Today, I have completed 3 months at Find Your Expressions, my personal blog website. A whole 90 days of reading, researching, brainstorming, writing, talking to people, the anxiety of publishing and getting feedbacks. The response has been mostly positive, but I must be real about it too; the response has mostly come from my closest friends and family and therefore, let us face it, they are biased (for the most part). I am still waiting for a proper feedback to my writing; both my ideas and writing skills, may be from a professional, may be from someone with a different viewpoint. However, last week I got my first ever negative comment. Someone random ended up on the site and called me a “self-proclaimed thinker, writer and leader”. I got mad at first but then I realized, he was in fact right, I am self-proclaimed; there is no certifications out there for thinkers so I don’t have one, I don’t have a position of power to call myself a leader and I definitely haven’t written a book or write for any newspapers to call myself a writer. So yes, one negative comment and I am shutting this whole thing down. Okay, you know I am being dramatic, but I must acknowledge, I am a self-proclaimed writer and thinker and a leader.
For most of my life I too believed in this idea. While growing up I saw a clear separation between creatives and non-creatives. Creatives were artists, musicians, writers, media personalities, all in all, famous people, cool people, the extra ordinary people. I on the other hand, could not picture myself as one of those people. I sure wanted to but could not. I was very much sold on the idea of going to school, getting a good job, making a good salary, and just living life. Being creative was an unknown territory. “I am an analytical person not a creative person”, I told myself well until my early twenties. Creativity required risk, it required facing criticism, it required not knowing the outcome, and I had no time for that.
I was well into the path of a successful career, everything that looked great on paper, checking off one boxes after another until came a day where even when I had everything, I felt like I had nothing. You see, on this checklist, I removed being creative long ago and it took me a while to bring it back to the checklist.
In the fall of 2016, I was strolling through Harvard square in Cambridge, Massachusetts. At Harvard square there is a bookstore called “The Coop”, the official Harvard and MIT bookstore. I personally have always had a special place in my heart for bookstores and libraries and therefore always stop by the Coop whenever I am in the area. Walking through the bookstore, I stumbled upon a poetry book called “Milk and Honey” by Rupi Kaur. I had heard of the poet, had a little insight about her work but had never read the book. I had about an hour to kill, I was going on a date afterwards, so I just sat down at the bookstore, grabbed a cup of coffee, and started reading it.
That little black book almost changed my life in that hour. I finished the book in one go. There was an instinct to hold on to it, to not finish it all, but I also could not stop myself from flipping through the pages. That book was so powerful for several reasons. First and foremost, about 80% of the book, had me reacting, “Oh my god, I thought it was only me”. How the poet expressed some very universal feelings in such a personal way was what got me hooked. Secondly, the poetry was utterly simple. There were not that many heavy words that I had to google, not many paradoxes, no complex similes, and metaphors, it was raw and honest, like someone was just thinking out loud, it just happened to be captured in a piece of paper. And thirdly, it made me look back at all the proses, poetries, personal essays I had written over the years. It all came flashing in front of my eyes. I found my writings to be very simple too, I did not think there was much value in it for anyone and therefore I kept it to myself for the most part. But this little black book changed the meaning of “simple” for me. Simple was not necessarily less in value anymore, simple was the opposite.
We have gotten creativity confused with fame and several other things. As a strong fan of her work, I have watched several of Rupi Kaur’s interviews where she talks about the struggles she faced when starting out. Many people criticized her poetry saying it’s not “real poetry” as it was very different from what the English literature had accepted as poetry. Her poetry was too raw, too vulnerable, graphic at times, and just too much to handle. Her poetry career was the opposite of what was expected of her by her parents who were Canadian immigrants from India. Recently in December 2019 when I went to watch her live poetry performance, she joked about how her dad still wants her to get a master’s degree. Her response, “in what?”
The challenges of your ideas being too much for people to handle, it being different than the norm, cultural expectations and keeping up with such a creative field are not of Rupi Kaur’s alone. It is yet another universal challenge faced by every person with an itch to do something, something out of the ordinary, new, and fresh.
That evening in that bookstore made me take a hard look at my own creative journey. I dig up old notes and poems and thoughts and ideas spread across several journals, note apps on the phone, last pages of my college notebooks. Several times there was an urge to start over everything. As a business student at the time, I even thought of changing my major, perhaps going into creative writing, perhaps applying to be a copywriter, but this creative bug left me soon after and I forgot all about it. And then it came back when I stumbled across another creative piece.
The thing with these creative urges, the book idea, the business idea, the movie story, the cooking channel, they are all here in your life for a reason and no matter how much you condition yourself to think they are not so important, they will come back in your life. Our creative urges are our messages from our soul, telling us to live a life we are meant to and not just the life we are expected to. So, if reading this makes you want to go back to your cooking ideas, or your novel idea or that business idea, it is a sign.
So why is it important to explore your creative expression:
You can express yourself better
It may sound very simple but expressing ourselves can sometimes be the hardest thing to do. What are you feeling? Can you put a name to it? Do you understand why you are acting the way you are? What are your biases? What makes you motivated? What keeps you inspired? These are some very simple looking but intensely complicated questions. Your creative expression helps you understand these things better. By engaging in a creative activity over a period, you can express yourself better and hence receive what you need and give where you can. In general terms, you can communicate better. And if you are like me, I believe half of your life’s problems can be solved by just being able to communicate better.
Exploring your own potential
During my college years, my top google search used to be “How to find a fulfilling career?”. I did quizzes, read articles, watched YouTube, asked several people this same question over and over. I needed an answer to what was that one job that could fulfill me financially, emotionally, and creatively. First of all, I never found such a career path and secondly when the time came to go to job interviews, the reality kicked in, and the reality was I needed a job that could pay the bills. And hence I took up jobs that were not necessarily aligned with what my research had shown
About 2 years after college now, which now feels like forever ago, I have realized that there really is no such a job. I hate to break it to you, but companies are not built around what the employees need every single day, every single hour. No company is spending every hour of their day worrying how to keep their employee inspired, creative and happy. It may be one of their agendas but not their focus. And even if some of them are, their efforts would not be enough to fulfill the needs of every single individual in the company.
Companies are built around a bigger purpose, around the vision of few people who want to see that vision come true. We as individuals doing those jobs are providing value to one or two aspects of that vision and that will never be enough for our growth. It is upon us to understand what we excel at and what we need to improve on. It is up to us to take up a new hobby or work on our creative projects.
Schools and businesses fulfill some aspect of our human needs but not all of them. At the end of the day it is our personal journey and by taking that responsibility, by learning new things, by exploring our creativity, we explore our own potential. It is by challenging ourselves, we learn our strengths.
Opening new opportunities:
Following up on the earlier idea of finding fulfilling work, by engaging in your creative expression, you become more skilled, more expressive, and more resourceful to others. Feel drained at your current job? May be tomorrow your boss hears about your side projects, maybe he had something similar in his mind and then ends up creating an entire new department around your hobbies that is beneficial to both you and the company? It sounds unreal but it is not. Most great initiatives start from ideas and conversations. A lot of jobs today were unheard of just 10 years ago. The world is changing constantly; old mundane jobs are being replaced by more efficient, creative jobs. But it all starts with someone taking that first step of investing in one’s passion and then starting conversations around it.
So, now that you know why creativity is important, here comes the big question, how to be creative?
Being creative is our human nature. Creativity, compassion, empathy is who we are as humans in our core. And as important our families, friends, communities, corporations are, over time we learn to operate as a part of the group and suppress our core beliefs and interests to be accepted and acknowledged in these groups.
So, here are a few ways to foster creativity:
Being creative is being close to who we are as humans and therefore it is important to develop habits that bring us closer to who we are as humans. Being aware and present in the moment is the first step towards any meaningful activity. Being aware of your thoughts, your surroundings, and being honest about them is the first step towards creativity.
Around the same time as I read the book by Rupi Kaur, I started to take a look at my own writing aspirations. I had poems and story ideas scattered around in several journals. I tried several times to carry a journal with me anywhere I went so I could note down my ideas but couldn’t keep up with it. One day I decided to start using Google docs, in any case my phone would always be with me. So, I started noting down any thoughts that came into my mind onto my google doc. I titled it “IDEAS”. The page kept growing overtime, I started getting more conscious of my thoughts and made a point to note it down. When I don’t have anything to note down, I try to walk around without the phone to observe my surrounding and just let my mind wander. These random notes turned into essays, spoken word poetries, a website, and a half-written novel. Stories come from people, and if you learn to be present, the stories you will find are endless.
Being open and non-judgmental
As we live in the era of digital artists and entrepreneurs, we have seen several people who have started out as very ordinary people with a creative aspiration, we start following them on the internet just because they are a friend’s friend or some other connection and before you know it they become an internet sensation, a celebrity. They are going on tours performing shows, spreading their message. But we also know how raw, out of place and incomplete their work seemed in the beginning. But the ones who continued creating authentically, eventually find their place.
Whenever we are starting out on a new journey, we strive to excel from the very beginning. When the first few of our creations do not turn out what we imagined them to be, we want to give up. I do accounting as my day job and writing as my creative aspiration. If I make a mistake in my day job, if I get a negative feedback, it won’t affect me as much as its only a job to me. I take it as a feedback, follow the steps to be taken and get the job done. But a negative feedback to my writing will have a bigger effect on me as it has come from an honest place in my heart. However, not writing or not sharing because of that reason is a disadvantage to only me. If I don’t allow myself to write shitty things today, I will never write great things. Furthermore, down the road, I may even realize writing is not for me at all, but by putting in work into writing today, adhering to my inner voice today, I will be prepared for whatever it is I have to do tomorrow.
For anything to exist in your life, you need to create space for it. Creating space can mean several things. It can mean letting go of going out to parties and creating space and time for you to work on your creative projects. It could mean clearing out clutter from your apartment and creating an actual space where you can work. It could mean finding a way to relieve stress and anxiety and creating a mental space to create. Whatever it is that is blocking you from being truly creative, you need to remove it to create space.
Understanding creativity isn’t all about the spark
There is a misconception that being creative is about one major spark. Something sparks in your mind and the next thing you know you have a bestselling novel, a successful business, or a beautiful piece of architecture. The real creativity lies in the process of turning those ideas into action and this is where most people suffer. I used to think writing was about sitting by a river, under a tree, being lost in the nature and creating a masterpiece. While you may find inspiration in those riverbanks, you rarely complete a masterpiece right that moment.
Most creative endeavors are labors of love. It is never easy. But the joy one gets from these endeavors is also incomparable. If something in you wants you to start that cooking channel or write that book, know that it’s not going to happen overnight. No one realizes their creative potential and suddenly has great piece of work to call theirs. The initial inspiration is merely a direction, it is just recognizing the path, but the journey is what is rewarding.
Courage to share your creativity
At find your expressions, we follow a philosophy, “your self-expression is someone else’s inspiration.” Whatever your creative aspirations are, it starts with someone out there you saw doing something similar to what you aspire to do. It may be the songs you listened to as a kid, or the authors whose work you enjoyed or those cooking channels you watch all weekend. Now imagine, all of them didn’t exist. Imagine your favorite author never published her book or your favorite singer never launched his album. How different would your life be today if all the people you draw inspiration from kept their work to themselves and you never had access to them?
It can be a very scary thing to share your work especially in the initial phase. But being a creative person is not about getting to a destination, it’s about an ongoing process. By sharing your work and allowing others into your world, you are not only helping others but helping your own creative journey, to keep finding inspiration to keep creating. By creating value for others, you serve your purpose. It is where it all comes full circle.
Whatever creative path you chose, there is a messiness to it. Whenever you decide to do something different than what is expected of you, there are challenges. Most times it is unrewarding. You may put hours into your craft, and you may receive little to no acknowledgement for it. Sometimes you may even be called out to be self-proclaimed. But it is every bit more fulfilling than going through life not exploring your own potential. Your creativity is who you are today and who you could become tomorrow.