Lately, I have gotten tired of people exclaiming “oh, you’re so creative!” I am not tired of the statement because I’m suffering from a bout of false modesty, so stop preparing counter arguments to try and agree with all those people who tell me this.
When I hear this phrase, I hear the speaker evicting their own creativity. The wonderful compliment feels like they’re saying I’m something they are not, and by saying I’m creative they are excusing themselves from the same “burden.” I can almost feel their self-doubt patting their egos on the head for acknowledging creativity, without taking the risk of being creative. “Good show, old man! Project Mediocrity is well on track! All sectors reporting the mission parameter: “Re-enforce non-creative paradigm” is well ahead of schedule, and secondary goals of “Avoid Risk,” “Remain undetected” and “Blend In” are nearing completion.”
I also hear echoes of that monologue from Six Degrees of Separation, where the speaker is talking about how creativity has been separated from ourselves, as if it was something other than what we are. Most the time I see Will Smith’s face and hear his delivery of the speech. And I see all the pretentious people lapping up every word like they were dying of thirst. “…all those dwarves, so creative.”
They also radiate this smug condescension of creativity. They have this look of pity mixed with horror at the idea of a trade based on something so intangible as “making things up.”
In this simple statement, there’s just a hint of “How wonderful it is to be creative,” which sounds more insincere then complimentary. And, I’ll admit, it is wonderful to have embraced creativity and acted on it. I won’t lie, allowing myself to be creative is pretty much my favorite thing about life. But, it’s also really hard much of the time. There’s the constant battle with those forces trying to keep you from doing that work.
In “The War of Art,” Steven Pressfield refers to this as “The Resistance,” and it’s fierce and bitey and seductive. It wants you to be comfortable, and sitting on the couch taking no risks.
There’s a ton of work in being creative, and there is loneliness and fear and doubt. There is failure, and trying to learn from it, and then trying it all over again. There is vulnerability. There is exhaustion, and there are times when I can’t take yet another idea popping out of my head. There are days when it feels like I can’t possibly be sane, and when the noises are so loud they are deafening and it feels like my head is going to explode.
That one little statement, “You’re so creative,” feels awkward to me in so many ways. It turns creative people into the “other,” the inexplicable, untouchable freak show. It feels patronizing and a bit like someone is saying, “Awww, look at the poor mentally ill person. Aren’t they just God’s special people?”
Frankly, we are all God’s special people, and it’s time that people stand up to their own creativity. It’s not a freakish part of yourself to be hidden so that the neighbors can’t see it. It’s your own unique genius, and it wants you to take it up on its offer of happiness, long term growth and fulfillment. Because, as tough as it is to fight “The Resistance,” one of the chief rewards is being in concert with yourself. It’s about making yourself whole, and allowing you to be greater than the sum of your parts. Stop ignoring that voice in your head wanting to get out because you feel like it’s silly and a waste of time. Take that risk.