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Creating To Be Authentic, Not Perfect

“Creativity comes from a desire to express the true self.”—Gloria Steinem

Too often, art has been insulated, considered and written about as precious—something only official artists do. In her book ‘Revolution From Within’ Gloria Steinem notes that “most art in the world does not have a capital ‘A’, but is a way of turning everyday objects into personal expressions.”

She encourages creating images or objects as a way to gain a more intimate understanding and fuller expression of who we are, and declares, “Creativity is most likely to come from intrinsic interest, not external reward; from a desire to express the true self.”

And she cautions that neglecting to use our human capacities, out of fear or shame, “leaves a small hole in the fabric of our self-esteem. Think of the times you have said, ‘I can’t write’, ‘I can’t paint’… Since this was not literally true, you were really saying: ‘I can't meet some outside standard. I’m not acceptable as I am.’”

This kind of critical self-judging often relates to the idea of being a “failure” at doing something creative. Getting beyond or “bypassing” intellectual restrictions on our creativity can be a matter of shifting one’s attitude.

Singer songwriter Jewel once made the comment: “I have to be constantly learning; I have a very insatiable appetite. I feel if I’m not on the edge of failure, I'm probably not being challenged sufficiently.” For her, failure is not something to fear or shun, but a part of her journey.

Politician and author Susan Molinari said in an interview, “The most important lesson that was ever passed on to me is the ability to have the courage to try things. Because particularly [as] women, we’re not raised to fail and so we think of failure as so much more than it is, rather than somebody who had the guts to try something and it just didn't work out.”

Novelist Amy Tan has commented that her parents expected her to get straight A's from the time she was in kindergarten, and specified that she was going to be a doctor, rather than any kind of artist.

She says an academic shortcoming was “a horrible feeling, especially when you experience what you think is your first failure and you think your life is over. No more chances.”

It wasn’t until age 33 that she started writing fiction.

Academy Award-winning actress Mira Sorvino has talked about her own struggles with condemning messages: “As a youth, I hated myself for not being good enough. All my inadequacies and failures, not being kind enough, generous or understanding enough, would assail me at night. It became a habit to be guilty and self-castigating, not liking myself because I was unworthy… I really tortured myself.”

Another acclaimed actress, Mary Stuart Masterson has questioned our having the kinds of standards that allow these messages: “What’s perfect, anyway? Why, in this society, is everybody striving to attain some sort of perfection, like perfect thinness, perfect strength or perfect performance, if there is such a thing… denuding everything that's interesting or flawed.”


Psychotherapist Mark Gorkin suggests that “errors of judgment or design don’t signify incompetence; they more likely reveal inexperience or immaturity, perhaps even boldness.”

“Our so-called ‘failures’ can be channeled as guiding streams (sometimes raging rivers) of opportunity and experience that so often enrich - widen and deepen - the risk-taking passage. If we can just immerse ourselves in these unpredictable yet, ultimately, regenerative waters.”

Diane Ealy, PhD writes about the impact of “should” messages women especially get, that say “We’re supposed to care for everybody else while taking charge of everything within our realm. Never mind the cost in lost creativity.” (from ‘The Woman's Book of Creativity’)

Not living up to many of these “should” may be experienced as a feeling of failure, and loss of creative drive. Dr Ealy suggests an exercise to help defuse that negative power.

A brief summary of the technique is to carefully visualize getting involved in a creative activity, then play a prerecorded audio tape of a list of “should” that plague you (or have a friend read the list)—while you continue imagining doing your creative work.

After ten to fifteen minutes, stop the “should” messages, continue “working creatively” for a while in your imagination, then return to present reality and evaluate which messages were most upsetting or disruptive.

“Most of our ‘should’ messages were accepted without question as they were given to us by the authority figures in our lives,” Dr Ealy writes.

“They block creativity by depleting our energy, not allowing room for the self-attention required to develop the creative process. But with vigilance, we can assert our power to make positive choices as we live our creative lifestyle.”

Cover image and top image from Shutterstock

This is a cross-post from Talent Develop.

Douglas Eby, M/A Psychology, is a writer, researcher and online publisher on the psychology of creative expression and personal growth. He is author of the Talent Development Resources series of sites.

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