For the longest time, like many people, I lived inside the story that I am not a "creative" person.
I believed this because I was never an "arts" kid -- I didn't paint beautiful landscapes like my mother, who was also a ballerina when she was young; I didn't produce expertly-glazed cereal bowls out of clay like my sister; and I definitely didn't carry around a notebook full of impossibly-proportioned women sporting bold patterns and asymmetrical necklines I'd drawn purely from my imagination, like my friend Micah, who was going to be a fashion designer one day.
Instead, I wrote. People praised my words, but I couldn't hear them. In my mind writing was not an art, but a craft. Words were easy; colors and textures and substance and light were hard.
When I went abroad for a semester in Rome, thinking "now or never," I enrolled in a sketching class taught by a short, ancient Irish woman who always wore a lop-sided beret over her frizzy auburn hair and whose back was perpetually bent, as though from having to bear the weight of an entire lifetime trying to get people like me to see the things she saw.
Three weeks in, sitting on the floor of an old church with frescoed ceilings, I attempted to draw a cherub. The lines weren't coming together right, so I went over them again with my charcoal pencil, willing them to improve with definition. The teacher hobbled over, took one glance at my notebook, and declared me a lost cause.
"Terrible," she announced to the silent, echoing church. "You're not using your eyes!"
Such are the small but turn-key moments that cement our imagined limits in our heads.
I wish I had a great story to share about a wise, crotchety mentor who turned my world upside down and helped me discover myself as A CREATIVE PERSON; but in truth it was a simple online quiz -- taken just three years ago -- that challenged this persistent belief.
The test was about learning styles, and you were supposed to fall into one of four types. After answering a litany of word-association questions, the word that came back to me at the end was CREATE.
"You are a CREATE learner. You literally need to create, in order to understand."
At first I thought I'd answered the questions wrong, so stubborn was my worldview. But then I thought back to how I prepared for university exams -- by waiting until the night before and then furiously condensing each chapter of the textbook into a single page of relevant takeaways -- and how, as I would sit in the exam hall with pen poised above an open blue book, I would literally see the one-pager (and sometimes the block of text from the book) in my mind's eye.
"Huh," I mused aloud at my desk.
In such an unglamorous way, I began to re-examine the story I'd always believed about what it means to be "creative."
And in three short years, my paradigm has completely flipped upside-down.
Books like A Whole New Mind, Imagine, Steal Like an Artist, Daily Rituals,The Icarus Deception and others helped me question my own definitions and see that creativity is not only at the heart of what I do; it's also what is being demanded of us -- as a species -- if we have ANY shot at keeping up with a world that's changing faster than we can say: "I'm just not a creative person."
And yet, it feels RISKY to call yourself creative, doesn't it?
And yet, our times -- and the increasingly complex global problems we're all facing -- demand nothing less.
We must risk being rejected or ridiculed, if we have a hope of solving anything.
So, in the spirit of small unglamorous exercises having the power to shift how we see ourselves, I offer you this excerpt from a quiz I discovered in a recent Scientific American around creative eccentricity. To play, simply answer "yes" or "no" to each question:
1. Do you often have ideas without knowing where they came from?
2. Do you consider yourself a highly logical person?
3. Do you often think or speak using metaphors?
4. Do you have a broad range of interests?
5. Do you have trouble spending time alone without turning on the TV or other electronic devices?
... Now count your yes's for #'s 1, 3 and 4, and add them to your no's for questions 2 and 5. The higher the score, the more indicative of creative thinking patterns.
(Interestingly, the quiz continues with other questions designed to asses schizotypal personality, which correlates highly with creative thinking patterns... But that's another story altogether!)
In case it needs to be said: These kinds of quizzes are NOT the be-all end-all measuring stick of anything.
The truth is that as humans, we are ALL creative problem-solving animals.
Your challenge? Is to KNOW that in your bones.
Because once you do, it becomes MUCH harder to hide from the big problems the world is asking us to solve.
The uncomfortable thing is that accepting the fact of your own creativity, also means accepting the responsibility of having something to contribute.
And that, my friends, can be the scariest thing of all.