Liberation: six steps to set your creativity free

Does your thinking always default to “fault?” Are you trapped in an endless game of “gotcha” with yourself?  Have you imprisoned your creative spirit in a cage of self doubt? As someone who expects perfection out of myself I can relate to the fears and desire to overachieve and exceed expectations that hold creative people back.  I recently read an excellent article on letting go by Tony Schwartz that got me thinking about how we can set ourselves free of things that don’t serve our highest self in order to make room for the things that do.  Sounds like a scary proposition- but it’s not.  What it is is nothing short of liberation.  Just as fear of failing can immobilize us and keep us stuck in a rut, letting the perfect be the enemy of the good causes us to aim low, and apologize for taking chances.  It causes that judge and jury in our heads to consistently level a guilty verdict. This is my list of six common creative prisons and recommendations for breaking out:

Shackled to the past
Maybe it took you a while to really get the hang of model building, or a design program.  Maybe you got some harsh criticisms of your work.  Maybe that first internship was a bit rocky as you learned the ropes.  Maybe, just maybe you learned from all of this and are now competent.  However, you got used to viewing yourself as inexperienced and mistake prone.  That self-image no longer is a true representation of the architect you are today.  Like the person who’s conquered a lifelong weight problem, and can’t stop seeing themselves as fat, you are locked inside your initial years as a fledgeling architect. Re-write your resume, update your LinkedIn profile, do something to affirm the architect you are today and keep celebrating that in order to change your self image so that you can feel empowered to make decisions from the point of view of who you are, not who you were.

Confined by busywork
No one ever says on their deathbed that they wished they’d worked more.  If anything they probably wished they’ed enjoyed life more and made more of an impact.  No, you can’t blow off deadlines, but you can prioritize.  Are you letting your to-do list be your excuse?  Whether it’s deadlines at work or personal projects, not giving yourself permission to move forward is not only silly, but it makes you feel so uninspired that you probably won’t actually get all those tasks done anyway.  You eat a pie one bite at a time.  At the beginning of each day, look at what parts of your life goals you can accomplish on that day.  It may be a single task and that’s fine because it advanced your agenda.  Contract, distill and excel.  When you say no to the expansive opportunities before you in order to scratch off some (insignificant in a global view) task, you are really saying no to your own expansion.

Locked into Entitlement
Do you brood about what’s not right or not fair in your career?  The client who treated you poorly, the promotion you didn’t get?  Do you beat yourself up over every real or imagined misstep?  The root of those feelings is an unyielding and harsh view of yourself as all or nothing.  Like a teenager, you believe that you deserve certain things and that life is lived at the extremes of always and never.  As your mother probably told you then, “life’s not fair.”  She was right.  Life’s not just about you.  The people you interact with have their own motives- you are far better served when you focus on understanding them because what really matters is the result and how you respond to a situation, not all the things that happened along the way to cause it.

Energetically in Isolation
You might think you took the high road by not telling your boss off, or giving that unappreciative client a lecture on the value of your service.  But you are still holding on to the resentment and it colors all of your future interactions not only with the individual in question but with others in your professional and private life as well.  Realize that by being non-confrontational, you are choosing to make yourself invisible- no wonder you aren’t on these people’s A-List.  Think about your passion for what you do as a ball of energy that lives at your core.  The more expansive the energy, the further out the glow extends.  Other people are attracted to that glow and want to work with you.  The greatest architects have such expansive energy that people will crowd into lecture halls to hear what they have to say, buy their monographs and wish they could work for or with them.  When you can’t let go of all of your resentments or regrets, you diminish your energy.  Think about that glass-half empty colleague or friend  How drawn to that person do you (or clients) feel?  Then realize that, at times, we are all that person.  Choose to be aware of when you are letting your anger, doubts and fears diminish your energy.  Then take steps to let go.  Stop suppressing your emotions and instead think about whether you actually made your point of view heard.   Calmly and with an open mind approach the person and ask them to recount their decision/actions from their point of view.  You may be surprised at what you learn.

On the chain gang of Trying Too Hard
Are you trying to make your clients like you more by practically wiping their noses for them?   Score points with your boss by being a workaholic?  Being a doormat diminishes your expertise and loses any respect people will have for you.  A project is a partnership and all involved have to understand their roles and responsibilities.  Decisions and directives (or lack of them) have consequences.  Don’t try to sweep client driven issues or office problems under the rug and cheerfully try to compensate by doing others work for them.  So often, we try to just make our situation work and do it all. You never want to put yourself in a position of being held accountable for an outcome in an areas where you have no responsibility. Your boss and your client’s main objective is to have a successful project.  If they aren’t giving you what you need to accomplish this, the greatest service you can provide is one of coaching them on how they can help make the outcome a success. 

Rotting in the dungeon of the Status Quo
What’s good for General Bullmoose is not necessarily what’s good for you.  If you are trying to live up to the expectations of your family, co-workers, society, you are engaged in conformance.  Conformity erodes creativity.  I am not suggesting that you have to be an angry, angry artist who rejects the world in order to be successful.  I am telling you that you need to know yourself and make decisions because they are right for you.  Unfortunately, we’re all likely to hit cruise control when we feel that our lives are basically going in a good direction.  It usually takes some disruptive event to create a breakthrough.  Why?  Because being shaken out of your status quo stupor makes you refocus on what really matters to you.  In the disruptive state, you reject limits and question rules.  Make bold, purposeful moves in your life and you will fail, but you will also succeed beyond your wildest dreams.    When you take actions with purpose, not just because you can or should, miracles can happen.
Who caged your creativity? Who cares?  What’s important to remember is that you hold the key to your own creative freedom. Unlock your own liberation.