In my late 20s, stagnation was how my mental and emotional life would be defined. I had checked a lot of my self-imposed, obligatory, accomplishment boxes:
Corporate Job with a decent salary √
The gaping unchecked box which I refused to acknowledge was the true fulfillment of a life lived on my terms, in alignment with my values. A life that not only left room for creativity and risk taking, but one that celebrated it. I might have laughed at you if you said those exact words to me at the time. That was “fluff.” Fluff didn’t pay the bills to help me continue to check my meaningless achievement boxes.
There I was… so many boxes checked and all I could think was “I’m not happy. Not at ALL”
I did a lot of self-reflection to determine how I arrived at a point where so many goals were accomplished but no joy was felt. I kept coming back to a feeling that I’d lost my imagination, my creativity and my passion. I felt like a robot in the literal and figurative sense; completely drained of any feeling of being alive.
My story is clearly different from yours, but I hope by sharing how I arrived at this stale state of existing but not living, that you can tap into your own experiences. My hope is that you can tap into their influence over your present and how, if not acknowledged as simply experiences (that do NOT define you), it will rob you of your destiny.
My childhood was not void of artistic expression. My mother is an artist, studied art in college, and even founded an Art Masterpiece program at my elementary school to teach kids about art history. I remember finding her classes very interesting but being terrified when it came time to create my own piece based on the movement taught that day. My mother, both naturally adept at and formally educated in fine art, held up her beautiful work for the class to see as an example. Then my friends looked on as I began to draw, paint, or create a collage. Let’s just say the art gene, at least when it came to those mediums, was not strong in my 10 year old self. My stick figures and lopsided brush strokes did not hold a candle to my mother’s creations. Consequently, I came to the conclusion that I was simply not artistic. It never occurred to me that my love for writing and my years of dance training were an equal expression of my natural creativity. I failed to excel or measure up to the standard that I saw before me, and therefore I decided I wasn’t good enough to pursue it in any way.
My road was paved in “safe” choices, and the first brick was laid several years after my last Art Masterpiece class. My family had money problems, as do many. My father lost his job unexpectedly when I was 15 and it rocked the foundation of our family. They were not prepared for this to happen and no back up plan was in place. My parents, being very vocal and almost brutally honest individuals, shared the details of their financial situation with me before I was old enough or mature enough to properly handle that knowledge. There was no ill intent on their part. I genuinely believe they thought that keeping me informed would not only instill a strong work ethic but also ensure that I didn’t make similar mistakes. The problem was that I was a teenager. The grim state of my parents’ situation created an initial sense of panic and then an unshakable determination to pursue a career that was both highly paid and in a secure industry. A switched flipped in my head. I was all business, all logic, all sharp angles… the list of boxes began to form.
This switch marked the murder of my imagination, creativity, and spirit. It’s slowly being brought back to life, but sadly, I allowed the creative, intuitive, expressive fire inside me to lay flickering for so many years. I had convinced myself that my safe financially secure future had no room for creativity. The smart path in life could not possibly involve indulging in the arts or my creative expression in any way. That just wasn’t logical.
It wasn’t until I turned 30 that I realized how stifling my strictly left brain driven existence had become. I was asked during a dinner with colleagues, shortly after finishing business school: “What are your hobbies, Paige? What are you passionate about?” Silence fell over the table. My default answer during school was “Ha, I wish I had time for hobbies.” That excuse was no longer valid. I panicked and the silence felt deafening. Finally my default defense mechanism of cynical sarcasm kicked in and I said “I guess it’ll be nice to have 5 minutes to find some.” This was followed by a few audible laughs, but the woman who asked me the question looked at me with a mix of concern and pity. I will never forget the immediate realization that I had completely lost touch with my passion. I could not think of a single thing in that moment that I did with my time simply because I enjoyed it or felt connected to it. Sure, I had a long list of nonprofits I volunteered for and committees I was a board member of, but these accolades suddenly felt empty. What is it that drove me? What got me out of bed in the morning? What was my purpose? I had ZERO CLUE.
Obviously, we all need to pay bills. We need to do what we can to support ourselves and our families. I am not suggesting that desk jobs, logic, or left brained activities in general are evil. I am simply pointing out that for me the path I took was rooted in fear. I was not happy. I was miserable. I needed to see the light in order to determine if the career path I was on was fulfilling. I also pondered the possibility of doing something I didn’t necessarily love in order to afford doing things on my own time that I did. I know many people who are perfectly content with that type of situation. I, however, was not. I felt the walls closing in on me and I needed to get in touch with my fire again.
I decided to ACT rather than fall into my old habit of analyzing for months or years about this realization. I bought a class pass to a local adult dance studio, I signed up for an online writing workshop, and I am currently on the waiting list for a ceramics class that I am extremely excited about. The journey to reinvigorating my right brain is ongoing. I have good days and bad days. The inner skeptic from decades of stifling my imagination creeps in at times. The difference today is that I am stronger than the critic. I am able to overcome my fears with a middle finger up to that cynical voice in my head.
The first time I stepped into the dance studio after a 12 year hiatus, I felt panic. I used to be a skilled dancer because I spent 2-3 hours per day actively honing that skill. This was a new ball game. My hips and legs felt like those of a tin man for the first minute or two of the warm up. However, I took a deep breath and reminded myself that I wasn’t performing for anyone or competing for a title this time. I started to feel the music and that fire inside me that lay flickering since I was a teenager began to grow. It continues to grow every time I embrace my creative self.
We all need to embrace this side of ourselves in order to achieve balance. If you aren’t sure what form of creative expression lights your fire, I challenge you to try something, ANYTHING! No harm can come from taking a class or logging into Skillshare for an hour. Passions are not necessarily something you are born with, they are developed. Take a chance and embrace your creativity for as the infinitely wise Maya Angelou said:
“You can’t use up creativity. The more you use, the more you have.”