Why I’ve Been Avoiding Creativity

A lesson on vulnerability, self-compassion, and the inner child

Photo: DAJ/Getty Images

I’m a chronic procrastinator. When faced with a challenging task, I often put it on the back burner in favor of something easier. On the surface it feels like laziness or a lack of self-control, but in reality it’s a lot more than that. Procrastination is driven by feelings of insecurity and doubt associated with the tasks we turn ourselves away from. The longer we delay completing these tasks, the more our anxiety feeds on itself, allowing our internal critics to make their presence known with disapproval and nagging feelings of inadequacy.

Recently, I’ve been doing anything I can to avoid writing. I’ve subconsciously convinced myself that writing doesn’t matter and the self-judgement stifles me. It’s a clear indication that I’ve been refusing to write because I’m afraid of being vulnerable. And yet, pursuing the uncomfortable and unfamiliar often leads to empowerment and liberation. Creating art is a vulnerable yet essential part of life. I’ve never written down these words in this exact order. If I pick up a pen, I can draw something I’ve never drawn before. To deny vulnerability is to deny everything it means to be human.

In Range: Why Generalists Triumph in a Specialized World, author David Epstein eloquently describes how some of the most successful people in history experimented with many hobbies and occupations before finding their true callings — sometimes decades later. A key lesson from the book: Everything in life is an experiment and some of the most groundbreaking discoveries occurred because people took a chance on trying something new. We need to continually tap into our inner child and embrace the curiosity that has been stripped away in adulthood. Judgement and insecurity should never overshadow our innate curiosity and creativity. When people say, “I’m not creative,” this simply isn’t true. Whether you’re an accountant, architect, salesperson, doctor, mechanic, or plumber, your job requires creativity.

Creating art is a vulnerable yet essential part of life.

In my own professional life, the day-to-day has started to feel increasingly less creative over the past year. My projects are often focused on hard data and it rarely feels like I’ve built something from my mind. The numbers tell a simple story of failure or success, but never a visual story. Nothing concrete. Last month, however, I edited and scored a short video for a client and it felt more real than anything I’ve done for work in a long time. This simple video made me feel an irrational level of pride and accomplishment because, well, it was something new. Something tangible. Something from a part of my brain that had been collecting cobwebs.

Like many adults, my two young children also have a tendency toward procrastination on occasion. They can’t help it. It’s part of who we are and there’s nothing easier than saying, “I don’t want to do that right now.” Maybe they are hungry and refuse to eat a snack, don’t want to take a bath, don’t want to go to bed, the list goes on. I know they need these things, but they don’t care and they suffer emotionally because of it. As they become irritable and dig deeper into the assertion that they are fine, I still make a concerted effort to remain patient and explain the reasoning. It’s always worth a gentle reminder that they will be thankful in the long run.

My two boys are my inspiration for everything. The next time I’m procrastinating and beating myself up, I should treat myself as I would treat one of them. The voice I share with them is kind, understanding, and encouraging, whereas I am often cruel and pessimistic toward myself. This never leads to anything productive. Criticizing and shaming others causes far more harm than good, so why would we ever treat ourselves that way? Changing this mindset is the first step to developing more self-compassion and listening to your heart.

I know there are still times when I willingly shut down creative tasks. I’ve been prioritizing the predictable areas of life and habitually shying away from vulnerability. As complacency reigns supreme, this refusal to embrace the creative process has given me a false sense of control. For anyone else who has been through a similar struggle, I hope you’ll join me in taking moments to feed your creative spirit each day. Even if it’s just a few minutes to draw a picture in your notebook, that’s something — and your soul will thank you for it.

People need creativity to stay sane. Stop listening to the self-criticism and start listening to your instincts. Let your inner child shine again.

Owner + Consultant at Greer Interactive. I help businesses develop paid media strategies with a focus on design and empathy.

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