There’s a lot of advice out there about “how to be creative.” On the surface, this sounds great — everybody wants to come up with useful and profitable ideas, right? But when I look more closely at this kind of advice, and what drives us to seek it out, I feel concerned.
On one level, none of us needs to be taught how to create. In every moment, we’re creating (or, at least, playing a part in creating) our lives. We’re choosing where to go, what to eat, what to say in a conversation, and so on. We make many of these choices unconsciously, but that doesn’t change the fact that we make them.
Yet, somehow, I doubt this would satisfy most people looking for creativity tips. As someone I know who often complains about her “lack of creativity” put it: “sure, I choose the words I use when I’m talking, but so what? Everybody does that.”
Being Creative and Being “Special”
I think my friend’s words illustrate the real concern that often motivates people to seek creativity advice. They aren’t actually interested in being creative — what they really want is to be special and unique. What’s more, they worry that, without outside help, they’ll always be mediocre and average.
In my experience, this need to be special, and self-loathing for being “average,” causes people a lot of suffering. Ironically, I’ve found, it also hampers our progress in our work.
Speaking for myself, it’s hard to move forward in a project when I’m demanding that my work be brilliant and 100% original. With that kind of mentality, I’m likely to second-guess, and probably delete, every line I write, and be left with a blank screen after hours of effort. Worse still, perhaps, I won’t have fun, and I won’t feel inspired to keep writing.
It’s only when I drop my need for “uniqueness” that I start making headway again. In other words, it’s only when I’m willing to take the risk of “being average” that I’m able to produce anything at all.
Who’s Afraid of Averageness?
And when you think about it, is “being average” really such a huge risk? What would happen if someone told you that your work was average? Would you spontaneously combust? Or maybe dissolve into a pile of steaming protoplasm?
I’m no expert on spontaneous combustion, but I can tell you that some people have said far worse things about my writing, and somehow I’m in one piece. I’m still writing, to boot, and — for better or worse — showing no signs of stopping.
So, when someone comes to me bemoaning their lack of creativity, I often invite them to try this exercise. For a moment, consider the possibility that you don’t have to try to be creative. You are creating your life, through the choices you make, in every moment. Imagine what you would and could do if you fully accepted that.
If we could let go of our draining struggle to “be creative,” and trust that creativity is already and always ours, I think we’d free up a lot of energy to accomplish what we want, and give the gifts we want to give, in our work.