Almost 10 years ago, I was working at (what I thought was) my dream job. I was an educator in a museum. What this meant was that I not only developed educational programs to teach visitors about art and architecture, but often I taught those same classes on a daily basis. From the outside, it sounded like a great job. Still to this day people don’t understand why I left.
It appeared I had a glamorous life living in the nation’s capital and doing what I thought I loved, until one day someone said to me, “be creative” about a work problem I was trying figure out. Those two simple words struck me and changed everything by taking me on a path to discover my own creativity and myself.
Although, like most people, I’d probably heard those words hundreds of time, this time it stayed with me. I started to ask myself what that meant. What was it like to ‘be creative?’
My initial answers were startling. I didn’t know what it meant. For as long as I could remember I’d been teaching and empowering everyone around me to be creative with the programs I led and the artists I worked with. But I didn’t know what that meant myself.
Because, I later realized, I’d been nurturing everyone else’s creativity but my own. At that point, I decided to step away from the life and career that I had built to figure out what being ‘being creative’ meant for me. It took me on a journey discovering not only that but who my real self was – and she was creative!
So how did I do this?
I started by leaving everything I knew: the city I lived in, the only career I had, my educational training. I stripped everything in my life away and moved back to the place I was born and had grown up in but had not lived in 12 years.
I also started by devouring everything and anything I could on creativity and started a blog on what else… creativity. As I delved into studying creativity, I learned techniques and the process that shaped my own path.
The first was brainstorming. There are so many different techniques out there (and I’ve probably tried most of them) but my favorite is mindmapping. As a visual person, I found this to be the best way for me to organize my ideas and plan for the future. I created dozens of mind maps plotting out everything from my current skills to my desired skills in order to find a new suitable career.
Another creative brainstorming tool I used was visual collage. Similar to a vision board, it allowed me to visually see my interests and strengths and goals. I simply found and arranged images that spoke to me and my future self. Once completed, these visual collages helped me establish my brand and discover more of who I really was.
Once I had a clearer vision of myself, I started experimenting – mostly through art. For me, creativity was the outlet that allowed me to become who I was meant to be. I signed up for classes on mail art, sea glass jewelry, collage, anything I could to exercise my creative instincts. I found I liked some more than others. But in the end, this allowed me to play and dabble and let my mind wander in a way I’d never let it before. It was here that I had some of my best ideas.
My other creative outlet was writing my blog. I had long dreaded writing as a creative exercise because I felt self-conscious about my style. I had even been criticized for it in graduate school. It was through blogging about my creative journey that I found my voice. The more I blogged for myself and others the louder it grew. Eventually it led to a career change and one that involved communications and social media.
But before any of that, I had to fail a couple of times.
Like the creative process, failure is a part of life. It’s at that stage where we learn the most about ourselves and our resiliency. The path to finding my true creative self led me down some dead ends. There were consulting projects that ended abruptly or ones that turned into nothing. With each failure, I learned more of what I didn’t want in my life and continued to strip it away. I felt the more I failed the more I grew.
Creativity is funny like that.
It’s always changing and evolving. There is no right or wrong answer and what I found was that there is also not a singular way of ‘being creative.’ It’s an individual journey we all need to take. It’s a journey that allowed me to find my true self through imagining the possibilities, trying them out and even failing. I know my path is an evolving one, but after this recent journey I also know it couldn’t have been done without tapping into my inner creative.