If you are/were anything like me, you might have found or even be finding yourself interested in a lot of various subjects and hobbies-- most of which you're good at. Some call this "dabbling." Maybe you're not amazing at them, but you're alright. And hey, you probably do them just because you like to do them. There's nothing wrong with doing different creative things because you enjoy them.
In my mid-twenties it felt like the people around me always had their "thing"-- you know, like they had always been really good at drawing or photography or fashion. They spent a lot of time doing their one or two activities and were super passionate about them.
But what about me? What about those of us that don't feel particularly drawn to just one or two things, but have the potential to be?
I really struggled to figure it out. I asked myself questions like, What things do I like more than others? What am I really passionate about?
The answers to these questions eventually came, and I will share with you exactly how later. But something that I didn't realize was that my identity was all screwed up, and I started to realize that my confusion in having so many interests was a manifestation of my identity crisis. It seemed that everyone around me was content with their gifts and knew what they were. Me? I was just scattered.
My real problem was that I spent all of this time evaluating myself based off of my surroundings (which are pretty much always fluid and changing) and the people around me who seemed valued because of what they could do. I wanted to feel valuable. I wanted to do something that made me feel valuable because it seemed that those who were doing were more valued, and because then... well... then I could have an identity. It became clear to me over time that if I wanted to know what things to really pour myself into, then I needed to figure out who I was, and none of us can figure out who we are until we understand our value apart from what we do and that our identity is not dependent on what we produce. Period.
In fact, I learned that it is our identity that gives us our value. If we don't let God give us our identity we will never rest in knowing that our identity automatically gives us our value, and we will chase finding our value in what we can produce. Then we will never know ourselves because we don't know God. If I don't think I am valued purely because of the identity that God has placed on me as one of his own, then what I actually believe about God is a lie. It means that I don't truly believe that God's love for me is unconditional and unchanging, and I don't believe that the love of the Creator bestowed on me through his unconditional grace makes me valuable. And if I don't believe that God's love and grace are unconditional and unchanging, then I believe that the Bible is a lie, and I don't truly believe that the sacrifice of Jesus was enough ("once and for all"). See, I knew all of these things, but there really is a huge difference between knowing and believing. Ultimately, these beliefs that I had unknowingly been holding onto demanded some severe repentance. (also see Rom. 8:38-39 (it's all right there))
This was the root of my problem. It's something I still have to remind myself to choose to believe daily. Only then could I find and appreciate for myself my practical gifts.
So how did I decide what interests to seriously pursue and which ones to lay aside as hobbies?
The thought occurred to me one day: Why don't I ask the people who have been in my inner circle what they think? Now, I'm not necessarily advocating that we should only do what other people think we should. No. But I value the input of those who are or have been closest to me.
I created a list of those inner circle people that I have had throughout my lifetime and composed a letter to them. I asked them to take time and consider my practical giftings. Were there things that I was pursuing that I'm not actually that good at? Were there things that I wasn't pursuing that I should be? What things was I doing that I should keep at and grow in?
I asked them to respond separately because I wanted to see what things they were saying that were common between them. What gifts popped up multiple times? Those things are the ones I would pray over as being the one(s) that I took seriously. The others I would just accept as hobbies. As it happened, the same three things popped up as my gifts in the nine responses to the twelve I asked.
There has been so much peace that has come since then. And so much assurance. I love what I'm pursuing with passion, and I love that I can now focus on three instead of on, say, ten.
I hope this can give you some things to think on, to pray about and to be encouraged by. I would love to know your journey into finding your gifts and what you've discovered they are.
Creativity is something that I am convinced all of us share, manifesting itself beautifully in a rainbow-like spectrum of ways. For example, the way you choose to dress, do your make-up, hair, etc. Other ways, like in my case for example, are not just inclusive of the way that I present myself outwardly, but also in my writing style, the way that I compose and edit my photographs, and in the way I like to cook. Everything from fixing a broken pipe to throwing paint on a canvas takes some level of creativity.
But what happens if you reach a point when you're not really feeling challenged creatively anymore? What happens when you start focusing on all of the other people out there doing something similar to you and, in your eyes, better?
I grew up in Portland, Oregon where practically every one of my peers was a budding creative entrepreneur. Have you ever been to Portland? If you have, that statement probably totally makes sense to you. Portland is a place that prides itself massively on local everything. Clothing? Yep. Leather goods? Yep. Food/Coffee? Yep. Intimidating much? Absolutely. Don't get me wrong. I am still convinced that Portland is the greatest place in the entire US of A. As a kid I spent massive amounts of time drawing, painting and writing short stories for the heck of it. As an adolescent all of the way up until after I graduated college I did this kind of stuff. I even threw photography into the mix, but not like... professionally.
But along with the rise of social media platforms like Instagram, Pinterest and even Facebook, my feeling of creative inadequacy rose too. Every time I opened one of those apps I saw someone doing something incredible with their imagination, and suddenly what I had to offer artistically just didn't seem to measure up.
Was/Is that true? Absolutely not.
Am I... Are we... individuals with unique perspectives that no one else can offer?
If you answered "yes" to believing that latter, that's great! But maybe you find yourself in a slump of sorts. Maybe you need a good push to get outside of your own creative comfort zone. Maybe you're wanting a new challenge.
I have been thinking through the things that I have done in the past, or currently do, in order to challenge myself in my own art. Here is what I've come up with, and hopefully you will find these useful:
#1. Take time to reflect. When we moved to Chicago, I left the familiar that is Portland behind. I knew Portland's general style. I even kind of felt moderately creatively suppressed there because it seemed like most people's styles were super similar (people who are generally more into "shades" than "colors" if you catch my drift), and I began wondering if their taste was actually my taste, or if I was just letting myself be persuaded that way. Enter Chicago-- a humongous city with an insanely diverse "everyone has their own style" creativity.
Here's the thing: when I arrived in Chicago it felt overwhelming until I quieted myself and made the effort to identify where I was creatively. Once I identified my strengths (the things I liked about what I produce, and the things I didn't), I was able to look at Chicago and see the differences. I was able to identify the areas in which I wanted to try to grow. What did Chicago have that I needed?
For me, I realized that I lived in a "shade" box. I also realized that there were many areas of creative interest that I had forgotten about like poetry, coffee tasting, and descriptive writing. It wasn't until I met certain people that other areas popped up.
#2. Be brave. You guys, social media can *sometimes* be a huge God-send. We moved to a brand new city and I didn't know a soul. So I decided I had to be proactive if I wanted to break the walls of my comfortable box and try new things. What did that look like? Well, it meant that I had to bite the bullet of my "fear of people" and just get out there.
At the time I had Instagram (and probably will get it again soon, to be honest), so I searched for people in Chicago. If I found profiles I really liked and that pushed my creative button, I messaged them and asked to meet for coffee and donuts (Chicago, for real, has THE BEST donuts). I ended up meeting some great photographers, designers and makers that way. Some of them I met up with semi-regularly and ended up celebrating holidays, birthdays and baby-showers with them. That was one of the best things I did, and you can do it too!
I also discovered that the local church in my neighborhood was hosting an art gallery. I decided to march myself over there and see if they needed help setting up, and sure enough, they did! It was while I was helping set up a display that I ended up meeting two of my most creatively influential people: Michael and Tyler.
As it would happen, Tyler is the #1 head shot photographer in Chicago. He is the type that takes an annual train ride around the US just so he can meet interesting people and write brief "journal" entries about them in whatever book of poetry he's currently holding. Michael is a black and white film photographer, specializing in street photography. When I met Michael, I told him of my interest in photography, after which he immediately invited me to go out street shooting with him, which I did. I have to tell you, it was through that very first experience with him that I learned the most about my camera. It also introduced me to a massive love of street photography (and film). Together, the three of us spent a day using Michael's free Art Museum pass and his collection of vintage film cameras running around taking photos of unsuspecting art appreciators. It is still one of my greatest Chi memories. This brings me to my next point...
#3. Spend time with people that creatively intimidate you. This is a big one, folks. Even if you just spend time around people that creatively intimidate you it will rub off. Trust me. This sort of ties back in with my point about being brave. The fact is, there will always be someone who is better than me (than you) at whatever art we are pursuing. If I want to get better, then I need to spend time with those who are better. That means driving downtown and sitting in the coffee shop with all of those tatted-up, pink-haired baristas and people reading books by Nietzsche. It means going to the modern art museum and actually pondering the seemingly weird statues and paintings. It means finding photographers in your area who's stuff you love, and emailing them to see if they'd be willing to meet you over coffee and talk shop.
I have been doing this recently, actually, with photographers back in Portland (since after the New Year that will be our place of residency for the next bit). I have been getting onto the websites of those photographers whose photos overwhelm me with beauty and (let's just be honest... jealousy) saying, "Hey, I really admire your work. Can I buy you a coffee and get your thoughts on what you do? Maybe even have you critique my work so far?" More often than not, they have replied with a hearty "Yes!"
This leads me to my final point:
#4. Humble yourself. This is hard for us to do as people, and it's especially hard for us to do as artists. It's scary to have another artist look over your website, photos or writing. Although, for many of us, we have already had to overcome the fear of critique in some way if we make our work view-able to the public. But there's something different about having someone else... someone who does what you do, only (in your eyes) better... critique your work. This doesn't, by any means, mean that we have to follow their criticism, but we should certainly listen and process through what they say, taking all, or some, or taking none.
Maybe for you this looks like asking a friend or an acquaintance who perhaps dresses more boldly than you to go shopping with you sometime. Maybe this means asking someone who is passionate about writing poetry to walk through their methods of inspiration with you. Maybe this means emailing a painter you admire to ask how they achieve a certain texture or look with their paint.
Sometimes, these people are super protective of their methods, and that's okay. You will never know unless you ask. But in my opinion, it's far better to create relationships and community through the arts than competition (a reason for which I really admire my friends over at Dapper & Wise).
There's certainly more that could be said on this subject. The ways to improve yourself are endless, whether by taking these tips to heart, reading books on creativity or your particular field of interest, or watching YouTube videos. I appreciate it if you made it this far. If this post has challenged you to get out there, then I am overjoyed! In fact, just going over this in my own head again has helped re-challenge me! Cheers to getting out of our creative comfort zones!