The Great Wall of Creative Limitations

Dispelling the myth of not being creative

Jack Purdy
8 min readApr 17, 2024


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When I was in 1st grade, we had a school assembly for the band intending to spark musical interest in the young, impressionable minds of Walden Elementary School.

In my head, a sophisticated task like playing an instrument could surely only be reserved for adults as my peers and I, well, we still cried when we fell, believed in the tooth fairy, and even on occasion soiled ourselves in class — how could we be expected to operate such a device?

But no, here we were, being told by the big, wise adults that we could in fact get our very own music-making machine and learn how to make cool noises with it. Wow. How cool.

I raced home, teeming with excitement to tell my parents about this groundbreaking new opportunity. I threw my backpack on the floor, sat down at the kitchen table, and proudly declared to my parents that I, 6-year-old Jack Purdy, was going to play the clarinet.

It was as if I told a well-executed off-color joke that caught them by surprise, eliciting a subdued, tickled laughter they felt was wrong for expressing but couldn’t fully suppress. The chuckles then turned into an endearing pity much like when your new puppy tries to jump on the couch for the first time but miscalculates, face-planting into an adorable tumble backward.

It was by no means malicious but rather borne from the perceived comical difference between my earnest ambition and the reality at hand — which to them was an unrealistic endeavor I wanted to take on for as we were told: “Purdy’s just don’t have a creative bone in our body.”

And with that, my hopes of musical greatness died out in favor of playing sports and getting good grades.

For the next two decades, I did just that. When I graduated college, studying and sports turned into professional ambitions. But the fact remained that I had no room for creative undertakings in my life. My identity was such that I excelled at many things but when it came to anything that required creativity (or the way I conceptualized it at the time), it was a foregone conclusion that I simply wasn’t cut out for it.

It was as if a massive, preventative brick wall was built by my genetic code that precluded me from participating in anything creative. As much as I could try to will it into existence, this barrier towered above me, crushing any such hopes.

But then something happened.

I started writing. At first, a simple journaling practice originated from my obsessive personal growth orientation after hearing it from enough successful people I hoped to emulate. Over time that developed into an outlet to examine my life, critically thinking through the challenges that were alive in my life at the time. Before I knew it, I was publishing longer-form pieces, constructing applicable frameworks, mental models for these situations I felt were relevant to the human condition.

And then it dawned on me… I was creating!

This led to a radical reframing of the nature of creativity. It’s not something you’re born with or not.

Rather, it’s exactly what it sounds like — it’s creating; it’s taking something that wasn’t there before and making it so. It’s breathing life into the intangible, rendering it tangible. It’sexternalizing our internal world, giving shape and structure to abstract ideas and feelings as part of an elaborate dance between our conscious and subconscious mind, merging imagination and reality to create new constructs, words, images, and ideas.

This internal world, the source of all creativity, is something we all have. Therefore since creativity is merely tapping into this in order to create something, we all have the capacity to be creative.

Think about your internal world as a vast reservoir of life experience, brimming with the cumulative essence of all that you’ve done from the time you were born until you sat down to read this — from every moment in time, person you met, place you went, fleeting thought that crossed your mind.

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When you create, you’re accessing this reservoir and expressing it in the world around you. It doesn’t take some God-given talent. We all have an innate desire to express ourselves, it’s a fundamental component of what makes us human.

The notion of not being creative stems from the incorrect linkage between creativity and traditional art forms. This is not to say they are not creative (they most certainly are) but they are not the only way to be creative.

Creative expression is found just as much in the software engineer’s code, the financial planner’s portfolio, the executive’s go-to-market strategy, or the teacher’s curriculum as it is in the finest paintings, poems, or sculptures. It permeates every facet of our lives. It’s the spark that drives technological advancements, novel businesses, scientific breakthroughs as well as beautiful, thought-provoking pieces of art.

And it all comes from creators tapping into their life reservoirs.

For those we deem creative, this process is seamless; they’re able to effortlessly access this reservoir and transform it into a myriad of creative pursuits.

However, those like me, go searching for this reservoir and stumble upon a great wall impeding their path. This wall has been steadily built up over time, one brick after another, each one representing an excuse they’ve told themselves as to why they can’t create.

The most prominent brick is that of Personal Limitations. It’s a sturdy one, composed of every past failure and rejection in your creative undertakings. It often hides under the guise of rationalism, saying things like “let’s be realistic, you can’t do that” or “it won’t be any good, why bother?” creating a durable foundation to stymie creative potential.

Layered around those are the bricks of External Validation. These stem from your inherent human needs. You want to be seen. You want to fit in. God forbid if anyone were to think less of you. Your work isn’t just the content itself, it’s a piece of you, laid bare for all the world to see. With the stakes that high, you can’t put out anything short of perfect. Right?

And then there are bricks that fill in the gaps. These aren’t that strong in and of themselves but they add substance to the wall giving an added semblance of formidability. These are the Practical Restraints. They create notions of busyness, turning a 24-hour day into a short film desperately trying to cram the plot of a 3-part novel. Meetings run long, your to-do list finds a way to self-replicate, and distractions become more distractible.

Individually, none of these are too daunting. At least not enough to altogether give up on creative ventures. But that’s what makes them so insidious. Stacked between the other bricks they add up; starting with a few minutes here and there, eating up an hour of your day, occupying your free time for the week, until before you know it you’ve engrained the belief that there’s simply no time to fit creative endeavors into your life as if it were an inalienable truth.

If this seems overwhelming, that’s okay — it is. The odds are stacked against you trying to scale such a wall. Your subconscious has subtly placed thousands of these bricks with each new excuse, cemented over time by the reinforcing narrative we craft around our potential (or lack thereof) as a creator, forming an impenetrable barrier that makes all hopes of reaching the other side seem unattainable.

Fortunately, we are the master architect of the wall. We built it with our own hands. We know the way around.

We just don’t always remember how.

“We were shitfaced when he took us there”

Unlike trying to find your way back to Beerfest, you don’t need to drink 12 beers to remember how to get there. You just need to take out your map.

Like the old Mapquest directions your dad used to print out on family road trips, this one provides a direct means of reaching your destination — except instead of your Uncle Steve’s house in New Jersey, it’s the genesis of all your creative aspirations.

Outlined on this map is a detailed guide to how you’ve been creating your entire life. Each progressive step, an instance of your daily life in what was previously seen as a mundane banality, now illuminated as a creative undertaking — the deviation from your scripted recipe, the bold new outfit combo you threw together, exuding elegance and style, and even in the eloquently composed emails, where you imbued some extra-literary finesse.

By noticing the ways in which you create every day, you’ll set in motion the rewriting of the narrative around yourself as a creator. It’s like when you buy a new car and then you start seeing it out on the streets everywhere. It’s not as if all of a sudden there’s more of them there, it’s that you’ve tuned your awareness to a new frequency and now you can’t help but make a note of their appearance.

This same phenomenon applies to how you view yourself. You’ll notice the creative aspect of something you do and then subconsciously you’ll be on the lookout for other ways it manifests. These noticings will accumulate until the point where you no longer see yourself as someone who’s “not creative” but rather one who can readily imagine wholly new concepts and will them into existence.

As you move along this path, uncovering latent creative potential within you, you’ll start to find gaps in the wall — areas where the bricks start to crumble, the underlying assumptions upon which they’re built fail to stand up to further scrutiny.

All of those Personal Limitations, and the plethora of past failures, are no longer rock-solid obstacles but rather sources of creative inspiration with which you can draw. The External Validation you previously craved doesn’t impede you, invoking fear around how your work will be perceived as you now feel pride in showing off these unique manifestations of You. And those pesky Personal Restraints dissipate as a self-identified creator, you reprioritize creating amongst all of the other to-dos in your life.

What was once an insurmountable barrier is a semblance of its former self. Instead of hindering any attempts to cross it, you find it more easily traversable as you reach the other side, tapping into your reservoir of life experience and transforming it into various forms of creative work.

With this, you will have succeeded in overcoming The Great Wall of Creative Limitations. And in the absence of this sinister barrier looming large, you’re free to turn this into a regular practice that makes you, well, more you.

So ask yourself: What are the bricks you’ve created impeding your creativity? Are they really inviolable truths or have you just subconsciously accepted them as so? What are ways you already create and how can you leverage them to further hone your creativity?

Sit with these questions the next time you feel yourself staring up at that daunting brick wall. Let them be your map, reminding you there’s a way around it, and that on the other side lies an infinite reservoir of your creative potential.

Let me know if this resonates! Feel free to share how you think about your own personal creativity or ways in which you create in your own life. You can respond to this email or leave a comment in Substack!

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Jack Purdy

Writing A Life Examined newsletter | Director of Sales @Messari