I’ve been receiving emails from readers lately that have struck up a little something in me that I need to share with you. Namely, how we place rules on how and when we can create. As I was thinking about this, I began to wonder if these rules we’ve set up (whether consciously or not) can actually stifle your creativity.
My Favorite Way to Create = The ONLY Way to Create?
Let’s take a journey back in time, shall we? I was in my 20s, and on my own in the big, bright world. (Yes, I’m romanticizing this just a tiny bit.) Anyway, I lived with roommates, I worked full time, and in the evenings, I made stuff. My favorite way to create was the “get-it-done” method. Never heard of it? Well, it looks like this:
- Think of a project idea on the way home from work. “My friend is having a baby soon, and I should embroider some onesies for her!”
- Get super-excited about said project and go buy the supplies for it (or use stash.)
- Set up “work” area: silly movie I don’t have to pay attention to for background noise, a pot of coffee, a treat, and project supplies.
- Make the project, and FINISH the project.
- Clean everything up.
My favorite way of working on projects was for long spans of time, and for years (because I was single for-ever) that’s how I worked. I was incredibly productive. I could whip out an assembly-line of presents on a Saturday. It was amazing and exhilarating. Some people are all for the journey when it comes to creating projects, but I have to admit I loved the completion part. Still do.
There was nothing “wrong” with this way of working. It was a method that had incredible and positive results. The problem came when I unconsciously thought that was the ONLY way I could create. I didn’t even realize I believed this until my daughter was born a couple years ago. I wish I could say I was the mom who had the mom-thing down from day one and life went on as usual, except I had a cute baby cooing at my side. Uh, yeah. No. I did have a cute baby at my side (or strapped to me in the Moby) but it was more of a survival thing than anything. It was hardcore bootcamp, and my long-winded creative projects were the first to get booted out the door.
How My Thinking Kept Me from Enjoying Creativity
I still made things, but in small bouts. A quick sketch here. A little bit of knitting there. It was nothing like how I usually worked on projects. Just a couple of months before, I had painted two large canvases for her bedroom. Now it was all I could do to sketch her while she was sleeping, and then take a nap myself.
You would think that I would have been satisfied that I was still creating and working on projects, but I was not. I didn’t think those projects counted. I was frustrated, because I couldn’t get traction and just GO GO GO like I was used to. I didn’t realize it, but my internal dialogue had convinced me that success equaled being able to create in my old, favorite way. That anything else wasn’t good enough and didn’t count.
This thought process, for the most part, was unconscious and only manifested itself in feelings of frustration and I-can’t-get-ahead-ness. (I know, I know. “Aheadness” is not a word. But you get what I’m trying to say, right?) Anyway, it wasn’t until I took that first creative retreat after my long hiatus that I began to realize that my rules about creativity and creating were actually doing more harm than good.
The thing was, I couldn’t go back to the idyllic single days of yore (which, ironically, at the time, weren’t that idyllic), and I didn’t want to go back to them anyway. I liked my new life and knew I needed to adapt to it. So I began to experiment and give myself grace. Lots and lots of grace. I went through a stage where I had to ban myself from reading blogs of the super-moms who I had admired from afar for years but who completely overwhelmed me in the place I was at at the moment.
On a side note, they were amazing blogs, and I’m truly glad for these moms’ success, but daily reading about the themed nursery they created for their little one, along with the handmade family of felt cats, and the entirely handmade wardrobe (maybe I’m exaggerating a tiny bit here) did not encourage me. Instead those posts twisted around in my mind and made me feel like a failure.
I realized that by filling my mind with ideals that I couldn’t reach, I was constantly filled with guilt. I meant to take the picture of my baby in the same spot with the same stuffed animal for her first year of life and totally forgot until month three. Fail! Looking back, this makes me smile because I think my own mom has about ten pictures total of me when I was an infant. And truth be told, neither my mom or I have suffered damaging affects from this.
Don’t Let Your Past Stifle Your Creativity
But back to my point and to the point of this post. Could it be when we create rules about what creativity looks like and what our ideal creative life has to be that we actually stifle creativity in a way? In many cases, not being able to live up to this ideal stops some of us from creating at all. We have a busy job or young kids or insert-your-thing-here and the creative projects we used to enjoy are shelved. We tell ourselves we’ll get back to them someday. But will we?
It can be a frustrating and stretching process to adapt yourself to a new creative lifestyle. But the truth is, life is constantly changing. Keeping the ideal alive, whatever that is, won’t work for a lifetime of creativity. What would it be like if we took the time to think through what we can do in our lives right now rather than what we can’t do? What if we worked toward excellence rather than perfection and let all of our rules fly out the window? Holley Gerth defines excellence as:
Excellence is doing what you can, with what you have, where you are, as you are.Holley Gerth
I LOVE that quote and am going to post it all over my house to remind myself of this truth. I’m definitely still a work in progress when it comes to this idea, but I’m learning to enjoy the moments I do have to create, to focus in well, and to let go when it isn’t ideal. I think it’s really interesting that in this time of my life where I am more busy than I have ever been before, I’ve been able to be successful in my own heart with several creative projects, like writing The Creative Retreat workbook. That one took several months of early mornings and focused nap time work, but it happened. This whole see-how-much-you-can-create-in-20-minutes thing has been a game-changer for me.
Do you relate? I would love to hear what you think about this topic.
How has your creative life changed in the past several years? How did you adapt?
You never know, maybe your answer could encourage another woman who is on this journey right now.
P.S. The above quote by Holley Gerth is from her book, You’re Loved No Matter What. She talks in depth about perfectionism and how to “free your heart from the need to be perfect”. I took about a million notes while reading this book and highly recommend it.