Mandy Boyle

NEPA-er with Moxie. Writer. Sometimes Actor. Nerdy Girl.

Creativity is a Spark

Tonight, I spent some time on TED, specifically with Elizabeth Gilbert on nurturing creativity.

While watching the video and reading the transcript, I started to think about writing a blog post. So I am. And if you watch Elizabeth’s speech, then you’ll know that I’m showing up for my job – waiting for its arrival.

Gilbert raises a lot of great points in this TED talk. She describes the unrealistic expectations we put on artists, and on ourselves as creative people.

Aren’t you afraid you’ll never be able to top that?

Aren’t you afraid you’re never going to have any success?

Her short answer is yes: she’s afraid of these things. These are real fears, but it’s not entirely our fault. She notes that we’ve become absorbed with the creativity as part of ourselves rather than something on loan to us. As a result, we’re harder on ourselves. We’re harder on each other. When she started talking about it, I was a little skeptical. How can creativity be something that ISN’T solely you?

But I loved what she had to say about fear and creativity and nurturing your genius as something that doesn’t reside within you – it passes through you. For awhile, it becomes part of you, but it continues on to another when it’s time for you to let go. In her speech, she asks the audience if it’s right to fear what one feels he or she is put on this Earth to do. For you, is it?

Is it worth sacrificing what you truly want in order to move ahead financially? Or geographically even?

Is it worth it to give up what makes you happy because you’re afraid of failure?

The Trust 30 challenge I completed this summer asked a lot of these questions. In fact, fear was one of the most popular subjects in the prompts. I liked that. Fear is something we all have; something we lean on as a crutch. When we take time to step back from our fears, recognize them, and then have the courage to at least challenge them…well…to me, that’s a huge step.

Conquering a fear is never easy. It’s hard. It’s a long road and it takes practice. Right now, I’m confronting a fear that I have. But like Gilbert, I need to let that pass through me. Creative people have a tendency to want to hold onto whatever spark we have. We get this feeling…if you’ve felt it before you know what I mean. It’s like you’re doing exactly what you should be doing, and as she notes in her speech, you light up. You ignite. You set the world on fire as St. Ignatius said. Fear and creativity are amazing things and it’s incredible to see what they can make us do. I realize this post might be a bit rambling, but it feels good to think out loud. To be doing exactly what I should be doing.

I’m not a huge fan of Gilbert’s writing. I wasn’t able to get into Eat Pray Love, but what she said in those 19 or so minutes meant a lot. It made sense to me. It made me want to give her book a second try because maybe, this time around, I would get it. If I do, great. If I don’t, it’s alright. I can still appreciate that she sparked and let something pass through her and because of that, she’s able to nurture her creativity.

So often, we punish ourselves. There’s this expectation that once you produce something great, you should produce all great things from now on. We do this with movie directors, actors, artists…hell, we do it with companies. As people, we have this expectation of excellence that’s unrealistic. Who could possibly get everything right all the time? When we don’t get it right every time, we ridicule. We approach the issue with criticism instead of new ideas. We become calloused. We hurt. That’s it. We hurt.

We hurt ourselves when we expect too much of ourselves and other people. There’s not one person on this Earth who hasn’t felt disappointment or been disappointed. It’s a crappy feeling. But like creativity, it’s not permanent. We get over it. We let it pass through us. Why can’t we extend the same courtesy to the creative sparks that keep us making things that are important to us? To each other?

After listening to Gilbert speak, I thought about my own relationship with creativity. The self-doubt, the criticism, the nervous excitement I experience every time I open up a new Word document. It’s all part of the process. Maybe it is healthier to take the burden off ourselves. Maybe I should try letting go to free myself of the hurt associated with the loss of that spark. It’s not a bad thing, you know, to remember that we’re human. We’re not as powerful as we think we are.

Sparks, as ideas, don’t ignite every time. But they can. And when they do, accept them. It’s a gift – not an expectation.

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