How I learned not to be creative
When I was a young child, I often got in trouble for being a bit too imaginative and creative. My sister, whom I shared a room with, couldn’t sleep at night because I would make up stories and dialogues between my stuffed animals out loud until I fell asleep. I would waste large amounts of household goods (read: unused feminine products, but that’s a story for another time!) building homes for my Barbies. I would exaggerate far too much when I told stories. Frequent tears led to the encouragement to be less sensitive. I would lock myself away in my room to paint or read or color in my fort underneath my bed (locked bedroom doors were not allowed, and I always got caught); but my bed fort was where I pretended the port to my favorite magical land existed and I could not be bothered when doing such important tasks, so what was a girl to do?!
I loved my imagination – it was my best friend and my favorite toy in some of my earliest childhood memories. But as I got older and started to move through school, I began to experience the pleasure of being praised. I was praised by teachers for how intelligent I was, for how well behaved I was, for my maturity and leadership and responsibility. And I began to internalize all these things until it became a lesson that being intelligent and responsible will get you further in life than being creative.
Slowly but surely, I began to stuff away the creative aspects that had been so naturally apart of who I was. I focused on getting good grades and making wise decisions and always, always acting older than my age. An obsession began with perfection and achievement, and I lived for the ever-illusive compliment.
I had an insatiable need for everyone I met to see me as practical and low-maintenance and self-sufficient and highly responsible. I forced down tears when things were sad and all I wanted to do was cry, I chose logic over passion, and my little tender heart became better and better trained to be cooler and tougher and wiser.
My college career began by studying journalism with a dream to be a foreign correspondent. I dreamed of telling the world stories that mattered. But somewhere along the way, I began to change my mind – I thought it was irresponsible to choose such a frivolous and unrealistic career path. I switched to studying graphic and web design and multimedia.
Soon after, I began working at a web design and marketing start-up firm where my internal struggle between creative freedom and the constraints of practicality raged on. I was terrified to take creative risks for fear of failure or being seen as untalented or unintelligent. Instead, I tried to force myself to be better at the more scientific side of web design instead, focusing on learning how to code and think in percentages and ratios and if, then statements. I felt like that was a more legitimate and practical skill. It carried fewer risks and was less vulnerable.
So as I was preparing to graduate, I met with a man who owned and ran his own web design and marketing firm in Indianapolis. I don’t remember his name or the name of his company, or much else that was said during our meeting, but I will never forget this one thing he said to me. After looking over my portfolio and talking to me about my abilities and experience, he looked at me very earnestly and said, “You’re very smart. That much is obvious from looking at your work and hearing how you’ve learned the skills you have. But you’re in this interesting in between place of being half into the analytical scientific side of things and half into the creative design side of things. I really believe you can do whichever one you want, but you have to pick a side. You have to decide which one is your thing, and then you have to dedicate everything you have to that.”
I walked away from that meeting confused and disheartened. My whole life, I had been a creative and tender soul twisting myself into an analytical and logical brain. And I had always gotten a lot of praise for being that kind of person. But suddenly, here was a man calling me on my bluff. Here was a man giving me permission to be whatever I wanted to be, but making it clear that I couldn’t spend the rest of my life toeing the line.
How I moved from doing what I thought I should do, to doing what I was born to do
So I did the logical thing and took a job as a software tester at a large healthcare software corporation. And so the pursuit of praise and achievement grew ever stronger. I lived for the pat on the back, the promotion to a bigger and better and more impressive role or project. But my soul constantly felt so overwhelmed by the pressure and the unending push forward and the celebration of logic and debate that went into every decision.
I ached for freedom and creativity with everything in me. My very bones and every fiber and muscle within me cried out for it. The stress and pressure made me physically ill for months. The months of sickness turned into years. And then something slow and beautiful started to happen inside of me.
The first thing was that I began to get my chronic illness under control by switching up my diet. As I started to feel better, I became more and more motivated to re-explore the things that once brought me joy. I started creating again. I painted canvases, I designed prints for our home, and I made our little apartment as cozy and welcoming as I could. Then I started to cook again. I made dinner and invited people over and we laughed and ate and I began to remember what it felt like to be known and loved. As I created more and more, and worked on all sorts of prints for the homes of the people in my life, an idea was born.
It started as a tiny “what if” – just a small seed sprouting up in my soul. What if I used all the artwork and decor I’d created to start a shop? And what if that shop had a mission that I’m passionate about? Like maybe a mission of helping families get access to fresh, healthy food? And what if I could also have a blog where I could get back to my love of writing? I mulled over the thought for a few months, afraid to speak it out loud.
The birth of bravery
And then finally, in the car one day on a long drive back to Wisconsin, I found the courage to put words to my dream. I finally said it out loud to another person. From that one small and vulnerable act of courage, good things began to blossom.
It started out as just a side project – something I would get going in my free time outside of work. But the more I got back to doing the things I loved, the more I returned home to my God-given passions, the braver I became, and the more courageous I was with my dreams. The side project turned into a maybe future career, and before I knew it, I was putting in my notice at work three days before my website was even ready to launch. It was terrifying and completely liberating. I had taken a giant leap into the person I felt I was meant to be.
To be clear, it still feels scary. Doubts and negative what ifs creep in many times a day. I find myself worrying that other people will think I’m irresponsible or delusional or making a poor decision. But it doesn’t matter, because I know this is the person I want to be. This is the work I’m supposed to do.
So whatever that thing is for you – the thing you know in your bones you were made to do – know one thing only about it: you, my friend, are good enough to do it. You’re smart enough, daring enough, talented enough, driven enough, to do it. It might not be pretty at first. It certainly won’t be perfect. And it probably won’t look anything like you thought it would. But the beautiful thing about success is that it’s all about your perception. I’ve chosen to believe that believing I can is a success in and of itself. And taking the leap is my second success. So look at that – I’m already on my way!