“It’s nice,” my mother said in response to a mind map I drew. That’s her most generous appreciation of my work. A “nice” from my mother for my work is equal to a “wow” from others.
“It’s nice,” she said. “You apply what you learn. But I can’t do this.”
“Why not?” I asked, fully aware of what I would hear.
“I’m not creative enough.”
She shrugged and walked away. Apparently, she was in no mood for my pseudo-deep talks. But why doesn’t she feel creative?
My mother teaches school children. She also watches a lot of television – news and women’s shows – in the mornings, afternoons and nights. She spends a lot of time on WhatsApp and Facebook (she cannot understand Twitter or Snapchat). When she isn’t forwarding WhatsApp messages or posting on Facebook, she’s chatting with friends. She also attends two satsanghs every day. Notice a pattern here?
What is Creativity?
There’s a lot of snake oil around ‘creativity’. Brands and people boast about possessing it, consultants hawk it, and the majority flees from it. The majority believe they weren’t cut out to be creative. “It’s like someone handed them a placard when they were nine,” writes Elizabeth Gilbert, “and they wore it around their necks ever since.”
This is how the Dictionary defines creativity.
Sounds frightening, right? Imagination, original ideas, production, artistic work… Damn!
But creativity is simpler.
Anyone who creates is a creative person (duh!). The scale and size of what they create doesn’t matter. Quality doesn’t matter either. If it’s original and out there in the world, the producer is creative. Experts will tell you that quality will come with time.
They’ll also tell you that originality doesn’t mean building something from scratch. It means ethical stealing. “If you steal from one source of inspiration, it’s copied. But if you steal from one hundred sources of inspiration, it’s original,” Austin Kleon wrote in Steal Like An Artist.
“Nothing is original. Steal from anywhere that resonates with inspiration or fuels your imagination. Devour old films, new films, music, books, paintings, photographs, poems, dreams, random conversations, architecture, bridges, street signs, trees, clouds, bodies of water, light and shadows. Select only things to steal from that speak directly to your soul. If you do this, your work (and theft) will be authentic. Authenticity is invaluable; originality is nonexistent.” —Jim Jarmusch
Doesn’t sound so daunting anymore, does it?
But You’re Not Creative?
Creativity is no longer limited to an elite few. You no longer need money, or contacts, or be part of ‘the right circles’. Anyone can be creative and, should they choose to, make a living out of it.
So why are most people not creative?
The answer lies in our distorted imbalance of consumption and creation.
We use the platforms for creation, to stifle ourselves. Instead of creating for ourselves and others, we use consume relentlessly.
When you want to try something new, you feel excited. But the excitement turns to fear faster than your thumping heart. Fear of being judged. Worse, fear that nobody will notice what you create. “I’m not good enough,” you tell yourself.
As a result, you choose the comfort zone, where you can judge what others create. You drown yourself in the ocean of content out there. Social media, the internet, television, Netflix… the list goes on. Consumption lets you create tasks to pull yourself away from what you are capable of. It’s the easiest method to combat fear.
But here’s where people who are not creative go horribly wrong. Instead of working with fear, they run from it. They use fear as an alibi to consume more. My mother is uncreative, not because she does not have it in her. But because she prefers staying in the comfort zone. She consumes, and consumes, and consumes. Then she says, “I’m not creative.”
If you want to create, eliminate. You won’t immediately stop consuming information (although I recommend you do). And that’s okay. But you can go on an information diet. Halve the time you spend on consumption, and increase time you spend on producing. If you haven’t started yet, make something, do something, anything.
Do you enjoy reading? Try writing. Do you enjoy hearing music? Make music using an app. You don’t have to know how to play a musical instrument to begin. Do you enjoy watching videos? Shoot a two-minute video with a storyline.
Then, share your work. Not because you want validation from others. But because you slowly will move towards freedom from fear. If three people like your work, it’s a beginning. Start working your mind out. Increase focused consumption, and enjoy deep work.
I don’t like how this post has turned out. I feel it’s vague, scattered and untidy. And that’s okay. I’m publishing it nonetheless. Because it pushes me out of my comfort zone. Because time used to write this post is time spent away from consuming irrelevant content. I’m human. When I create, mistakes are natural. As is failure. I allow myself to fail, learn from it, and improve.
I wasn’t born like this. When I was a child, fear came as naturally as walking. But in the last six years, I consumed less, and worked more with fear. More on that in another post. I invested my free time in creating. Now my mother sees my work and says, “nice”.
You can do it too. Eliminate. Create. And be happy.