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Creativity or You Are Less Important Than You Think You Are

I've been gathering my thoughts on this subject for a while now. In a way because self-realization has become one of the most important goals of today yet it keeps daunting us. It's a luxury and a nemesis at the same time. American psychologist A. Maslow known best for creating Maslow's hierarchy of needs put self-actualization on top of it, meaning after our basic and psychological needs are met, after we have food on our table and no lions around to attack us, after we feel loved and a sense belongingness, we start thinking about something that previous generations most likely didn't have too much time to think of: what the hell do I WANT to do with my life?

The modern version of Maslow's hierarchy of needs

When I think of creativity, I think of my sister. Since she was a kid, she used to collect everything, and I mean literally everything. Candy papers, dead insects, stones (not even the pretty ones), old tickets, etc. We used to fight because we shared the room growing up and eventually I had to divide the room with a proper demarcation line so that her stuff wouldn't travel to my side (especially when we were at war). I never understood, but I admired her need to drag all those things and then try to create something from it (a creative mess?). Without a big goal, without a plan, not afraid to get her hands dirty, without the need to show it to someone, she would sit at her desk for hours (pretending to do her homework) and draw, (de)construct or just observe her collection of random thingies. Till today she is one of the most creative people I know. 


Probably that is somehow recognisable, when we're kids, we have this inherent ability to get into creative flow but at some point in life we start losing it, we become more self-conscious, we start overthinking, we become afraid of being judged so we start judging and criticising others.. it takes so many inspiring ted talks and good self-help books to try to get our mojo back, to become those fearless creators immersed in paint, dirt or notes.


You are not so important


One of the things that stops us from doing something creative (and that can be anything, from cooking a new dish to writing a screenplay) is this need to do it GOOD. We feel responsible to perform, to only create something we (or others) will be proud of. The possibility of investing our time and energy in something and ending up with a result that does not satisfy us or makes us cringe, is so terrifying that it stops us from even trying. But unless you're born some kind of child prodigy and whatever you touch turns to gold, you are going to FAIL. You will create things that you might actually be ashamed of, things that you won't feel like seeing again (believe me, I could make a playlist of videos of me dancing that I would not want to watch again). But without those, it's highly unlikely you will start creating something good or something you will be at least ok with.


Creativity is like a language, you can learn it from all the books in the world but if you don't actually start speaking and using it, it will not work. Once you start speaking, you will make mistakes. You will get stuck in the middle of the sentence thinking if the word "table" is feminine or masculine. You will say "penis" instead of "the beat" (true story), but most importantly you will get better. You will learn your lessons. You will learn a language. I truly believe we can learn (or relearn) creativity the same way, by trial and error. 


There is this fear that stops us from being creative: the fear of creating something bad or mediocre (or not good enough, whatever that "enough" means to you). You don't have to be a perfectionist to experience it. Creativity honestly is a vulnerable process. We express something very true to ourselves, we put out our deepest ideas, feelings, experiences on the table and we show it to the world. We leave it to the others to have opinions about it. We can get hurt. However, the world does not care for bad or mediocre art, people want to see good things and it's a consoling idea. You are free to create mediocre/boring/unoriginal art as long as you want until slowly you access your voice that will feel more authentic, until you will create things you are proud of.


Creativity is a matter of receptiveness and humbleness. To remember that the world does not revolve around you, that the best and the worst things you create will probably be forgotten in the big sea of creations can be humbling and freeing.


Quantity over quality


Youtube is full of dance videos that I'm not proud of, but you know what, no one's searching for them, they don't have many views (phew!) and in fact, the not-so-good video are covered by a-little-bit-better one's that I can actually feel quite ok about. This reminds me to keep going, only by producing more choreographies, more shows until I am able to get closer to what I want to say through my dancing.


I truly believe that it's quantity over quality that matters when being creative. It's somehow counter-intuitive, because we are brought to give our best at everything we do, yet this idea of "best" while creating can sometimes be debilitating. Give yourself a permission to create NOW, not later, not when "you're a good enough", not when "you are ready" (because you'll probably never will be). Whether it's writing 1000 words every day, making a new choreography every month, drawing a sketch or making a picture a day - it's the action that matters. It's not even up to us to decide if it's good or not, our purpose is to put it out there and let it exist in the world. One of the most inspiring thoughts about creativity comes from a dancer Martha Graham, she reminds us that we will probably never be fully satisfied yet we have to keep on going, "keep the channel open".

There is a vitality, a life force, an energy, a quickening that is translated through you into action, and because there is only one of you in all of time, this expression is unique. And if you block it, it will never exist through any other medium and it will be lost. The world will not have it. It is not your business to determine how good it is nor how valuable nor how it compares with other expressions. It is your business to keep it yours clearly and directly, to keep the channel open. You do not even have to believe in yourself or your work. You have to keep yourself open and aware to the urges that motivate you. Keep the channel open. /M. Graham/

Only those in the arena can judge


The criticism, the "what people think" is something that can also stop us from living a creative life. You know that feeling when you hear hundred beautiful words about something you created and it makes you warm and happy but that one person who said (or commented) "I didn't like it" feels like the sharpest knife and keeps you awake in the middle of the night? We know it's probably impossible that everyone will like what we created, yet, we hope they would. But if everyone liked it, it would probably mean we have created some sort of a Big Mac of art - everyone likes it but it doesn't make it a good meal. Our art will have it's audience, however big or small it may be, but it won't be everyone. What counts is the people whose opinions truly matter to you, the people that give you feedback when it's needed, that love and support you but are not afraid to be direct with you when needed. Most importantly, people who are in the creative process themselves, who know what it means to put your art and your heart out there and that the credit belongs to the one in the arena, to the one who is covered with dust and sweat and blood.


The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming /T. Roosevelt/

What you create doesn't have to be perfect, heck, it doesn't even have to be good, it just has to exist and get out there. Creativity is sacred yet it doesn't matter. You are the creator but you're also just a channel for your creations to reach the world. If you don't express what you have to express, it might not ever exist in that form. Let it exist. Go back to work.



More on M. Graham: https://www.brainpickings.org/2015/10/02/martha-graham-creativity-divine-dissatisfaction/



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