Every person spends a majority of his or her time consuming, creating or resting. To rest is to sleep and rejuvenate one’s body or meditate and revive one’s spirit. To consume is to sustain one’s body with food and one’s mind with curiosity. To create, though, is to give … it is to sustain yourself and everyone else. Creating gives our lives a sense of purpose and is spiritually engaging. It is easy to destroy and criticize. In being creative, you find your voice and reveal it to the world. But in finding who we are through our creative pursuits, we give of ourselves and touch lives in a way that seems beyond our capabilities. There are many ways to tap into our creativity. You find your unique creative voice the moment you chance upon the method that allows you to give the most of yourself to the most people in a way that would be difficult for any other person to do.
This does not mean that you have to be the best, the first, the biggest, brightest, loudest or most talented. It means you just have to be yourself and let that reflect well to all who encounter your creative output. If you put all of your creativity into a chili cook-off contest and come in last place, but your chili makes others appreciate what cooking can be, you have succeeded, no matter what the judges were looking for. Critics often have arbitrary standards.
If you are engaged creatively in a field that has a uniform code and specific standards of what is and is not allowed, you can still express yourself creatively within that context. Take a look at the game of basketball which is made up of rules – if you see a player make a successful shot from half-court, a lifetime of working to stay in shape and responding to game situations went into that one magical moment. If that half-court shot occurs late in a game from a member of the losing team, the context of the situation might minimize its importance, but the actual accomplishment is still a majestic and beautiful act that can inspire you to be everything you could possibly be.
There are many simulations of creativity that satisfy our superficial cravings to make something and put it out into the world. Anyone can take a class and be taught a few techniques. In the jungle, the parrot dissuades attacks by mimicking the sounds of other birds. In many classroom situations we are taught how to do that which has already been done and made to feel awkward if we take a risk to tweak the rules as they are set down. Rules are in place to give guidance to our creative impulses. Without standards, we would have chaos and confusion and no structure from which our creativity can evolve. Somewhere between no rules and too many rules is a place where you can find your voice.
Many people who take a beginning painting class would admit they have a desire to be a famous artist. They would love for the results of what they do to please a wide audience. But there is no blueprint for creating a masterpiece and most people who try to make great art find that the process of making something truly original is too grueling a path to go down. Hours must be spent in creating a masterpiece. People’s expectations of success become tempered with what is reasonable to expect. Plus, the process must be made as enjoyable as the results.
Once you have succeeded in meeting your expectations, while enjoying the journey that got you there, then and only then should you raise the bar a bit and try to do something that you have never done before. Continue to create within a process that you enjoy, and after you meet your goal in each creative exercise, remember to raise the bar in order to keep the creative juices flowing. If you succumb to simply succeeding in churning out the easiest self-expressions, you deprive the world and yourself of what else you have inside you. Others are then allowed to see only what you produce from a place of comfort and growing laziness. Constantly pushing what you know and what you can do is the quickest way to find your true creative voice. Balance being as happy about your results as you are happy with the process.
And how does this differ from the old master at the top of his or her craft? It doesn’t. This is the same path to greatness that the most successful creative people follow. We just don’t see the hundreds and thousands of hours that a popular musician spends rehearsing to produce a three-minute popular song. Our favorite actress spends more time doing her vocal exercises each day in the weeks before a film shoot than in the total run time of the film. When you can’t put down the latest novel of your favorite writer, it is because he or she spent more time composing each page than you will spend on reading the whole book.
But your creative voice does not have to be attuned to changing the course of history. If you like quilting, you can fulfill your creative potential by being the best quilter you can be. Enjoy the process of selecting the material, learning techniques from friends, designing and executing a project and meeting the expectations you had going in. But don’t stop there. Now it is time to try a bigger quilt, not much bigger, just a little bigger, or maybe you can challenge yourself with a more complex sewing pattern. And if, in the end, the next quilt was too adventurous, you can always go back to what worked and see where there is room to grow.
If it is not quilting, it might be cooking … or blogging, or scrapbooking, or photography. Choose something you enjoy, gradually raise your expectations of what you can do, continually make the creative journey a pleasurable one, and you will develop your own creative voice. In this way you develop who you are, and share your vision and creative production to the world. You give of yourself and are rewarded by enjoying both the time you invested in creating as well as the fruits of your labor.