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Inspired living

How to unleash your creative expression through vulnerability


How to unleash your creative expression through courage and vulnerability

Credit: Jed Villejo

Humans are inherently creative beings with a desire to create, innovate and inspire. Yet many people don’t engage with their creative side because fear gets in the way. The truth is it takes courage to create. At the heart of any creative expression is a courageous decision to be seen and heard. To live a creative life, you must be willing to be vulnerable. Living creatively, however, gives you the chance to live a full, interesting, authentic and exciting life.

Creative expression is not about being “arty”. Rather, creative expression is the wondrous act of bringing forth something that didn’t exist before. It’s about giving form and a voice to an idea or concept that excites you.

With this in mind, creative expression could be a whole range of things, from creating a new recipe to opening a cafe, establishing a beautiful garden, writing a kids’ book, creating a solution to a complex physics problem, giving a TED talk, writing a compelling biography, creating a family or starting a social movement.

Do you know what you would like to create and express in your life? Have you had a burning desire for years to do this one “thing”? Creative expression is not only an exciting reflection of your unique personality and interests; it’s also good for your health.

Wired for creative expression

Creative expression enhances purpose. The latest findings in neuroscience are showing that a purpose-driven brain is a healthier and happier brain. Studies have shown that having purpose in life keeps the stress hormone cortisol low, allows you to better manage stress, builds resilience and protects your brain against cognitive decline.

Your brain is wired to be challenged and creative. Having a passion project that allows you to explore, problem-solve and express yourself is one of the keys to building a healthy, happy and resilient brain.

Your brain is wired to be challenged and creative. Having a passion project that allows you to explore, problem-solve and express yourself is one of the keys to building a healthy, happy and resilient brain.

In my early twenties I faced a few significant challenges, including becoming sick with chronic fatigue syndrome and the unexpected death of my dad. The huge amount of change and loss I felt at the time was hard to manage. I did, however, find creative expression to be incredibly empowering and healing. I started writing, making jewellery, painting and knitting for a charity as a way of managing the loss in my life.

Each piece of writing I produced, each square I knitted and each painting I finished showed me I had the power to influence and direct my life. Seeing things take form tangibly helped fill the holes that loss had left and showed me I had the ability to create beauty. The joy of creating took my mind off my challenges and sadness and provided me with pockets of happiness and mindfulness. Creative expression helped me make sense of my life and, I believe, helped me rebuild my health.

In their book Wired to Create, Scott Barry Kaufman and Carolyn Gregoire explore this idea, further writing, “Creative self-expression opens us up to who we are and invites us to explore and express our own unique set of qualities and experiences, to play with ambiguities, and to connect the dots in a way that they’ve never been connected before. In embracing a creative way of living, we bloom into the expansiveness of our own being and our beautiful human complexity.”

Discovering your creative expression

It may seem simple to ask, “What would you like to create in your life?” but answering this question can sometimes be tricky. If you’ve stopped investing time in the things you love because they seem frivolous or unproductive, you may be disconnected from the part of you that wants to create. Maybe you have spent too long listening to what everyone else believes you should be doing in your life, that you’re no longer sure what inspires you. If you’re looking to rediscover your creative drive, you can start by turning your attention inward.

3 steps to uncover your creative drive

  1. Notice your body

You can find your way back to your creative side by feeling. Your body sends you signals every day, giving you valuable insight into what sparks your interest, curiosity and passion. Notice what excites you, feels effortless and causes you to lose track of time. As you hit on a topic you love, you will often speak faster and with more animation. Keep watch for when this happens, or when others see it in you; these are all clues leading you back to your passions and interests.

Let negative emotions also guide you. When you see what you desire being done by other people, it will often cause a deep emotional reaction. Have you ever thought, “I want to be like that” or “I want to do what they are doing” or even “I could do better than that!”? Let admiration, jealousy and even frustration help you uncover what makes you truly “tick” and explore those areas further.

  1. Follow your curiosity

How often do you risk the unknown to engage in something new that may be thrilling, eye opening or just fun? If you’re still unsure of what you’d like to explore and create in your life, now is the time to try things that spark your interest, even just a tiny bit. Inspiration can come from unexpected opportunities and you may discover a love for something you haven’t even tried or thought of yet.

  1. Revisit your childhood

When you were a child, did you love to dance, paint, write short stories, make up plays, write poetry, construct toy buildings, sing or design your own board games? There’s a good chance that what you loved as a child is still within you. How could you engage with your childhood interests now you’re an adult? Could you sign up for an acting class, take on a DIY project or start writing your own musical?

Once you are clearer on what you would like to create, the next step is to take action. This, however, can be challenging, as the creative journey requires courage, vulnerability and a willingness to push past fear and self-doubt. In her book Big Magic, Elizabeth Gilbert writes, “I believe the central question upon which all creative living hinges is: Do you have the courage to bring forth the treasures that are hidden within you?”

The creative journey

As a writer and speaker, creative expression has defined my career. During the creative journey, two conversations always occur in my head. The first voice is held by my “creative genius” that comes up with wonderful creative ideas. This voice gets me excited and motivated. When I listen to this voice I feel on purpose, challenged, fulfilled and invincible.

At the heart of any creative expression is a courageous decision to be seen and heard. To live a creative life, you must be willing to be vulnerable.

But then something happens; voice number two kicks in. This second voice is my “worrier” that comes up with all the risks, worst-case scenarios and fears around not being good enough to create. Voice number two kicks in about halfway through the creation process and gets louder the closer I get to completion. This voice causes me to wonder if what I am creating matters, if anyone will care and even if I have a “right” to create the things I’m working on.

If you don’t know how to manage voice number two, it’s likely you won’t finish the wonderful things you’ve started. Maybe you have seen this pattern in your life already. Not only will you end up with unfinished projects, you’ll also start accumulating regrets in life as you realise you aren’t living up to your true capability. You may also notice that you feel less “alive” and happy. These missed creative opportunities are the very opportunities that allow you to feel like you’re using your gifts and living on purpose, while also enjoying the very act of creation.

The courage to create

The voice of fear comes from the part of your brain that seeks to keep you safe. While safe can feel good at the time, safe keeps you hidden and doesn’t challenge or excite. Gilbert says, “A creative life is an amplified life. It’s a bigger life, a happier life, and a hell of a lot more interesting life.” You can, however, develop the courage to create.

Keep calm

When you become stressed, scared or anxious, your body’s sympathetic nervous system is activated, along with all the stress hormones that get your heart pumping, your stomach churning and your brain focused on the worst-case scenario. When you notice this happening, you can flip the switch and turn on your parasympathetic nervous system by taking some deep breaths. Breathing more deeply brings your mind into a state of calm and allows you to stay in the present moment and not “fuse” with all your fears and worries.

Challenge your fears

Remembering that fear comes from the part of your brain that seeks to keep you safe, you can challenge the very assumptions driving those fears. What thoughts are going through your mind? Do you fear your book will be rejected? Are you worried others may think you’re “wasting” your time on your passion project? Do you fear criticism or not being “good enough”?

Understand, name and ideally write out the worst-case scenario playing in your mind. You can then challenge this assumption, asking, “How likely is it to really happen?” It’s unusual for the worst to actually happen. As humans we are incredibly resilient and deal with problems far better than we imagine we would. If the worst did happen, how would you cope?

In an uncertain situation, it’s just as likely you will end up with a great outcome. Flip your worst-case scenario by spending time imagining the best-case scenario. What wonderful things do you stand to gain if you follow through with your passion project? Why does this project matter to you?

Thinking further into the future, would you feel regret if you never completed your project? Do you believe others would miss out if you never created what you are working on? Often reminding yourself how wonderful the outcome could be, why it matters to you and how your work might help others is enough to help you move forward with confidence.

Be inspired by others

Who is your favourite author, teacher, trainer, musician, actor or business leader? How have they added value to your life? How would you feel if they let their fear or self-doubt stop them from doing what they do? It’s easy to think you’re the only one who feels fear, but everyone feels some level of fear when they create. People who live creative lives push through their fear, however.

By letting fear hold you back from creating and expressing yourself, you, too, might be denying others the chance to be inspired, educated and entertained by your work.

Your fear doesn’t make you unique; it just shows that you’re out of your comfort zone and doing something that matters to you. Keep going, because great things happen when you push past the peak of fear during the creative process.

Keep moving and embrace imperfection

Do you feel that you first need to feel confident, certain, motivated and even “qualified” before you take action? The reverse is actually true: it’s through action that you find your clarity, confidence, motivation and voice.

Action creates momentum, allowing you to stay in a solution mindset and away from the danger of fear-driven perfectionism. “So many of us believe in perfection, which ruins everything else, because the perfect is not only the enemy of the good; it’s also the enemy of the realistic, the possible and the fun,” says Rebecca Solnit in Big Magic.

You are wired to explore, create and express. Let your inner voice of inspiration and purpose be louder than your voice of fear and self-doubt. Push past the fear inherent in the creative journey, to find strength in your vulnerability. Live a big, beautiful, authentic and fascinating life as you bravely create and share your passions, talents and uniqueness.



 

Jessica Lee

Jessica Lee is a speaker, writer and business consultant. She is the owner of The Spark Effect and is passionate about sharing neuroscience-based strategies to teach corporate teams and businesses how to better use their brains to reduce overwhelm and stress, while boosting productivity, creative problem solving, wellbeing and communication. Get in touch with Jessica at jessica@thesparkeffect.com.au, on +61 424 358 334 or via thesparkeffect.com.au.