Stop creating mass-produced imitations and make things only you can make.
Imagine for a second, that you’re standing on a busy city sidewalk. The bustle swirls around you. People are distracted by their phones or grabbing a bite from a Thai food truck.
Nobody notices you because you’re just one of them.
So you take off your shoes. Some people find this to be odd but they’ve seen worse. Your socks are next, then your pants, then your shirt and any accessories. Now people are definitely noticing something is going on. One person chokes on their fried pork dumpling.
Last to go is your underwear. And there you are. No layers. No shield. Just your body. People are drawn to it and fear it. It’s familiar but strange. And then you do something they never expect, you take a step forward. Not just any step, a confident step.
You walk down that busy sidewalk, naked, exposed, and unafraid.
This is creativity. It’s the ability to shed away the barriers that protect us and create things that truly express who we are.
Shedding the Layers
I’m an insecure creative. I worry my work won’t resonate with people. I fear people won’t like what I write. At times I even try to hide my flaws so no one will judge me.
I know I’m not alone on this.
Many of us creative struggle to put out work that’s world-changing. Instead, we play it safe and create bland generic copies of everything else.
Have you ever gone to Marshals or TJ Maxx and seen the wall hangings? They look like art but they aren’t. They’re mass-produced imitations.
That’s what I feel like sometimes, an imitation of what I aspire to be.
As a 20-something-year-old creative, I didn’t know who I was or wanted to be. I created work I thought people wanted to see. 10 years later, I’ve realized an important lesson:
Creativity is the act of using one’s faculties to create something of perceived value. It’s nothing more.
When you hinder your own body from expressing itself, you end up with the flaccid wall hangings you see at Marshals.
Creativity is hard because it requires us to be brave. If you want to pursue a creative career, get used to being naked.
Create From a Place of Vulnerability
I write online. That’s the form my creativity takes. It’s safe and comforting because I’m on this side of the screen and you are on yours and the only thing that connects us is these series of letters and punctuation marks.
However, there are writers who make you feel as if you are there, beside them, while they pour out their life’s story.
Paul Kalanithi’s When Breath Becomes Air made me cry. Todd Brison holds me transfixed by his honesty and realness.
These are all people who, metaphorically speaking, stripped down to their bare selves and exposed us to their being.
And yet, here I am writing online about building side businesses and dolling out life advice. Many creatives feel like fakes. We want to create something meaningful but fall for the same mass-produced imitations.
How do we break out of this rut?
I believe it’s simpler than we think. Cultivating creativity requires three steps:
- Acknowledge you. You are a unique blend of genetic code, environmental influence, and a lifetime’s worth of experiences. As Mister Rogers would say, “You are the only one like you.”
- Acknowledge your fears. It’s okay to be afraid. We all are in some way or another. Being brave doesn’t mean hiding away our fears but rather shedding light on them.
- Acknowledge your truth. The lens through which you see the world is your own. Doubt and insecurity may cloud that lens only if you let them.
You. Your fears. Your truth. These are all things we typically hide away because they are all vulnerable. Creativity stems from vulnerability. Begin there.
The Non-practical Practical Approach
“Okay, but I was hoping for a more concrete plan about pursuing a creative career. Do you have any tips?”
No, I don’t have any tips because tips will not make you creative. There are no rules to creativity or paths to follow or magic potions to drink. Creativity is an expression. Do you know what uses blueprints? Marshals wall hangings.
Sure I can give you tips on how to write articles that’ll garner thousands of views, but that’s not why we are here, is it?
The non-practical practical approach to creativity is this:
- Make things
- Don’t overthink
- Keep making things
Over the past 10 years, I’ve seen the cookie cutter. I know a Marshals’ wall hanging when I see it. Too many people don’t create, they copy. Copying is safe. It’s what everyone else is doing.
If you want a creative career, get comfortable walking down the city sidewalk bare naked. Strip away the barriers and shields. Create from a place of vulnerability.
Create something only you can create.