“Potheads” by Sara Wasserboehr

You Are Creative

For all of you out there who say “Oh, I could never do that, I’m NOT CREATIVE.”

I’m gonna need you to stop telling yourself that.

I’m an illustrator, graphic designer, embroidery artist, and all-around-maker-of-things. I hear “wow you’re so creative” often, and I appreciate the praise. But when it follows with “I can’t do that” and “I’m not creative,” I become disconcerted. I understand that the other person is trying to complement me. But I gotta tell you something: saying you’re “not creative” is not a complement to me, it’s a lie to yourself.

Here’s what I think:

  • Creativity exists in all of us.
  • Creativity plays a role in your every-day life.
  • Creativity is a skill you can develop.

You have creativity inside you.

Think about it this way: how did humans go from nomadic hunter-gatherers to traveling through space? I would argue it was thousands of years of creative inventions consecutively building off one another. Need your mammoth meat cooked? Invent fire. Need to transport your belongings from place to place for your nomadic lifestyle? Here’s a wheel for that. Need to take out the enemy tribe? Go make yourself a spear.

Granted, a fair bit of human inventions were created during war times—“How can I kill the other guy more effectively?” — but I see invention and the progression of society to where we are today as evidence that creativity is intrinsic to the human experience. It can show up in big ways, like inventing the lightbulb, or small ways, like putting a piece of cardboard underneath a table leg for a less wobbly table.

Creativity is a choice. When was the last time something didn’t go according to plans? Did you give up, or come at the situation from a new angle? Do you let the wobbly table annoy you, or do something about it? When I confront the problem in front of me, I tap into my creative reservoir to come up with a solution.

You are creative more often than you think.

Creativity, at its core, is problem-solving. And my bet is you’re creative every day (or at least once-a-week).

For instance: I was late getting out the door and missed my bus this morning. I needed to find a way to get into work outside my normal routine. Creativity comes into play by thinking of as many potential solutions as possible and choosing the best one for your particular circumstance. In my case, I could:

  • Wait 20 minutes for the next bus, and be late to work
  • Drive into work, and pay $20 for parking in Uptown Charlotte
  • Call an Uber, and pay somebody else $20 to chauffeur me
  • Run 5 miles from my home to my office, and pass out on the side of the road

You may be thinking: “that’s not creativity, that’s just coming up with solutions.”

Exactly!

I’ve found most people have this narrow view of creativity as coming up with the most crazy, out-of-this-world, original idea that’s gonna make a huge impact on the world. But I think, while creativity encompasses that, it’s also something as simple as getting to work on time. It’s not limited to grandiosity.

You can get better.

Art by Sarah Anderson

Creativity is a skill, and like all skills, you can get better at it with PRACTICE.

It’s not a talent reserved for a select few. You don’t need to be an artist/musician/writer/designer to exercise creativity.

Did Walt Disney exit the womb with all the skills to become a world-renown filmmaker? Of course not. He developed those skills after YEARS of practice and perseverance. And he wasn’t always regarded as a highly-creative individual either.

Here are some ways you can get better at creativity:

  • Get lost — Take a new route to/from work. Go for walk in a new park or neighborhood. If Google Maps tells you to go one way, go a different way. Travel to another country. The idea is to break out of your normal routine and see new things. Exposure to a new environment will help you see your problems from a different perspective. Disclaimer: if you are directionally-challenged and/or terrified of getting lost, just scale this suggestion back to something you’d be more comfortable with.
  • Do some research — Chances are, if you’re trying to solve a problem, someone else has already tackled a similar problem. So do some research into how others handled a similar situation. For example: Susan is struggling to lead her team at work. I would suggest that Susan dive into the topic of leadership, look up what historical leaders did or didn’t do well, read some highly-recommended books on leadership, talk with leaders she admires.
  • Learn a new skill — Actively seek new knowledge in areas you’re not familiar with. Learn a skill that doesn’t really have anything to do with your normal routine. Maybe you usually work on cars in your free time, so go take a baking class. And maybe you’re a baker, so try your hand at basic car mechanics. You don’t have to become a master; just be open to learning how to do something that may exist out of how you view yourself. Get comfortable with being uncomfortable.
  • Look for inspiration — Inspiration can mean something different to everyone. When I’m looking for inspiration for an art project, I’ll scroll through Instagram or Pinterest. Some people look for inspiration by being out in nature. The thing about inspiration is that it’s rarely a passive act. To become inspired, try actively observing your surroundings
  • Become friends with ‘failure’— How are you going to try out new ideas if you’re too afraid they won’t work? The most creative minds in history failed big and failed often. Remember Disney? He got fired from a newspaper job for “not being creative enough,” and later went on to found an animation empire. Each time you fail, you learn what doesn’t work, which informs what DOES work.

Creativity is NOT…

Some of you write off your own creativity because you’re confusing it with something else. Let’s tackle a couple of those misconceptions:

  1. Creativity is NOT the same as artistry. Don’t think because you can’t draw, or play an instrument, or write means you can’t be creative. Being artistic is also a choice and a skill you can work on and improve. Creativity and artistry do go really well together, but they are separate skills and not intrinsically linked.
  2. Creativity is NOT the same as originality. First of all, there’s no such thing as true originality: every idea is a variation of another idea or collection of ideas. Second of all, if you squash an idea because it isn’t original enough, it’s like setting fire to a newly-planted garden because it isn’t growing fast enough. Give yourself and your ideas time to grow. Often, the best idea isn’t the most original; it’s just the one that works.
Art by Meg Robichaud

In conclusion

The cliche “think outside the box” applies here: the boxes we put ourselves in have so much power over our lives. You are only as creative as you let yourself be. I encourage you to enlarge your box, or leave it altogether. You can be creative! You can get better at it!

And if you already identify as a creative individual, I hope you can help others feel like they’re creative too.

Let’s end this essay in the most aggrandizing way possible: Creativity can make the world a better place. And if more people feel like they’re creative, the more chances we have to improve our world.