Sometimes I’ve believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast.
~ Lewis Carroll
Ninety percent of success is just showing up.
~ Attributed to Woody Allan
February 12, 2016
One of my dreams is to write, but so many times it feels like a daunting undertaking. I will be in the shower or on a crowded subway or at work, and suddenly an idea will pop into my head. It doesn’t reside there very long. In fact, I would describe it as a fleeting, floating wisp of a fragment of an idea. Here and then gone! Leaving me to wonder – did I think something back then? I resolve to remember this “thought” and write it down later. The problem is that when I actually find a block of time to sit and write, my mind comes up blank. The wisps of thought have evaporated. Even if I have jotted down a note to help me recall, it looks like a variation of Greek and I have no clue what to do with it in order to put together a coherent paragraph. Sitting in front of a blank screen is like trying to draw water from an empty well. I must say I am in awe of those who write or engage in any creative endeavour. Where does that inspiration come from and how do we foster creativity?
I have traditionally not regarded myself as a creative person. Creative endeavours are something other people do, especially those who are artists – who paint, weave a beautiful tapestry, play an instrument, or create a work of fiction. However, I have come to shift my perspective on creativity and now view it as including any new venture we engage in. Creative effort is often needed when we cover new terrain and must find our way through. It also occurs when we do something in our own unique way. In this sense, we are pioneers in our own lives.
I have also come to realize that creativity comes in many forms that we sometimes miss. The creative process – often referred to as innovation or a technological breakthrough – can conjure up large scale projects that change everyone’s way of life. Yet creativity reveals itself in seemingly ordinary ways. Preparing a meal; gardening; writing a research proposal; teaching kindergarten children; designing a tunnel; fixing a plumbing problem, and so on. Sometimes we call this resourcefulness brought about out of necessity. But as Edward do Bono has said, creativity is looking at something in a different way. It is rooted in curiosity and as such, dwells in each one of us.
How then do we unleash this creative force? Mid life and beyond is fertile ground for creative endeavours. A couple of thoughts come to mind. First is realizing that our creative streak is already evident in what we are doing now. We may simply take for granted the wonderful things we do (knit a sweater; pull together a meal from what we have at hand; make up a story for a small child; manage logistics in a busy office). The second thing is that most of us are not suddenly and magically inspired. This is akin to writing a perfect musical composition in one sitting or having the blueprint for a bridge in our heads. All “great minds” have to practice and work at things.
As author Kevin Ashton has pointed out, creativity is born out of hard work sustained over time. I think creativity involves a few basics that may not be terribly exciting, but which generally work for most people:
- Be curious and tenacious – We so easily accept the assumption (often false) that things can’t be changed. We accept that the way things are is the way it has to be. But this idea has been proven wrong so many times.
- Be mindful to what is going on around you – Pay attention to those fleeting wisps of thought of which we are hardly aware. They are the seeds of ideas that can be cultivated. They may not result in anything right away, but they are ideas worth considering.
- Show up – In the end, it is the day to day slogging, multiple rough drafts, and failed attempts that move us forward. This means getting up and doing the work, not knowing what the outcome will be except knowing it is important we do it – for us!
Who knows? We may wake up and realize we have thought of at least six seemingly impossible things that we could tackle – and all before breakfast!