I started an affair a month ago – with my own creativity. At least, it feels like an affair because being honest and open about my creativity has been something frowned upon and discouraged by most people in my life. Due to this, my recent discovery of a long-lost love of creativity somehow feels dirty, or like I’m doing something wrong. That’s why I’m referring to it as my affair – my creativity affair.
In my case, my own creativity has always been centered on the written word. Writing has always been my passion, ever since I can remember. As a child in elementary school, I was creating and writing chapter books from early ages. As I got older, in my teenager years, I was so certain and confident in my calling, that I can remember actually having the gall to email the Chicago Sun Times to let them know that one day I was going to work for them – ‘Just a quick heads up! Heyo!’
I was that confident because the passion I had for writing was stronger than anything else I knew. Nothing even came close in comparison. Nothing else mattered to me and I had no doubt in my mind that I was born to be a writer and journalist.
Yet, throughout every step of my academic career, I came head to head with constant disapproval about this chosen career path from teachers, advisors and family members. Despite the fact that I always had A’s in my English classes and near perfect scores on the English standardized tests (even a perfect 36 on the English section of the ACT), no one ever supported my desire to pursue writing as an actual career choice. Despite the fact that my short stories and poems were nearly always accepted or approved for publication when submitted to contests through school competitions, no one ever encouraged me to follow this course in life, regardless of my own confidence and love for it.
“You’ll never be able to support yourself,” was the main argument that I heard time after time again, even from my biggest should-be advocates. Instead, they always offered parallel suggestions, something similar but not quite the same. In their eyes, a better career path for me.
Sir Ken Robinson explains this phenomenon perfectly in his TEDTalk called “How Schools Kill Creativity.” He says, “We are educating people out of their creative capacities… I believe this passionately, that we don’t grow into creativity, we grow out of it. Or rather, we get educated out of it.”
In high school, I excelled in my journalism class. After all, writing and chasing a good story was always my affinity. I would even venture to say I was my journalism teacher’s favorite student for the three years I was in her class and that my name would still resonate with her to this day, over 10 years later. And likewise, my journalism teacher was an amazing source of inspiration and a huge role model for me, even if she didn’t realize it at the time. I respected and admired her tremendously and she was one of my most trusted advisors. Yet she continually pushed me away from writing, just as everyone else in my life seemed to do. She suggested that I pursue graphic design, the most popular alternative parallel career path offered to me, as it would still allow me to be creative, yet in their opinion, it would make me a better living than writers make.
Therefore, I became the Design Editor for our high school yearbook during my Junior and Senior years. Admittedly, I was good at it. I understood the psychology and technical skill behind a good page layout. I could pick and choose the content and photos to fit the story appropriately and make it all look and flow beautifully. I even went on to win national awards for my design layouts, and our high school yearbook itself won national awards both years that I was Design Editor. Regardless of these successes, graphic design was never something I was particularly passionate about. I was good at it, yes, but I never loved it the way I loved writing and words.
Ken Robinson goes onto to say the following in his TedTalk, “If you think of it, the whole system of public education around the world is a protracted process of University entrance. And the consequence is that many highly talented, brilliant, creative people think they’re NOT, because the thing they were good at at school wasn’t valued or was actually stigmatized.”
When it came time for my own entrance into the University world, I knew I was really good at two things: writing and graphic design. However, I’d spent the majority of my high school years building and promoting my skills of graphic design, encouraged by my teachers and family as a viable career path. I had the awards to show for the graphic design, while my writing had never been encouraged by anyone, so it had been cast aside.
By the time I applied to college, I still had dreams of going the journalism route, and so I applied to a handful of schools for both journalism and graphic design. While I received acceptance into all of them, two acceptances came along with full academic scholarships: The University of Missouri, Missouri School of Journalism, long considered one of the top journalism schools in the world, and The Art Academy of Cincinnati for Visual Communications, a fancy way of saying graphic design.
The choice was mine and I chose the latter. It was the safe option after years of having it hounded into me from everyone I knew that I could not possibly have a successful or sustainable life and career as a writer or a journalist. So, I accepted the offer to attend The Art Academy of Cincinnati and pursue a formal career in Visual Communications, the fancy way of saying graphic design.
I don’t regret my decision, I don’t regret a thing. How could I possibly with how my life has unfolded? I am happily married with two amazing daughters, a successful business that provides a stable and profitable life (a business neither related to graphic design or writing). None of which would have happened if I had chosen differently.
Yet lately, I still can’t help but wonder how things might have been different had I gone the other route and attended the journalism school for writing. At The Art Academy of Cincinnati, I never quite fit in with the mindset and student body that the school catered to. I would say I wasn’t “Artsy” enough. The school had no writing programs or anything available to me to pursue my passion. I spent four years there feeling like a fish out of water, and that I never truly belonged. I was a misfit and an outsider the entire time. It’s because I never loved anything I was doing there the way I loved writing. I was just okay at graphic design, but it was never my passion and it was always just work to me. My true passion had been squandered away.
For many years I was bitter about my experience at the Art Academy of Cincinnati because it had been such a bad experience for me. Yet as time passes and I grow older and gain perspective, I realize that the problems I experienced there were just as much my fault and deep-rooted within myself, that I am just as much to blame. That school never stood a chance with me, and I never stood a chance there. It was all wrong for me from the very beginning and I never would have succeeded or excelled in that environment. I never should have been there in the first place.
In fact, my experience at the Art Academy of Cincinnati was so bad that I shunned all forms of creativity out of my life for nearly a decade after I graduated. I just shut it down and shut down my right brain completely. The thought of using it and the thought of being creative made me sick to my stomach. Up until that point in my life, I had always been a right-brained, creative person, but by the time I graduated college, I was so turned off with what that art-school environment had turned “creativity” into that I could not stand to consider myself a creative person any longer. I hated the idea of associating myself with that.
Therefore, after college, I threw myself into an entirely new world and industry, an industry of using analytical, left-brained thinking and living in the corporate world of real estate. In school, I had never excelled in math or numbers, yet suddenly, I realized that when I applied myself to it and had been using my left brain for some time, that I could figure out even the most complex equations easily. Numbers were always so difficult for me in school, and then one day, they seemed so effortless to understand and solve. I became the most analytical, left-brained person I never thought I could be.
This once colorful, optimistic, and beautiful world I had known as a younger creative, right-brained person suddenly turned into this black and white, cold and anxious existence. Instead of words, images or ideas playing a main role in my visionary, numbers, laws and rules came to the forefront of my mind as I entered this corporate world. And you know what? I was really good at that world too, some would even say, one of the best. I was miserable and anxious, scared and tired all of the time, but I was damn good at being an analytical, numbers, left-brained, corporate person too. I succeeded beyond my wildest measures. I realized I could do anything if I wanted to. Then, I realized I could do anything, even if I never wanted to, even like excelling in this cold, analytical corporate world.
One of my favorite quotes from New York Times best-selling author, Elizabeth Gilbert goes like this, “Your home is whatever in this world you love more than you love yourself.”
What I’ve realized this past month, during my love-affair with creativity is that writing is my home. It always has been and it always will be, despite the obstacles I’ve faced in learning this about myself. Perhaps in thanks to the obstacles I’ve faced.
My entire life all I’ve ever wanted to do is write, yet every step of the way, I’ve always been told by advisors, teachers, friends and family that I can’t do it, that no one makes a living as a writer, so don’t even bother trying. If I look back on my life right now and I look at all of the things I’ve tried that I never loved, that I was never passionate about or even cared about and what I did with those things, I realize that I still succeeded.
So I’m left with the question of wondering, what would the end result be if I set the same drive and dedication to pursue something that I actually did love, care about, and was passionate about? What could the results be? What are the possibilities?
It’s scary to think about failure, but to me, it’s even scarier to think about not even trying at all and losing something amazing that could have been, out of fear of trying in the first place. Because we never know if we never try.
I’m finally to a point in my life where I don’t need anyone else’s permission anymore but my own. And I’m giving it to myself. I’m ready to try.
I’m ready to go home. I’m ready to write.