As we grow up we lose our creativity, much as runners loses strength and speed as we age. As a child we aren’t limited by knowledge or practicality. We know what we like and what we don’t, and, naturally, we pursue the things we like and avoid those we don’t. However, as we get older, and “wiser,” our knowledge and understanding of the world begins to limit us.
Over time, we get caught up in the practicality of things. We have bills to pay and need a stable job to support that. We learn that we need to allocate certain amounts of time to spend with family and friends, because maybe that’s what makes us happy, and maybe because that’s just what we feel obligated to do. We learn that, to stay fit and healthy, we have to exercise regularly and eat nutritious foods. Every day we wake up and we have this pre-determined schedule that’s ingrained within us – eat breakfast, go to work, go to the gym, make dinner, go to bed, and get up the next day and do it all over again.
This life leaves little room for creativity, or joy. Of course, some people are naturally more free-spirited than others and have more hobbies or exercise their creative muscles regularly by way of their job, should they be so lucky. But for many of us, myself in particular, creativity evades us on a daily basis.
This is not to say that I don’t like my life, I do. I have a job that I enjoy doing, I have hobbies that keep me healthy and happy, and I have enough money to live a comfortable life. There are times, however, when I wish I had been a bit more daring; I wish I were a dreamer.
When I was younger I loved to write. I was a shy, quiet child, so when we began writing little stories in first grade I was thrilled – I loved it. From then on, I became a “writer.” Or at least that’s how I internally branded myself. I found it easier to communicate my thoughts in writing than to speak them out loud. I loved books, particularly fiction and fantasy where I could get lost in a world that was similar enough to our own that it felt real, but different enough that I could get lost in it. When I was around ten years old I began writing my own stories. I had a notebook where I would write down story ideas and draw pictures of the characters and setting. I had a dream that one day I would write and publish a novel.
Then high school came around. I still enjoyed and excelled at writing, my favorite classes were English and French where I could read and write freely. However, the reality of my future began to set in. I had come to think that I would major in either French or English in college. Maybe I would spend a semester abroad in Paris, drinking espresso and writing poetry at a sidewalk cafe. But, college is expensive. And so is Paris. And English majors aren’t known for making a lot of money.
I found my dream school the minute I stepped on campus, and was accepted early into their Honor’s program. I was thrilled. Still, it was expensive and the reality was that I would have student loans and I’d need a stable job to support myself after graduation. And, to be perfectly honest, I wasn’t sure I could make it as a writer. I didn’t have a defined career path to follow as I writer and I wasn’t sure what I would or could do as a writer after graduation. Plus, it would be competitive and I was terrified of failure.
So, I went with a sure thing and transferred into the business school. Many of my college friends were like me, they had dreams, they liked to write (that’s pretty typical of a college honor’s program), but they were also practical, and going to business school more or less guaranteed a job after graduation. And so, fast forward to now, several years after graduating college, and yes, I have a good job and generally a good life, but I’ve lost my creative edge.
I want to sit down a write most days, but there’s just not enough hours in the day. And many times when I do sit down to write the creative nerve endings in my brain just can’t seem to connect. I think about what I have to do to continue being productive and building a good life for myself. It takes effort to think creatively now, just as it takes effort to run a marathon or become a CFO. And just like our physical muscles, our mental muscles, specifically our creative muscles, begin to deteriorate as we age, and they do so much more quickly and often more rapidly than our physical muscles. However, also like our bodies, we can build our creative muscles if we take the time to exercise them.
And so, here I am, attempting to exercise my creative muscles. I’ve begun trying to write down my thoughts when I become inspired, which I’ve found is much easier said than done. In my head these thoughts flow freely, often when I’m on a run or out walking the dog, but when I sit down to put them to paper I draw a blank. My creative muscles are there, but they are weak. I have to force my self to flex them and put my thoughts on the paper; my paint to the canvas.
Just as I train for a marathon and build physical stamina, I’ve begun to build my creative stamina. I train regularly by doing the things that help to inspire thoughtfulness and day dreams. I look often to nature for inspiration, or to books, and other things that inspired me as a child. I try to think of who I aspire to be, or even who I aspired to be as a first grader when I began writing, rather than confining myself to the box of who I am now.
I am not going to pretend as though my dreams are nearly as big and crazy as they were when I was ten, but they’re also not quite so far out of reach.
Tips for exercising your creative muscles:
- Meditate or do yoga
- Go for a walk and just think
- Journal; write down your thoughts and let them flow freely.
- Paint; build an image from memory, let your mind recall what it would look like, even if it’s not perfect
- Take a dance class or put some music on and just let it flow
- Have a deep and contemplative conversation with friends or family
- Let yourself dream – don’t let reality limit you – what would you be doing if money didn’t matter?
—– some doodles ——
Even if you don’t have a desire to become a professional artist or writer, it’s still important to be in touch with your right-brain. In my full-time job in accounting, arguably the least creative profession, I still have to problem-solve. Creativity helps me to think outside of the box and understand why a journal entry might be off, or the expense is too high.
Creativity also makes me happier. It’s good to have a dream. To not be limited by reality, but think about the potential of what might be so I’m consistently motivated to work hard and put my best foot forward so that one day my dream might be my reality.
What other ways are you creative? Share in the comments below!