In last week’s Part One post, I talked about embracing your creative self as you are right now, just like you’re willing to embrace the messy, often frustrating creative process. When I sat down to write the post, I knew the question I had at the beginning—how do I manage thoughts such as: What will I accomplish? Will I ever be successful?—but I didn’t have the answer.
Just like you, I’m in the dark most of the time when it comes to my own creativity, and it’s with a lot of thought and writing that I stumble onto some conclusions. What I was able to figure out last week is that I don’t need to be a “successful” creator, or “perfect” creator, since these labels are outside my control and their definition is ever-changing. But, what I can be is a creator (no adjectives needed). I can embrace who I am now, ridding myself of the pressure, and enjoy the wonder of who I might become as my art and writing evolves.
When I dug a little deeper into allowing ourselves to be a (no adjective) creator instead of focusing on how our futures might turn out, I realized that so much of our need to label is based in gaining approval from others. Call it gaining approval, followers, love, or acceptance, we want it, and we use our creativity as a means to get it. This is why being a creator without labels like “successful” or “award-winning” makes us feel like we, and our work, isn’t enough.
In another quote from Erik Wahl’s book, The Spark and the Grind: Ignite the Power of Disciplined Creativity, he says this:
“In On Writing Well, author William Zinsser explains the temptation creators (in his experience, writers) face when they sit down to create. ‘They are driven by a compulsion to put some sort of themselves on paper, and yet they don’t just write what comes naturally. They sit down to commit an act of literature, and the self who emerges on paper is far stiffer than the person who sat down to write…[Yet] ultimately the product that any writer has to sell is not the subject written about, but who he or she is.’
With any of your ideas and the subsequent works in which they are embodied, there is a temptation to edit them into a form that is more acceptable to others. The temptation has won when you’ve completely edited yourself out of your creations. Consider how much easier this has become on the digital age we live in today. The many forms of social media allow us—as individuals and companies—to brand ourselves in inauthentic ways. There are no laws keeping us from hiding our flaws and painting ourselves in a prettier light than we really are.
Ads make products look like invitations to a dream life. Tweets make people look better and sound smarter, cleverer and more hip. How is it that everyone on LinkedIn is the Chief Something: Chief Love Giver or Chief Idea Ninja or Chief Thought Leader? Why can’t we just be what we really are—managers or sales executives or customer service reps? While we all possess these beautifully unique personal brands that have intrinsic value, we often maintain an unhealthy desire to be acceptable to others more than we wish to be true to ourselves. That creates a constant temptation to conform to others’ understanding of what’s valuable. If we give in to it, we make creations that are detached from our original selves and our authentic voices.”
We all want to appear a certain way, and when it comes to creativity, we often require it to make us into a version of ourselves that others will envy. The problem, other than those listed in the quote above, is that it becomes a never-ending race. And all that running takes a toll on your art.
As someone who has stopped running and is allowing everyone else to pass me, I’ll be honest, it’s tough at times. And yet, it’s also a huge relief. As I look around, I’m not distracted. I’m not frantic to make something that wins me success or fans. I can focus on what I want to create instead of looking for the finish line and ensuring I’m in first place. I’m allowing myself to be a creator, plain and simple.
I hope you’ll join me here. It’s pretty quiet, but you get to be who you are and the authentic creator that you are, and that’s beyond awesome.