If you would have told me 15 years ago that I would be running a creative business from my home, I would have stared back at you in utter disbelief. You see I was that kid who avoided art class, who hated the messiness of art and preferred to stay in what felt like more tangible, controllable arenas. I simply wanted no part in the creative realm. And deeper still, I felt as if I had no business being there. A chasm between the artist and the rest of the world existed. Creativity was in a very confined box, only to be opened by the chosen few.
Over the years, season by season, layer upon layer, I have come to understand that as Elizabeth Gilbert says, “In creativity, no one is left out of the inheritance.” Every single individual is unique and possesses a creativity all their own that longs to be unleashed to the world. There is no one that wholly possesses your thoughts, emotions, experiences, or ideas and therefore only you can be an agent of your unique creativity. But like anything of value and beauty in this world, lies came against creativity and taint its original intention. I have seen in the lives of others, as well as in my own experience, that shame and fear are the biggest liars and most corruptive to our creative nature.
It is amazing how simple off-handed comments or experiences growing up introduced shame into my creative nature. I remember a seemingly small moment in my education where I worked and worked at cursive writing. I just couldn’t get it right. I would erase through paper upon paper trying to form the letters perfectly, and I remember my 8-year-old self declare, “I will never get this. Can’t the teacher just accept that I am not creative?!” I have no idea why those words came out at such a young age, related to such a small task. But the roots took hold right there and continued to spread as I declared over myself again and again: I am not creative. I just stopped trying. A fear of failure sank into my identity that clouded many seasons and stunted many opportunities.
And then, around the age of 25, I had a teacher challenge my misconstrued idea of creativity. He was so passionately convinced that creativity is an inherit gift to humanity, a mark of being an image bearer of God that he yelled at us, “Stop killing yourself. Stop stripping yourself of creativity or you strip yourself of the image of God.” Those words shook my core and invited me on a path to discover my own creativity. God slowly began to untangle the lies, to unravel my attempts to quantify and limit my creativity and contain it within the realm of the artist.
And now here I am a maker, producing a product others conceive to be art. It still absolutely baffles me. But here is what I have discovered. Creativity has nothing to do with what it produces and everything to do with the transformative process. God has used my pursuit of creativity to transform so many parts of my heart, my character, and my experiences. I was listening to a podcast called “Cultivating Creativity” by Melissa Helser the other day and she said, “Creativity is your birthright. Remove the pressure. The point of creativity is to bring you joy and produce good fruit.”
Pressing into a creative business the last few years has been fraught with difficult, transformative moments. It has confronted a deep fear of failure, the paralyzing kind that shuts down your soul. I have grappled with this idea that I am a fraud if I don’t produce something wholly “original” which feels next to impossible in a social media saturated world. I have waded in the deep waters of comparison and come to discover there is enough room in this world for everyone’s ideas and products. We each have our unique beauty to birth into the world and better to cheer one another on than to plague ourselves with judgment and competition. I discovered creativity is not disconnected from hard work. Ideas don’t simply come to us in some mystical way that requires little of our own agency to bring it forth. Creativity is a practice, a decision to notice the smaller moments curiosity invites you to experience and shake off fear of the unknown. It can be tedious and hard, but I have seen that if I press through the monotony, inspiration comes and those efforts transform how I bear the image of God. The difficult seasons sometimes produce the best harvest in our souls.
In the hard moments of the business, I ask myself why I am doing this, pursuing something that seems to steal so much of my time and produces so little. But again, I try to quantify what I produce and fail to notice the unseen. Elizabeth Gilbert in her podcast with Krista Tippet says, “Your life is the work of art, not what you produce.” God keeps asking me to stay in the deep end of this small business, where I am growing stronger and cultivating a discipline of staying in the crucible even when I don’t see the purpose. I stay on the path, not because I understand where it is going to take me but because I know I will be transformed with each step I take. I have learned to give myself grace that just being in motion on the path is a big deal. It is not in what I produce or how I perceive my creativity, but that I continue to show up and move forward.
So where are you killing your creativity? What lies are crippling the way you were meant to put your unique imprint on the world? The beauty of who you are isn’t in what you produce. The beauty is already there, waiting to be cultivated and revealed. To break free from the grasp of our fear and shame. Step on the path and simply start moving forward.