The Practice I Need to Be Creative (And Four Ways I Nurture It)

How many times did the worst-case scenario happen to you before you decided to believe that’s what happens?

Looking back on the data objectively, for me it wasn’t many. 

The summer before my sophomore year of high school, my grandfather was in the hospital with infection complications from a routine back surgery. Him and I had spent the past five years seeing each other almost every day, so I spent my summer at the hospital. 

One day, he was wheeled back for another procedure. The concern was all over the faces of my grandmother and parents. I walked through the double automatic doors of the OR, my head high and no pangs of worry. 

“Everything will be perfectly fine,” I said to my Mom. “That’s the practice of hope and faith.” 

Three weeks later, school had been in session five days when my parents had to pick me up. My grandfather had suddenly died. 

I have maybe five of these war stories, where my wide eyed hopefulness was dashed. 

I moved to Dallas for the fourth grade to start a new school. I was ecstatic. I took me about two weeks to realize I was in my personal hell. The teaching model, from my perspective then and now, was based on perfection and shame – nothing like the International Baccalaureate program I had thrived in the year before. The kids in my class and myself were in such turmoil without loving leadership, it’s my belief we turned on each other. I spent the next four years in survival mode, making myself miserable in my smallness or by hurting others in self-protection and then hating myself for it. The excitement I used to have about school and new beginnings turned to dread and anxiety. 

My parents are bright, incredible vessels of love. No one expected that in my high school years they would both be incredibly sick, right after the death of my grandfather who had been another parent to me. All of my senior year and especially around my high school graduation, when our community has a full social calendar of family-focused events, I’ve never felt so alone in my life.

These experiences were gnarly, but they’re life. They’re mixed in with thousands of positive experiences I’ve enjoyed that have, overall, created my life of privilege. The hard times were just enough, though, to take me out of the most powerful practice I have as a creative being: hope. 

Hope, for me, is my practice of believing, even in risk, that everything will be fine. And who knows? Things might even be good. 

These painful life experiences killed my hope. In my mind, I had practiced hope, even in risk, and things had not ended the “good” way, with the outcomes I expected. What the f*ck. 

The antithesis of hope, for me, is despair. That’s where I went, deeper each time I got hit in the face with life. And what was the meaning of life if I could not trust that good things happened? I lost my voice, my creativity and my interest in taking care of myself. 

That led me down a dark place of rebellion and self-harm. It wasn’t until I met Markus and was so pleasantly surprised by him that light began to get back in, just enough sliver of hope to make me want to live again. 

With that reboot, I thought I could hack this – to do life but not feel that hopelessness again. Without knowing it, I built a life for myself, and then my family, that was seemingly happy but risk averse. I had a career I could do in my sleep. I said yes to everyone not to ruffle feathers. I did the “right” thing, not for myself but in the eyes of the society I lived in. I did not do new things – going new places, meeting new people, trying new things – where I didn’t have an idea of what the outcomes could be. 

I was a “positive” person, with a smile on my face and an unruffled front as I made myself smaller to protect myself from the fall out I had previously felt from pain and disappointment. The only issue was my secret misery. It was hard to spot on myself at first, but easy to see when I saw how I was bringing it into my family life and passing it on to the people I loved most. How could I be making everyone so unhappy when I was doing everything right? 

I needed a wake up call. Oddly enough, it came during jury duty. I brought along a book, Where’d You Go, Bernadette, and came across this line. 

“People like you must create. If you don’t create, you will become a menace to society.”

I somehow knew right then that the suffering I was inflicting on myself and others through my need for control was misdirected energy, using my inherent creativity (that we all have y’all!) to create outcomes instead of take risks and make something new out of nothing, maybe even something completely different than the outcomes I expected going in. (Whether it’s my life or a painting, to me, that’s art). 

To change, I had to lean back in to hope. Real hope (not the version I practiced before) is the feeling that things will be good in the end, without conditions of timelines or outcomes. When I loosen my grip of what “good” looks like, good things happen. All the dang time. 

Looking back now, I see the good things I could have experienced if I had practiced this version of hope during the trials of my life. 

Yes. My grandfather’s passing has been one of the largest voids of my life. But now, I enjoy a spiritual relationship with my grandfather that’s divine instead of human. I get so much from the wisdom and guidance he shares with me every day. As painful as his physical absence can feel, he’s absolutely here and in the right place. (He’s sitting here now and says hi.) 

Yes. School sucked! But from that experience, I’m armed now with a passion for leading our schools, companies and everyday life with open heartedness and empathy. New opportunities for this find me every day. My daughter is in an International Baccalaureate school now and loves it, which has been deeply healing for me. Without the short term pain of my educational experience, I would not stand fully in my passion and be able to practice empathy as well today. 

Yes. When I needed adults in my adolescence there was a void. I love and honor my parents. I am inspired by how hard they tried to raise me when they were up against so much. I appreciate the self-sufficiency their illnesses brought me. I work hard on my marriage and family, remembering, even on days when it feels impossible, the nights I felt alone growing up and wanted a connected family again. It’s easy to remember the things I can complain about now are the things I once prayed for. 

And now, armed with hope, I create. I wear outfits I see as creations that take risks and make me smile. I go outside and garden or paint with my daughter. I make silly bracelets for my friends. I make up girlish dances. It transfers over to my personal and family life, knowing more deeply there’s a solution to every problem if I approach the situation creatively. Without the resistance of expectations, daily life itself becomes art. 

Maybe I will spend family money on art supplies and it will go nowhere, but I hope it’s the start of something big. Maybe I’ll write my heart here and no one will understand, but I hope it will bring light to just one person’s darkness. 

Hope starts my creative process, and hope carries it home. When things look messy beyond any sense of final beauty, hope helps me push up that last metaphorical hill, where all I see is road with no end in sight. When it crests, the final product typically is not the outcome I expected. It’s often more. 

And just like all practices, it’s one day at a time. In the big picture, I see hopefulness. Day to day as a busy Mom, wife, modern woman (whatever), it can be more difficult to tap. 

When I need a dose of hope, I typically turn to 

  1. Nature – Ain’t she wild how with each end there’s a new beginning? How there’s special job even for our most pesky co-creatures? Nature doesn’t give up on herself, creating beauty every day of the process. 

  2. My higher power – The plan as I see it may be completely derailed. So it’s a good thing I don’t make the plans. Hope lets me take my mind off the process and gets a greater spirit involved. 

  3. Sharing and listening – That’s H.O.P.E. for me: Hearing Other People’s Experiences. These challenges that seem so personal to me are actually just big, bad life for everyone. Attending a support group, I see first hand how life in its fullness molds us into our most beautiful, like clay, if we’re willing to participate. 

  4. Movement – Intuitive opening and use of my body reminds me that I literally have more life in me. If I’m breathing, it ain’t over yet. My body in motion is like an idea factory. 

I don’t like “you” statements, but I’m passionate enough about this one to take a moment to remind you how creative you are, how worthy and in need you are of creating. Risk suits you, and if it’s hurt before, I’m here for you if you want to try again. Good things happen. To the unworthy like me, every day. 

As our fearless leader Brene Brown says in The Gifts of Imperfection, 

“Ununsed creativity is not benign. It metasizes. It turns into grief, rage, sorrow and shame…

There’s no such thing as creative and non-creative people. There are only people who use their creativity and people who don’t. Unused creativity doesn’t just disappear. It lives within us until it’s expressed, neglected to death or suffocated by resentment and fear.”

So, in the words of my beloved Parks & Rec, treat yo self. Express yo self. 

The joy I’ve found in just a 5% belief that good things happen has reset my life and given me outcomes I could have never imagined. 

And if you like to make bracelets, call me! <3

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