Something you probably wouldn’t guess about me: I am fascinated by shows where perky quilters or fuzzy painters whip up a masterpiece for the cameras in 30 minutes or less. Why? Because it affirms my belief that you don’t have to force creativity — it can flow out of you like water, on demand.
I know, I know — you’re smirking in doubt. That’s because you don’t know the secret to being creative.
Lucky for you, I discovered it by accident and I don’t mind sharing.
The secret to on-demand creativity
The key lies in forgiveness. Or as Bob Ross would say, letting your mistakes be “happy accidents” that lead you to something new and beautiful.
Every time you try something and it fails, you have two options. No. 1: Stop what you’re doing and obsess about what went wrong. Or No. 2: Improvise until you can work that mistake into the fabric of what’s already in progress.
As event planners, we do this whenever we juggle last-minute details, frustrations, flops and surprises. Somehow we manage to work miracles behind the scenes that our attendees never notice. Sometimes these improvisations even make the events better. Mistakes and crises are just part of what we deal with at work. We accept them, incorporate them and move on.
Do you allow that attitude to trickle over into other areas of your life? Or do you stifle your personal creative potential?
Breaking the inner critic
From as far back as I can remember, I wanted to be a writer, actress and artist. But by my teen years I was frustrated with my artistic output. In my head being an artist meant that I had to paint or draw like an old master. Finally, I set aside some time during my junior year of high school to do an independent study class on painting so I could get to the bottom of what I thought was wrong with me artistically.
One Saturday, I set down to paint some clouds and immediately became angry with myself. Nothing I was doing looked like the sky I saw. I felt inadequate. I clearly didn’t know what I was doing. I sulked. I didn’t have the proper training.
Finally, after a half-hour of painting and then painting over mistakes, I just covered the whole canvas with a layer of black paint.
I must be the worst painter in the world, I thought. And then something clicked. I started to laugh. If indeed I was the worst painter, then why was I trying to paint a perfect picture? Instead, I should try to see how bad I could be.
For the next six hours, I had a blast. Every time my hand did something “wrong,” I found a reason for that mark on the canvas to be there. Whenever I felt internal resistance, I forced myself to go further in the direction I instinctively felt was “incorrect.” As a result, I discovered a way to express myself as an artist that was uniquely mine. I learned how mistakes were really just happy accidents that opened up new possibilities. I broke my inner critic and freed my creativity.
I believe the secret to being creative is forgiving yourself in advance for not being perfect and trusting that anything thrown your way can be useful. Existing in that state of openness means you don’t have to wait to be inspired: Everything that surrounds you can be a source of inspiration.
And if all else fails, laugh at yourself. Sometimes that’s the only breakthrough you need.