I enjoy creativity but as someone who is basically an artiste in the broadest sense, I am often stopped in my tracks by my fear of making mistakes. My very roots seem to be dipped in this feeling, and I have often made myself small by refusing to give myself enough space to explore.
Even if you don’t consider yourself creative (maybe just the word “artiste” made you cringe), the fear of making mistakes probably stops you from living a full, artful life. It stops you from doing things expansively, trying something new, and feeling at home when you don’t do things right the first time around.
Creativity requires living larger. Many of us find our being shrinking in size as the shadow of this fear looms large.
Perfectionism And Shame Kill Creativity
Just like you, I am learning to let go of perfectionism and attempting to live in my creativity. I am beginning to learn some things that I hope will seep right into me one day, just as deep as the fear had once gone.
What we think of as a mistake is a starting point: When we start off doing something, we are not very good. Or, maybe, we are talented but not as good as we ultimately want to be. Keeping things pristine and empty because we want to make only the best thing or the best decision leads us nowhere.
We all know this intellectually, but we don’t know it in our bones. What we do know almost physically is the intense reaction we have when we make a mistake.
Some old part of us comes calling. It says: “You can’t do anything right.” It says: “You are a mistake” even though you have just attempted something you don’t know very much about.
If you are at this point, you are coming face to face with a belief that you are uprooting. You are beginning to unfreeze. That’s hard work, and you deserve credit for even trying.
As I try to let go of my fear, I find myself face to face with my belief that if I don’t do things “correctly,” I am not good or lovable. There is shame involved in that belief.
What’s stopping us are unconscious fears that speak to our very human need for love and belonging. We can trace their origins back to the past. We can work at bringing them to light and changing them. It’s okay to go slow as you begin this process. It’s okay if you don’t make great progress right away.
You are attempting to plant your being in more fertile soil.
“Childlike” things that energize us are useful things : All creative acts are playful and exploratory. They can be fun and silly, imaginative and inventive. That threatens the part of us that is attached to the idea of what an “adult” looks like. We forget that a real adult would be someone who gives their free child room to play. We forget that there is a difference between childish and child-like.
I have been struggling with this. As a writer, sometimes, words become less than living for me. It’s when I have spent too much time in my head with abstractions, with thoughts that hiss and curl. And so, lately, I have started doing things that use my other senses.
It has happened organically. Researching intuition, I found myself getting attracted to images and pictures. They felt immediate and truer than words. Then, I chanced upon adult coloring books, and I let myself buy one. It’s a book on coloring Mandalas by Jim Gogarty. Mandalas are circular designs that signify the wholeness of being, and that symbolism as well as the pictures appealed to me.
So, I set out to color, intuitively picking out whatever color appealed to me and filling it in. I let my feelings guide me, and it turned out to be a surprisingly heart-nourishing activity. My mind (like the mind of many HSPs, I suspect) often hooks on to a thought and then chases it the way a dog goes after a bone. This rumination — obsessive thinking about something even though it doesn’t help at all — is a part of my adaptation. It’s the way it has been for me for a long-time.
What was surprising was that as soon as I started coloring, the rush of thoughts stopped. It wasn’t so much that my mind was “empty” but that there was a presence, a fullness that was engaged with what I was doing right then. I was in the flow.
I think that our minds need something to hook onto, something to grasp at. When we are too much with our thoughts, as sometimes sensitive people are prone to being, we are swept up in their current.
Consciously choosing a hook for our attention gives shape to the energies that we sometimes get overloaded with. Instead of becoming self-defeating, this nervous energy can now have a channel to flow into.
It can as easily be creative as it has sometimes been destructive in the past, when we didn’t know what to do with it.
Of course, coloring is just an example. I picked it up because I love colors and pictures. You might love some other flow-state activity. Here, in the Silicon Valley, I know many engineers who love to play with Legos. The same part of them that drives their adult work — the pull to build something, connect parts to build a bigger system — also fuels their adult play.
Play is energy-giving, regenerative. Without it, where would our work be?
For me, coloring has led to drawing mandalas by hand and trying watercolor painting. It’s helping me fill up my sensory well, a place to draw on for my writing. It’s helping me round out the rough edges that develop inside me when I am too much in my mind.
And it shows me, in a real way, that I can give myself what I need. That’s something we need to learn as sensitive people. We sometimes feel caught in one-sided friendships or relationships where we find that we are giving too much of ourselves away and not receiving what we need.
Maybe, one way to receive is by re-directing some of our energy to what we love and find nourishment in the presence that creativity brings.
But we can’t even choose to do this if we are stuck wanting to appear a certain way. When we can let go of our limited notions of what we permit ourselves to do, we find that we have enough inner resources that help renew and invigorate us.
The Mind Blocks Creativity
The intellect can be a great danger to creativity: Many of us have a skewed relationship with our creativity. We value thinking and the intellect over stepping into discovery and experimentation. Something that I read recently by the wonderful writer Ray Bradbury gives us a new way of thinking about experiencing and thinking.
Bradbury tells us that “thinking is to be a corrective in our life — it’s not supposed to be a center of our life.” That’s a radical statement for someone like me, someone who over-thinks a lot.
If thinking is not the center, what is?
Bradbury says: “Living is supposed to be the center of our life, being is supposed to be the center — with correctives around, which hold us like the skin holds our blood and flesh in. But our skin is not a way of life — the way of living is the blood pumping through our veins, the ability to sense and to feel and to know. And the intellect doesn’t help you very much there — you should get on with the business of living.”
We should get on with the business of living. That’s a pointer for people like me who have been seared at some point and now carry their mistrust into everything that happens. Thinking becomes our way to try and control things, even before they happen.
But as Bradbury tells us, thinking is not living. If we have made it our primary mode of moving, then we are deadening our lives.
We are here to experience things, discover things, make things.
Of course, we need to think as well. But the thinking we need is not a defense mechanism, but a membrane that holds all of our experiences together. Then, we don’t use it to rationalize or talk ourselves out of doing things. We use it to assess our direction and course correct, when needed.
As I try to put this into action, I find that I am getting excited about things again. I am stepping out of the limits that I had drawn for myself. I am sighing with relief as I let myself wander and figure out things.
I am trying things on for size.
Nothing needs to be perfect. Nothing needs to turn out right. I am discovering and making things up as I go along.
This way feels more fluid, and I want to expand on it and continue doing it.
I want to feel the freedom of not being weighed down by my own perfect standards or those of others. I want the freedom to do more, be more, discover more. I want to find out what all shapes I can take and how I can stop stifling my own being.
And what about you?
What would stepping away from the need to do things perfectly do in your life? Would it help you become lighter and more joyous? Would it help you attempt something your heart is yearning to do? Would it help you pull in more things that make life worth living?
I hope you find yourself taking your next imperfect step and finding that that too can be part of your wonderful, glorious dance.