This is part one of a four-part series on how a few things have recently shifted for me, and how I’ve internalised these new ideas to move forward professionally and personally in 2019.
I wish I could point to a moment that encapsulated how terrible I felt about my art as a child; one that would perfectly demonstrate how a public humiliation or a callous comment from a teacher had branded me from that day forward. I could shift the blame to an outside figure, or point to a moment where my creativity was crippled, where I learned that I was ‘not very good’ at art.
Instead, this insidious belief was fostered because of my understanding from a young age that what was ‘good’ meant what looked the neatest and closest to reality. I remember sitting outside at school with a group of friends, trying to do a still-life drawing of a leaf and stealing glances at their clarity, their subtlety, their detail. I think I angled my book so they couldn’t see my thick stumpy lines and smudged eraser marks. I had figured out early that I couldn’t copy very well. Cutting and colouring within the lines was hard for me. I couldn’t mix the colours to get what I wanted. My drawing was too brash, too basic. I compromised easily just to finish so I didn’t have to look at what I’d made again.
The frustration and shame at not being able to create what I could see in my head persisted because I had correlated the idea that because I wasn’t as neat or good at copying during childhood art lessons as others were, I was not creative. The weight of comparison haunted me. I envied those who could draw or paint what I could not. I shunned any traditional fine art. I didn’t even doodle.
My belief was insidious. I didn’t even see it as a belief – it was the truth. Just like I knew the seven times-tables or the National Anthem off by heart, I knew I was not creative. I had learned a fundamental truth about myself in one classroom, based on an incredibly narrow view of ‘art’, ‘creativity’ and ‘creating’.
Looking back, I can now see how damaging this mindset was. I could not see the creativity in my teenage years, where my love of jazz moved me so deeply to compose what I couldn’t find anywhere else. If you got my attention with the right book or film, I could write thousands of words in an afternoon about what it meant to me. The simple act of putting on an apron had me asking myself subconsciously, ‘now, what can I create today?’ Because it wasn’t traditional art, that was not creative. What a damaging belief.
This was who I was (or more aptly, who I wasn’t), until I did the altMBA in July 2018.
Put simply, the thrashing and sprinting of the altMBA meant that I couldn’t carry a lot of baggage with me. I certainly checked in with it, but I figured out pretty quickly what excess weight I had to shed in order just to keep up with the pace.
The altMBA demands that you’re creative, because you must create. Thirteen projects in four weeks. Thousands of words in comments. Thousands more shared in the online community. You create connections with each other through Zoom. And for this first time, when I created, my work was not being displayed publicly to the harshest of critics – one’s school peers. It was not marked or given a grade. It wasn’t being compared.
Throughout that month, other students noticed my negative self-talk about creativity seeping through. As part of the genius of the altMBA teaching and learning method, I had a bunch of kind, generous, online friends hold up the mirror to myself, and let me see my contradictions.
So I learned: because I create, I am creative.
It was as simple as that.
After more than a decade of internalising an unhelpful, untrue idea about myself, based on narrow, dated definitions, I got to lift the weight of this word and reclaim it. I got to see ‘creative’ for what it truly means, and I started to see where I had indeed been creative growing up, and my worldview had dismissed me.
I wrote tens of thousands of words myself over four years of study. I sang in productions and acted in school plays. I joined a barbershop chorus and created overtones and harmonies I’ve never heard before. I have journaled since I was 11. I have made and shared recipes of food I love. I have solved interesting problems at work. Starting this blog is one of the most creative things I’ll ever do, because I’m on the hook now. I’m creating both for me and for you.
Forgive the stilted writing, as this newfound creativity is taking some getting used to. I’m only just starting to get my head around what ‘being creative’ means for me. My definition still feels so narrow.
But regardless of that, I’m here to create. To light the way, give generously and keep moving forward.
What about you? What are you here to create?
Let me know.
Cheers to a creative 2019.