The word might have more baggage than you realize.
Remember the word “creative” when it wasn’t a noun or a corporate job? Once upon a time, it was an adjective, describing a person or a thing. That’s what I’m talking about here.
Some of us heard that adjective used in relation to us very early on, for better or for worse, depending on the values of our family and community.
In some families, to be “creative” was a good thing. It meant, Wow, you’re a person I find inspiring and interesting! Or, Yes, you are one of us.
In others, it was a label used in opposition to something else. As in: You’re creative but your brother is athletic. Or You’re creative; your sister is the brain. Or, You may not have a promising career ahead but, hey, you’re creative.
Worst of all for the creative kid struggling to be accepted, it might have been code for You’re a weirdo or You’re not like us or I don’t understand you.
To fully give ourselves permission to go forward with whatever our creative practice is, we might need to think about that word — creative — and if it has any baggage for us. It might be the “you’re different” thing (said as if it’s clearly not a good thing to be different). Or it could be full of expectations if you come from a family that holds creativity in high esteem.
For me, it’s some of both. I’ve been the high school drama kid defined by what I wasn’t — not athletic, not cool, not “normal”…but creative. In adulthood, to my friends who work in some more easily definable category, I’ve been that person who doesn’t seem to have a real job but is always claiming to be busy. (What does Sara do all day, really? Why is she always “under deadline,” or so she says?)
At the same time, I come from a family where creativity was a sought-after profession. There are musicians and writers in my tree, some who did those things professionally for a time, some who wanted to but couldn’t. And when I staked out that declaration — that I was “a writer” or wanted to be “a writer” — there were the questions:
Will I be thwarted like others in my family, or can I really do it? If I can, will family members (including my own parents, possibly?) be envious of me? If so, how would that feel? Am I stepping outside the lines to dare to prioritize this thing that does not look or feel like “a real job” and arrange my life around it? How dare I?
There can sometimes be a lot to unpack around that, forces within us we may not consciously understand that push or pull us towards or away from that label (or identity): “creative.”
In my book Courageous Creativity, I write:
“We label people as ‘artsy’ and think it has to mean something specific and externally recognizable. And if we have some secret suspicion that we might be ‘artsy’ too, but no one else thinks so, it can feel like it takes an act of courage to say, ‘I made something,’ or ‘I want to make something,’ even to ourselves.”
If you feel held back in your creative pursuits, you might spend some time this week taking a look at that word, and your family’s or community’s beliefs about it and about creative people! You never know what you might uncover.