I am surrounded by amazing, talented, creative people. Being around amazing, talented, creative people is infectious.
Within the small community of City Church Savannah, I have been afforded the friendship of individuals who have worked on major Hollywood films, people who have taken creative jobs with Pixar and Disney, a young man who was mentored by John Legend, and a team of award-winning filmmakers. The bar is set high if you want to garner any praise or attention within my circle of friends. The entry level is literally, world-class. I am not certain how many places outside of Nashville or Hollywood can boast such a population glut of talent.
It was one of these talented people who led me to write this column. Dylan is a captivating soulful vocalist and an exceptionally smart guitarist. I knew these things. What I didn’t know was that he is also an avid doodler. With a wide-eyed excitement, he showed me a diverse cast of hand-drawn characters he has been creating over the last few days. Now keep in mind, one of Dylan’s roommates is a prestigous art college graduate with a major in animation. And while Dylan seems to possess a raw artistic ability, I believe he would be the first to admit he is still early on in his study of the craft.
The more I thought about Dylan’s doodle endeavors, the more mental health benefits I began to realize in the idea of seeking out these new sorts of creative outlets.
REASON 1: CREATIVITY IS GOOD FOR YOUR WELL BEING
Dylan, as I said before, is a proficient guitarist. It would be easy and natural for him to express himself creatively on this instrument. Many years of discipline and practice got him to that point. It would also be natural, however, to wonder how someone who has successfully “climbed that skill mountain” as a musician could take pleasure as a novice artist, especially while surrounded with people who are more talented and experienced than he is. It reminds me of a story from Robert Fulghum’s book, Uh-Oh: Some Observations From Both Sides of the Refrigerator Door.
Ask a kindergarten class, “How many of you can draw?” and all hands shoot up. Yes, of course we can draw—all of us. What can you draw? Anything! How about a dog eating a fire truck in a jungle? Sure! How big you want it?
How many of you can sing? All hands. Of course we sing! What can you sing? Anything! What if you don’t know the words? No problem, we make them up. Let’s sing! Now? Why not!
How many of you dance? Unanimous again. What kind of music do you like to dance to? Any kind! Let’s dance! Now? Sure, why not?
Do you like to act in plays? Yes! Do you play musical instruments? Yes! Do you write poetry? Yes! Can you read and write and count? Yes! We’re learning that stuff now.
Their answer is Yes! Over and over again, Yes! The children are confident in spirit, infinite in resources, and eager to learn. Everything is still possible.
Try those same questions on a college audience. A small percentage of the students will raise their hands when asked if they draw or dance or sing or paint or act or play an instrument. Not infrequently, those who do raise their hands will want to qualify their response with their limitations: “I only play piano, I only draw horses, I only dance to rock and roll, I only sing in the shower.”
When asked why the limitations, college students answer they do not have talent, are not majoring in the subject, or have not done any of these things since about third grade, or worse, that they are embarrassed for others to see them sing or dance or act. You can imagine the response to the same questions asked of an older audience. The answer: No, none of the above.
What went wrong between kindergarten and college?
What happened to YES! of course I can?
And who can forget the words of Jesus written in Matthew 18:3?
Maybe that seems like a turbulent segue to you, but it truly is not. For we were CREATED in the image of our CREATOR. (Genesis 1:27-28) Creativity is interwoven within your very DNA because you were made ‘reflecting God’s nature.’ I even suspect that you might not achieve everything you were appointed to accomplish in this life until you purpose to unlock your inner creative potential.
Your brain responds favorably to this exercise. A study from Missouri State University in 1999 concluded:
…Creative activity contributes to successful aging by fostering a sense of competence, purpose, and growth. Artistic creativity also facilitates successful aging by encouraging the development of problem-solving skills, motivation, and perceptions that translate into a practical creativity in the way these individuals manage their everyday lives.
So yeah, back to Dylan and I discussing cartooning. I shared with him that waaaaay back when I was in music college I farted around with making a comic strip revolving around the lives of eager, yet hapless kids trying to start a rock and roll band. It was perhaps a way to laugh off the daily struggles of managing crazy musician personalities.
Class, meet Ricky Rockstar. (that’s his stage name, of course)
I confessed to Dylan that I was never able to convincingly draw my characters when they turned their heads. This made character interaction seem unnatural, and this ‘skill hurdle’ grew from a pesky obstacle into a decades-long stop sign. Upon hearing my struggles, Dylan excitedly found a pen and a scrap of paper, and began frantically drawing a series of 3D cylinders with rotated guide lines and features. In about 30 seconds, Dylan showed me how I could have overcome my limitations. And that brings me to the 2nd reason to create.
REASON 2: YOUR CREATIVITY CAN HELP OTHERS
You may have never stopped long enough to realize that practically every thing you experience each day was meticulously created for your consumption. You woke up in a bed that was designed for your maximum comfort. You took a shower thanks to a system of water treatment and distribution that didn’t ‘just happen.’ You brushed your teeth with a toothpaste that was specifically-formulated using ingredients from all over the planet to give you fresh breath. (at least I hope you did.) Then you put on clothes that may have went through a thousand tweaks and revisions during conceptualization. You may have taken a car or bus to work. That invention alone is a combination of a million ideas working in harmony to facilitate your safe arrival to your destination.
I could continue this, but I think you get it now. Your entire day is spent consuming the creativity of others. Even when we turn it all off and go enjoy nature, there is a supernatural hand at work. What I suggest, is for you take a break from consumption, and try a hand at production. Produce something. Make something out of nothing. There’s truly nothing like it.
I can hear you now. You’re never going to be able to learn to sing, play an instrument, write a novel, design a car… And even if you tried, no one would be blessed by it. My answer is simple. You are wrong. You may not have discovered it yet, but there are people desperate to consume what you are meant to produce. Finding out exactly what that looks like is one of the great mysteries and secrets of life.
Take my friend, Sarah, also originally from City Church. She is a top-notch vocalist – can harmonize on the fly, and leads worship with effortless command of the stage. But it was the blog she created that really blew me away. In it, she opens up about her struggles with bipolar disorder. Not just the sanitized Christiany parts we can all easily digest – but the real tortured struggle she fights each day.
That is such an inspiration to me. I am shamed by my struggles. I always attempt to project an image that I always have it together even when I do not. Sarah, on the other hand, is willing to open up about her private life for the betterment of others. And, that isn’t the only thing she writes about on her website. She also has recipes, detox, beauty tips, and a whole lot more! (check it out) She and her husband, Max, have created something capable of sharing her learned experiences with the entire world. This is valuable, and something worth emulating. And this leads us to the 3rd reason…
REASON 3: YOUR CREATIVITY IS VALUABLE
A funny thing happens when you become a producer. People start consuming your work. Some people may actually like it and begin seeking it out. This is wondrously fulfilling and presents opportunity for monetization. At this point, you should seek out a more business-minded person to maximize your earning potential. I am sadly not yet an expert in that field. 😉
That being said, it isn’t all sunshine and roses when you release your creation to the big, bad, ugly world. Be prepared for the haters. No matter what you make, some people won’t like it, get it, or want to be bothered by it. This is okay, and part of the process. Vincent van Gogh sold a grand total of 1 painting in his lifetime. Steven Spielberg was denied entry into USC’s film school twice. Dr. Suess’ first children’s book was rejected by 27 publishers.
How do you find the confidence and perseverance to mail out that 28th manuscript? I am not sure. I can tell you, as an artist, the compliments often mean little and the criticisms can hurt too much. It takes courage to create. This process makes you stronger. Strong people become leaders, and leaders are infinitely valuable – whether you get a paycheck for it or not. You can use this hard-earned personal value to greatly affect your world.
When you become mindful of what it is like to be a producer, you take this unique worldview with you into your daily consumer life. Did you really like that book you read from that independent author? Send him an email and let him know.
Is there someone on your social media who always goes the extra mile to make you laugh? Don’t just “like” it. Express to them how their efforts make your world a little better place.
Has this column inspired you to flex your dormant creative muscles? Awesome! Maybe then, you could…
Pre-order your copy of Gregory’s new CD, Almost Alive, on iTunes.