5 (Lame) Reasons to Hold Back from Creating Things

You could be Vincent Van Gogh, or Adel, or Steven Speilberg–or you could be me, or you could be you–but I’ll bet any one of these “you’s” has been stopped cold by that voice inside your head that tears you down when you try to express yourself.j-mbasquiat-untitled-1981
Most of us, no matter how practiced, taught, experienced we are, most of us have heard that awful internal voice:”You aren’t an artist! What are you trying to do–make a total fool of yourself in front of everyone?” “You call attention to yourself like this and EVERYONE’s gonna see you fail!” “What makes you think YOU can paint (cook, draw, take photos, write, sculpt, knit, dance, play an instrument, etc)?” That voice is the thing that stops us from creating, that shames us and makes our soul retreat.

“Have pity on those who are fearful of taking up a pen, or a paintbrush, or an instrument,
or a tool because they are afraid that someone has already done so better than they could…”
― Paulo Coelho

In heeding that warning voice, you may think the advice thankfully spared you embarrassment. In fact, that negative voice is not a helpful advisor. It originates from a place of fear, from a very young part of your being before you knew “the rules” you should follow. It tries to keep you “safe,” to keep you coloring within the lines, to prevent you from straying from the lock-step of society so that you will “be OK,” so you will not be punished for standing out from the crowd, deviating from expectations.


The sad and wonderful thing is that before the critical voice drowned out everything else, you did not yet know “the rules,” the expectations, or shame. You were beautifully, blissfully endowed with a creative, curious nature. The world was new to you and you were eager to explore it and how you could touch it, shape it, feel it. You were creating a world from your feelings, your dreams, floating in sights, sounds, smells…

“Every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist once he grows up.”–Pablo Picasso

Eventually, the fearful voice took hold of your heart and mind, and you lost your connection with the creative, curious–and fearless–part of yourself. You learned what you needed to do to earn a living, to get along in your world, to blend in, to succeed. And you put career goals and life goals front and center of your eyesight, and you’ve worked from then on to make those ambitions come true.

In your work to achieve success, though, you have, in most cases, had to let go of the connection to your inner, creative, authentic self. A self that looks at things, listens to things, feels things and is curious to know more about those things. A self who has a visceral response to what it sees, or an expression it wants to make. If only you had the time to turn off your iPhone and TV, to get rid of your internalized, ever-changing calendars. If only you could shut down the demanding, “shoulds” that clutter your awareness. If you could take time–even a half-hour–to allow yourself to pay full attention to just one thing. Perhaps to see something deeply and clearly, and to notice any fluttering response within yourself. Or to listen carefully to music with your eyes closed, letting it wash over and through you, to lift you to another state of being.

That quiet, emotional flutter is your creative self calling to you. If you allowed yourself time and space, it would lead you further along a path (or paths) to creating physical representations of itself/yourself.

But mostly we don’t take–or won’t take that time. There are a lot of reasons, or excuses we can make for not allowing ourselves to be creative, but most boil down to wanting to cling to being safe, secure and successful in society, at a job, as a functionary in the known and dominant working world.

“Don’t think. Thinking is the enemy of creativity. It’s self-conscious, and anything self-conscious is lousy. You can’t try to do things. You simply must do things.” – Ray Bradbury

It would be scary and unfamiliar to expose our innermost selves in the act of self-expression, so we don’t try it. We’ve spent a lifetime learning how to blend into society. It’s frightening to think we might “lose our place” by allowing our creative soul to rear its head and start expressing unique thoughts.  I wish I could say I have always been immune to the following fears of creativity, some which may be familiar to you:

Reason #1: It could be a huge embarrassment to make something that isn’t “good,”or even “as good as–.”
Comparing one’s self to the giants in any field–especially if you’re new to making your expressive work–is terribly self-destructive. And yet, we make this comparison all the time, don’t we? Everyone starts somewhere. Not everyone perseveres. As actor Danny Devito said, “Failure is part of the creative process. If you’re afraid of it, you can’t really create.”

Reason #2: I don’t want to make some giant, messy failure for everyone to see!
Oh the embarrassment of making something uniquely ours, not something that is safely ‘the same as’! “Failure,” whatever that is, is part of the process of doing anything, expressing anything off-script. “There is no innovation and creativity without failure. Period.” said Brene Brown, a research professor at the University of Houston who studies vulnerability and authenticity. There are riches in failing, as Henry Ford noted, “Failure is only the opportunity to begin again more intelligently.”

Reason #3: I don’t have the skills that really creative people do.
Well, yeah, it’s hard to play a solo in a symphony if you’ve just picked up the oboe for the first time. But do you have compare to yourself to a master right out of the gate? Instead of listening to your critical voice, to that social comparison where you come in last, why not instead listen to the sound of the instrument you are playing?

Reason#4: I don’t have any ideas. Maybe I’m just not creative and I should live with that.
How do you know you don’t have any ideas? Are you curious about anything–anything at all? Allow yourself to follow your curiosity, to observe things closely, and notice what comes up for you. As innovator Nolan Bushnell has said, “Everyone who’s ever taken a shower has had an idea. It’s the person who gets out of the shower, dries off and does something about it who makes a difference.”

Reason #5: I don’t have time to do anything creative.
Everyone has 15 minutes to do something that allows their inner expressions life outside their heads. Everyone. Write some impressions of your day. Look attentively to something and take a photograph of it; then look closely at the photograph to see what you have captured that might not otherwise be visible. Read, feel and react to a poem. Listen to music with your eyes closed and let it carry you. Remember,“It’s not what you look at that matters, it’s what you see.”
 (Henry David Thoreau)

“Stand still and watch the patterns, which by pure chance have been generated: stains in the wall, or ashes in the fireplace, or the clouds in the sky, or the gravel on the beach or other things. If you look at them carefully, you might discover miraculous inventions.”—Leonardo daVinci

It may be intimidating to sit in front of a blank sheet of paper with full expectations that you will create a genuine masterpiece. But you don’t have to put that that pressure on yourself in order to make a creative expression. Do it for yourself; have no expectations. Just begin… You don’t have to show what you do to anyone, you don’t have to compare it to Picasso, to judge it lacking, or to deduct anything “from your permanent record.”

Being creative, even for the first time, is really simple.  Like the poet, Mary Oliver wrote:

Instructions for living a life.
Pay attention.
Be astonished.
Tell about it.

“If you have nothing at all to create, then perhaps you create yourself.” – Carl Jung

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