I just read this line in Austin Kleon’s book, Show Your Work and it resonated strongly with me today. I’ve been in several conversations this week about the importance of having a Voice, feeling seen and heard by the community that matters to you. Talking with others has given me a chance to reflect on my own journey to find and have a Voice in the world.
While reflecting on my creative journey, I remembered that the first exercise that Brené Brown had us do last fall in her Oprah Winfrey class was to write creativity permission slips. I had no trouble finding the messages that silence my creativity and my Voice. I’d been wrestling with them for years. One of the loudest ones in recent years is, “You’re not an artist. You didn’t go to art school.” In fact, as soon as someone asks if I’m an artist, I immediately become uncomfortable and deflect the question with some self-effacing excuse about it just being a hobby and that I have another profession. It’s even worse when others introduce me by saying, “She’s an artist” because it immediately brings up a shaming message about being an imposter.
The good news is the messages in my head don’t keep me from creating. And they’re not as loud as they once were. It’s taken lot of inner work to free my creativity so that I can have the joy of letting something new emerge from my imagination. And I guess my creative freedom is observed by others. Recently, I had a teacher tell me how much she enjoyed what she called my “fearlessness” in the studio creative process. I responded by sharing with her that it wasn’t always that way for me. In fact, “compare and despair” ruled my creative expression for most of my adult life.
Attending a studio workshop was torture for me 12 years ago. I felt inept and untalented, convinced that artistic creativity was gifted to some and not to others. Fortunately, I kept taking classes. I had the opportunity to meet and interview many artists who came to teach at the Bead House in Bristol, RI and at Metalwerx in Waltham, MA. Gradually, I learned that there were many paths to your own Voice, your own artistic expression. It also helped that heard the same negative messages coming from the inner voices of other women in the classes. I began to suspect I wasn’t alone.
In my conversations with others, I also learned that I had preconceived ideas about the artistic process that were erroneous. I thought writers wrote final copy in the first draft, photographers took only amazing photos and artists went directly from inspiration to a finished piece. Because I believed this to be the real creative process used by artists, I judged myself as ‘no talent’ because I only arrived at a finished piece after much work, rework and many pieces in the ‘reject’ bin. Today I think I’m not stretching my creative expression unless my ‘riffing’ takes to the point of creating something ugly!
Cultivating Creativity: Letting Go of Comparison
I was please to learn about the importance of creativity in living wholeheartedly that Brené Brown discovered in her research. She discovered in her own experience and the experiences of the people that she interviewed that many of us have shut down our creative Voice because of critical messages we heard when we were young and fearless in our expression.
I believe that all of us have a part of us that knows how to be fearlessly creative. This is the part of ourselves that is most filled with life and joy. Staying alive as we age may require finding this vital source. I call it my 12 year-old self. This the part of me that delighted in imagination, creativity and was fearless in the face of peer pressure. Sadly, she didn’t survive the pressures of adolescence and was shut away until the age of 40.
I rediscovered this part of myself at a critical point where I wasn’t sure life was worth living. It was at a time when everything came crashing down in both my personal and professional life for reasons largely beyond my control. I found it nearly impossible to ‘bounce back’. I had worked very hard to get where I was in life and it all shattered. I didn’t feel like I had the will or the energy to start over. It was one of those moments of ‘radical reset’.
Fortunately, the previous summer I had met a teacher at a course I had taken in Ericksonian Hypnosis at Omega Institute in Rhinebeck, NY. At the end of the week, the teacher, Mel Bucholz, mentioned that he also conducted Vision Quests once a year for people who were in major transition. I blew him off with some glib phrase about ‘being princess and not doing camping” but his message stuck. Six months later when I was sitting in a shattered life, I called and asked about the process.
After reading through the information in the packed I received from Mel, I collapsed into despair. Clearly the process was too hard for me, I wasn’t in shape, I was a heavy smoker, I didn’t have any money and it sounded very scary to spend three days and nights by myself on a mountain. So, I decided I would just have to call and make up some excuse about why I couldn’t do the Vision Quest (definitely couldn’t tell Mel the real reasons!).
It was in that moment that I rediscovered my 12 year-old self. As I was preparing my mental script for the call, she piped up and said, “We can do this! I know how to do this even if you’ve forgotten!” And then as she felt me waver, she said “And if we don’t do this, I’m giving up on you forever!” The finality of that statement echoed through my being.
I knew at that moment that I was being challenged to live—that if I silenced my 12 year-old voice, I would begin to die. She is the voice of my vital being, the source of my creative expression in the world. I listened. She wrote the application and told the truth. She said, “I don’t know if I’m more scared to do this or to not do this.” She acknowledged that life as she knew it had ended and she didn’t know how to begin again.
Well, the Vision Quest is another story for another time. The short version is I learned a lot, faced my fears and freed up my Voice. I came down from the mountain after three days and nights praying, fasting and ‘lamenting for a vision”, ready to move forward in my life. In the years that followed, I was able to create a body of work that I felt proud to bring into the world. I still did battle with the internal voices that wanted to silence me but they never could gain the chokehold they had before.
Today, twenty-six years later, I know that listening to that 12 year-old voice was the turning point in my life. I reconnected with the part of me that knows how to live wholeheartedly. I don’t always listen but sooner or later she gets my attention and we go back to doing what feels alive. She is the source of my fearlessness. My 66 year-old self can get pretty scared about the future and all the uncertainty ahead for me personally as well for all of us on the planet. But then I hear her voice again, saying, “We can do it! We know how to do it!” and I’m filled with hope and creative vitality.