For the longest time, I was unwilling to label myself a “creative person.” In my mind, it was pretty simple: If you don’t wear skinny jeans and v-necks and listen to bands no one’s heard of, then you’re not the creative type. End of story.
Everyone is creative because we ourselves are designed. Hand-crafted by the Creator Himself, the perfect author and designer. The Master architect and storyteller.
Accounting is turning the raw material of numbers into a system that rearranges them in a way that is useful to a company—in a way that tells a story.
Engineering takes both natural and man-made resources and rearranges them in a way that heats our homes, cooks our food, and powers our vehicles.
Music is the raw material of sound turned into something beautiful and harmonious.
Gardening takes the raw materials of the earth and rearranges them in a way that bears flowers, fruit, and vegetables.
See? Even the “left-brain” analytical jobs involve creation. Everyone is creative. And every industry that helps promote human flourishing involves creativity.
So enough with the “I’m not creative I’m just a numbers person.” You are creative. Regardless of your passions, interests, major in school, vocation, or whatever. How can we begin to think more deeply about creativity?
Here are four big ideas I think we need to lean into.
1) Vegetarians don’t work at Chick-fil-A.
Up until around 11th grade, I had my sights set on Hollywood. My dream was to attend film school at UCLA and go on to direct high-budget films. I’d been making short films since middle school and enjoyed the process of taking an idea in my head and turning it into an on-screen reality. Despite having a little talent and enjoying the filmmaking process, there was a slight issue at hand. I never went to the movies. Unless it was a film I really really found enticing, I didn’t even like going to see movies. I was like a chef who aspired to cook the perfect filet migon but didn’t care for red meat.
I soon realized that my true passion was not in making films, it was making ideas come to life. That was the real passion behind the passion—the thing that I truly loved. A quick example. Lately, I’ve done a lot of podcasting. It came out of my love for podcasts. During the summer of 2014, I began listening to one each morning on my way to my internship, and out of that love I started doing it myself. There’s a reason why people who are vegan don’t work at Chick-fil-A. You have to love and enjoy what you do.
2) Hard work almost always beats inspiration.
I used to think that creatives were these super touchy feely people with Instagram captions that made you feel inspired to write a novel. Except they’re not. They’re normal people like you and me who wake up, drink coffee, and go to work. Recently, I listened to a talk by Ben Rector on creativity. He said that many people have this idea of creativity as being some sort of gust of inspiration that hits you out of nowhere, as if you either have it or you don’t. But Ben says that’s not accurate. He says that creativity has far more to do with discipline—that it’s a lot like fishing. You have to be patient and you have to do it often if you are going to catch anything. You have to fish every day, even if you don’t particularly feel like it. Many times you never catch anything. But every now and then you come up with a big one.
Jon Foreman is one of my heroes. He’s one of the most creative people I’ve ever witnessed. He writes a song every single day. Most of them never see the light of day. In the same way, I try to write something every single day. Yet I can count on one hand the number of blog posts that I’ve written in a single day, let alone in a single sitting. Very rarely do I get hit with a gust of inspiration that leads to an entire blog being written in under an hour. It’s a process. As I write this, I currently have over 30 half-written blog posts sitting in Evernote. Like Jon’s songs, most of them will never see the light of day. But they serve my ideas and make me better as I continue to write.
3) Study the best, even if it’s not in your field.
One my greatest passions in life is public speaking. I try to study the best speakers out there. But it doesn’t stop there. I study folks who aren’t speakers, but know how to captivate an audience. Entertainers like Michael Jackson who brought unrivaled and irresistible energy to the stage. Though he was a singer and dancer, not a public speaker, there is common ground in delivering a message in an engaging way. I also study comedians like Brian Regan—a master at engaging people and captivating an audience with humor.
I also take inspiration from songs that make me feel a certain type of way. I’ll often hear a song that inspires me and gets me fired up and I’ll think, “How can I speak in a way that brings out that same feeling?” It could be a feeling of reflection. Or of inspiration. Or excitement and enthusiastic motivation.
As I’ve been co-writing my upcoming book with my friend Nick Salyers, I’ve studied not just successful co-author partnerships, but also successful song writing partnerships like John Lennon and Paul McCartney of the Beatles. How did they collaborate? How did they push each other with out clashing too much?
Find inspiration from those not just in your field, but in other types of work as well. I don’t know what the moon-walking equivalent of making an Excel spreadsheet is, but I bet it’s awesome.
4) It takes a community.
Creativity doesn’t happen in a vacuum. It takes a community of people. There’s a reason why people flock to L.A. (and even Atlanta) to pursue film. Or New York to pursue theater or investment banking. Or Nashville to play music. Or Silicon Valley to start a tech company. That’s where the communities are. Being in relationship with people in the same line of work with similar passions help fuel our own creativity. That’s also big reason why nearly every industry around has an annual conference of sorts. It’s even a big reason why Ted exists. It’s not just a platform to give talks and spread ideas, it’s a community of people who are brought together to network and help each other.
I love this article by Jeff Goins called “The Unfair Truth About How Creative People Really Succeed.” Essentially, he argues that it takes more than talent. It takes a community. The encouraging news is that you don’t have to move to one of these cities right away. The internet has made the world a lot smaller and you can start creating wherever you currently are.
Love what you do (whatever that is), work hard, study the best in all types of fields, and do it with a community. When we can embrace these four ideas, I think that many of us will find that we are far more creative than we ever thought.