Two weeks ago I had the great fortune of taking a trip to LA for a company retreat about creativity. As part of this amazing adventure, Peter Stranger, founder of a creative and social change agency, came and spoke to our group and I found his words so inspiring I was nearly brought to tears.
(Of course, this is the part where I share them with you so you can attempt to feel the same, although it won’t have the same effect without his fabulous British accent and animated storytelling skills!)
Peter started his speech by sharing his struggle in the early days of his career at an advertising agency where he was told he couldn’t be a creative person because he wasn’t in the creative department — an experience I am painfully familiar with. So he was sure to point out that his references to creativity mean all kinds of creative expression — problem solving, organization, leadership, etc. — not just creating works of art.
The majority of his speech centered on creative barriers that come from within ourselves. As he shared examples of amazingly creative people, he identified their success not as an excess of talent but their ability to access their creativity and their willingness to share their ideas and expressions.
Peter shared a theory of two voices as part of the creative process — the first being intuition. As he said, intuition is what advises you creatively. When you sense it, you need to talk to it and feed it. Following it rewards it and reinforces it to come back again.
The second voice, judgment, is the little voice in your head that criticizes you and your ideas. It will cripple you, mock you, steal, lie and cheat — and it will never quit. It feeds on you listening to it. He referenced the book The War of Art by Steven Pressfield which identifies this voice as resistance.
I, like many people, possess the innate ability to create just as many criticisms about myself as beautiful creative expressions, so I’m painfully familiar with resistance. In fact, I listen to it far too often.
As Peter pointed out, creation is comprised of a few different elements — the calling or inspiration, the choice to follow it, and the fear that accompanies it. Successful creative people possess a desire to create that’s stronger than the fear. When they hear the voice that tells them the idea isn’t good enough, that people may judge them, or that it’s too much work, they push forward anyway.
As he reminded us, creativity requires sacrifice, effort and practice – a notion that I often need to remind myself. Too often I want to give up when I think the road looks too difficult or unreasonable — whether it be starting a new job, picking up a hobby or starting a new workout routine. But without that work or sacrifice, you will never feel that sense of accomplishment, that moment of creative nirvana when you know you’ve struck gold. And more importantly, you rob the world of the opportunity to enjoy your gifts.
Steven Pressfield summarizes it best:
“Creative work is not a selfish act or bid for attention on the part of the actor. It’s a gift to the world and every being in it. Don’t cheat us of your contribution. Give us what you’ve got.”