people and non-creative people. And now I absolutely understand personally, and professionally from the data, that there is no such thing as non-creative people. There are just people who use their creativity and people who don’t. And unused creativity is not benign.

For the people who really struggle because they don’t think of themselves as creative, there’s a lot of shame around creativity. People don’t think of themselves as creative. They think creativity is self-indulgent. They don’t think it’s productive enough. They don’t understand what it means. It was shut down for them as children. For those folks, when I say unused creativity is not benign what I really means is it metastasizes into resentment, grief, and heartbreak. People sit on that creativity, or they deny it and it festers.

I am not quoting this so everyone who doesn’t spend all day doodling now has to feel bad about what they’re letting “fester.” First of all, I think there are a million ways to be creative and they don’t need to have anything to do with traditional art or art materials.

But I do think it’s interesting to check yourself in this way for those moments when other people tried to shame you, to think about why they chose to do so, and to use that as a starting point to release the shame.

I also think it’s a call to action. I remember in doing management I learned how it’s such a natural human thing to criticize, so if you want to be a good manager, you have to constantly, consciously give your staff positive feedback in order to balance it out.

It’s not like I go around constantly criticizing everyone in my life, nor do I think of myself as their manager, but I do think giving more positive feedback, especially when people are taking a risk in some type of creative endeavor, can’t hurt. And it’s kind of like we’re all carrying around that internal negative manager already.

Having been a person who in the past would be at a concert and respond to the call to “raise your hands in the air” with a “do your job and you won’t have to ask me” kind of snarkiness, I will now be seriously rethinking that attitude.

So this week, for whatever you’re taking on, making yours, putting together, and putting out, wherever you’re taking the risk to bring your authentic voice to the table, I’m raising my hands in the air for you!

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