When I was 40, I went through a phase during which I feared all of my creativity had been sapped.
I was in the thick of child-rearing and running a home, with all that this time of life entails. Most of my time was spent driving kids to activities, volunteering at their schools, cleaning up messes, and preparing meals that usually involved the words “nugget” or “roll-up.”
Although it was rewarding watching my children grow and thrive, I had no outlet for self-expression or creativity. In fact, I thought I had no creativity.
Someone suggested I read the book, The Artist's Way, A Spiritual Path to Higher Creativity, by Julia Cameron. In the book, Julia suggests that to stimulate creativity, you should commit to a period of “reading deprivation,” so you have no excuse not to do something playful and creative. She even provides a list of ideas.
When I looked at her list, I wanted to find something that was easily interrupt-able, as I had a 3-year-old at the time and knew that my down-time came in 5-10 minute blips.
I chose drawing.
At the time, I had no artistic ability whatsoever — my competency level was in the stick figure range. The last time I had seriously attempted drawing, I was under 12 years old and using crayons.
But nevertheless, I picked up a #2 pencil and a piece of construction paper and found a drawing of a bird that looked simple to draw. I focused on copying the lines of the drawing exactly as I saw them and tried not to worry about the outcome. I was just drawing something for fun. (You can see that I still clung to finishing my work with crayons.)
Here's a photo of that first attempt at drawing:
I'm not showing you this because I think it's a good drawing. Most 5-year-olds could create something similar or better. Plus, I have no idea what that thing is the bird is perched on. It doesn't look good.
But . . . this little drawing gave me a sense of pride and awareness.
I could draw something better than stick figures.
I could look at lines and shading and reproduce something that remotely resembled the bird I was attempting to copy.
But the best thing that resulted from this first attempt was that I made a second attempt, and then a third, and so on.
After a few more attempts at animals and still-life, I realized I really enjoyed drawing faces. And if I just focused on reproducing lines and shading, without worrying about the outcome, I could create something fairly decent.
Here's what I drew a couple of months later (with no art classes or any professional instruction). This is a drawing of my then 3-year-old daughter that I did from a photo of her:
Eventually, with a little more practice (but still no art classes), I was able to loosen up a bit without having to reproduce faces exactly as I saw them. Here's an example of a DaVinci sketch I copied:
I am showing you these to let you know that you have hidden talents and abilities — things bottled up inside of you that you may not know you are capable of.
When I discovered this drawing ability, I actually feared something might be wrong with me — like a brain tumor or the beginning of some mental illness.
I couldn't understand how I'd gone my entire life not being able to reproduce the simplest figure artistically, and within a couple of months, people were asking me to draw portraits of their children. Where did this come from?
What I know now is that this ability was always there, lying dormant within me. I'd never seriously tried drawing before, and any small attempt at it led me to believe I had no ability.
Once I tried and let go of expectations of judgment or outcomes, I was able to enjoy the process of just doing something creative. This enjoyment gave me the desire to practice and learn.
Not all of my creative attempts have resulted in success, but others have — like writing and blogging. With these two, I had no idea what I was getting into when I first started. I just knew the process was fun and fulfilling. Now I make a full-time living from this work. That wasn't my intention, but here I am.
What Does This Mean for You?
In his book, The Element: How Finding Your Passion Changes Everything, Sir Ken Robinson suggests that “most people have a very limited conception of their own natural capacities.” He reminds us that we are born with “extraordinary powers of imagination, intelligence, feeling, intuition, spirituality, and of physical and sensory awareness. For the most part, we use only a fraction of these powers, and some not at all.”
What Sir Ken is suggesting (and backs up with plenty of research) is that we have so much more inside of us than we have begun to tap. We are capable of more than we could possibly achieve in a lifetime. But most of us haven't even tried.
Somewhere along middle school and high school, we became self-conscious and fearful. We lost the pleasure of pure creativity because we were so focused on outcomes. We knew what it felt like to “fail,” to be criticized, to be compared — and it didn't feel good.
As a result, we set limits on ourselves to pursue just those things we knew we could do reasonably well. Then we grew and got busy and had responsibilities that further removed us from our wellspring of creative abilities.
So how do we begin to tap in to that wellspring again?
How can we find our hidden abilities if we aren't sure what they are or where to begin?
Here are a few ideas:
- Follow Julia Cameron's advice and stop reading or watching TV for a few weeks. Give yourself that time to do something rather than sitting passively.
- If you have an inkling about what you might enjoy, start with that activity and play with it for 30 minutes to an hour a day. Just enjoy the play — don't have expectations or worry about the result.
- If you have no idea what you might be good at, do what I did, and pick something that fits into your life and schedule. Some ideas include:
watercolor or painting
knitting or sewing
carpentry or building
painting a room
playing an instrument
- Consider creating a blog or web site. There are so many ways to draw out your hidden abilities through online pursuits — including writing, teaching, design, selling, coaching, collaborating, research, etc.
- Experiment with several different creative endeavors. Not only will this help you find something you might truly love, but also it broadens your depth of knowledge and interest.
Why Should You Bother?
On some level, we are all aware that we have more inside of us than we are using. That awareness creates a certain amount of tension, making us feel bad that we aren't living up to our potential.
Frankly, we can never live up to our fullest potential, because we have so many hidden but untapped abilities. That's not the point.
- The point is that you could be enjoying your life more fully than you are now.
- You could open yourself up to something amazing and life-changing.
- You might find a doorway to a new career or a passionate endeavor that significantly boosts your happiness and sense of purpose.
- You might discover a way to meet interesting, new people who share your interest and ability.
- You might grow to have more self-confidence and pride in yourself.
- At the very least, you could have an hour a day where you have fun, relax, try something new, disengage from TV or books (not that either are bad) and do something different.
Yes, you have untapped potential. But don't allow that knowledge to make you feel confused, fearful, or down on yourself.
You have nothing to prove to anyone.
Reach down inside of yourself and pick something, anything, and give it a try. You never know where it might lead you!
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