I’m so delighted to have Jen Louden guest posting today! She is my favorite kind of teacher– wise, real, and just like us. Enjoy!
Transforming Creative Shame into Creative Joy
I got my creative mojo dented and bruised early in life and it almost killed my spark.
I was shamed in the ordinary places – a careless 5th grade art teacher whose offhanded comments left perpetual bruises. A small-minded professor at USC film school who had room for only his own insecurities and beliefs. Having an undiagnosed learning disability didn’t help my creative confidence (When a childhood friend heard I was a writer, he said, “But you can’t spell.” Still stings.).
Yes, I can make a list of the usual suspects. But truthfully? I have to admit I did the most damage to myself.
I shamed myself for not being more talented. I framed my early efforts – at writing, acting, art-making, filmmaking – as hopelessly awkward and bad.
But here’s the thing – of course they were less than perfect! Of course I made missteps, stumbled, and fell a time or a dozen. I am not a natural-born genius or artist or actress (most of us aren’t). And thinking that I had to be perfect right out of the gate in order to enjoy a thrilling, fulfilling creative life was a nearly fatal error. It cost me so much, it makes me tear up just thinking about it. That poor lost young girl! – and then, that poor lost not-so-young girl.
Those years of lost creative pleasure, the bouts with depression, and the horrible feeling of being bad, and thus alone… oh poor baby. Sadly, I imagine many of you can relate. It makes me want to become the Superhero of Protecting Creative Innocence. (Hmm… What kind of outfit would that require?)
I healed my wound of creative shame – and continue to do so until this day – in a whole bunch of juicy ways. Before I share a few of my alchemizing moves with you (disco music optional), I want to point out the most obvious and important: creative shame is not real. Unless you allow it to be.
Nobody – and I mean nobody in this entire vast universe – has the final word on what you create. Nobody can pass a writ, write a law, emboss a seal, that says “This painting, this poem, this photo, sucks and, furthermore, so does this person.” There are no acting police, watercolor Gestapo, or board certification processes for your creative spirit.
Getting this truth into my bones has been so game-changing, I teach it at all my retreats, and remind myself of its truth everyday. Everyday. It doesn’t mean I also don’t say – many times a day! — “I can make that better,” but the power to decide lives in me now. And the decision to do so, and how well I can or cannot, has nothing, NOTHING WHATSOEVER, to do with my worth as a human being.
Tattoo that truth on your creative heart, if need be. Perhaps you might also find these healing suggestions helpful:
Let go of product. You have to step away, often, from producing for a reason, especially if you generate your living from your creativity. This is a game-changer for lots of women I have coached. Have creative play in your life that has nothing to do with product, nothing to do with money. For me, that’s painting. I even stopped showing what I paint on my blog (mostly) because sharing made my art part of my “brand” and I wanted to keep something close to my heart and private.
Rest in the facts and let go of opinions. Facts are “I wrote 322 words this morning.” Facts are “I made seven pairs of earrings.” Facts are “I sent out invites to 307 people to my photography show.” Opinions are “What I wrote sucks” or “These earrings are weird, no one will buy them” and “Who the hell is going to come to my show?” (Me, me!) Keep bringing yourself gently back to what you can create, do, affect, not what you can’t and never what other think about what you create.
Relationship trumps war. Your critical voice, and other not-so-easy-to-be-with parts of you, are just that – a part of you. To be at war with yourself by wanting to kill or cut off those parts of you increases your creative shame and decreases your creative joy. Those mean voices almost always arose for a reason – to protect you. Work to know these parts of yourself, through dialogue in your journal. Help them feel safe and heard, while never allowing them “drive the bus” of your life. You always have the final word as the conscious adult but you do so with respect and love.
Be witnessed. In the last 20 years, I have started a writer’s group, a conversation salon, a women’s spirituality group, and a business-centered Brain Trust. I was part of a women’s group in my former hometown for 5 years – and we met weekly! My Brain Trust has met daily (virtually) for 6+ years. Creating a safe space with a group of peers has done more to heal my sense of not being a good enough ______ (fill in the creative blank) than any other single practice besides regular meditation and yoga. The profound power of being witnessed and accepted just as I am, plus extending that same grace to others, witnessing their stories and struggles, it has dissolved the story of being special in my brokeness.
The s/hero’s journey is about going into your darkness and claiming the creative gifts that have been lost or devalued. By doing this, you find what you must then share with the world, as well as the energy to do so.
Jennifer Louden is an author of 6 books, including the self-care revolution starter The Woman’s Comfort Book and The Woman’s Retreat Book, a coach, a retreat creator, and she has a new short course starting Tuesday on creating your own Mastermind group. Jen first met Andrea when she worked for SARK and thought she was very cool way back then.
First, I would argue that Disco music is NOT optional.
Second, yes, yes, yes, and yes. You, Jenny Be the Queen, Superhero of Protecting Creative Innocence, have done so much, in so many ways, to facilitate so many of us “recovering” our artist selfs. You access the magic, play with it, and through sharing your process, you give us medicine so that we can find our mojo, access our magic. Your struggle and light invite us to come out and play. Thank you, thank you.
And Andrea, I was just writing about you this morning, how for me you are the sun at the center of so many stars like Jennifer, a whole universe of creative bad assness. The list of amazing women, brave and open-hearted and inspiring and supportive forces of nature, that I have found because of you, either directly or with you as the starting point: Kelly Rae Roberts, Rachel Cole, Jen Lemen, Flora Bowley, Susan Piver, and Brene’ Brown. Every time I think about how I might begin to thank you, I turn into a slobbery puddle mess. I adore you.
This is some great stuff. That shaming thing? I was raised to be an artist, so no one ever told me I couldn’t, they only supported me, and I STILL get the shaming, little, notgoodenough feelings. I love these suggestions. Focusing on process is so important, and paying attention to the facts of what you have done (I keep a creativity log to do so.) I’m still working on keeping a dialogue with those critical parts of myself and I know that the community is important…also working on that.
Thank you Jill for those stellar star light words. I am having them inscribed on my heart with disco music – somehow. And Rowena, may we keep doing it (the work, the play, the creative joy) may we please!
Jennifer and Andrea,
Thank you for this post. I completely sympathise with your recognition of lost creative pleasure and self doubt.
I photograph, paint and write. Often I’m asked by someone, “…and what do you do for a living?” I ask myself, how do I pigeon hole the answer? Am I an artistwriter or a writerartist. I look at the brush in one hand and the pen in the other and I don’t know what the answer is.
For those of us who are preoccupied by both means of expression, it’s an interesting glass half-full half-empty situation. Mostly I find that to the literary folk I’m classified as an artist and to the art world I’m a writer. When I’m filled with self-doubt, and I’m in a half empty mood I start whining about being misunderstood and under-appreciated, but mostly I’m a half full kind of girl and I can see that there’s more fun to be had when you are not obliged to climb either of the establishments’ slippery poles.
If you are like me, and you live in this no-man’s liminal space of lofty towers of culture, how do you measure yourself? It’s tough, because it is hard to find a reference point in history. It’s hard to pinpoint many individuals who genuinely juggled word and image equally and say, “There, that’s where I belong.” So I just bumble on stringing words together with images and hope for the best.
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