Too many people treat creativity as though it were a fixed trait, like height or eye color. They think, “Either I’m creative, or I’m not.” This leads to two big problems: (1) people who don’t think they are creative believe they never will be, and (2) people who are creative take their creativity for granted. These beliefs are problematic because they ignore one major truth: creativity is a lifelong endeavor.
Creativity is like a muscle
Think of creativity like a muscle. You are born with it. It’s there, and always will be. What varies is how strong that muscle is. And its strength depends on how (and how often) it is used.
Muscles need to be exercised regularly. They need to be pushed to their limits (and just a bit beyond) in order to get stronger. Using them in various ways will fine tune them even more and allow you to use them in a variety of ways. And here’s the key message for today: they have to be exercised throughout your life.
You can’t exercise once and expect your muscles to be as strong as they can be. You can’t exercise for years, stop exercising, and expect the same results. If you want your muscles to be strong for your whole life, then you have to use them—for your whole life.
Creativity is the same. Creativity needs to be exercised, pushed to its limits, and used in various ways. When you do that, it will get stronger and you’ll discover more applications for it. And just like any muscle, creativity is a lifelong endeavor.
It can’t be ignored and strong. It won’t be as strong as it could be if it is used for a few years and then pushed aside.
If you want your creativity to be strong for your whole life, then you have to use it—for your whole life.
Creativity is a lifelong endeavor (for everyone)
Earlier, I mentioned that there are two big problems caused by a fixed mindset about creativity. These problems center around two distinct groups of people. As we discuss creativity as a lifelong endeavor, I want to address each of those groups individually.
To the people who don’t think they are creative
Dear friends who don’t think you are creative, I have one main message for you: you are creative, and you are capable of being more creative.
Creative thinking can’t be fit into a box labeled “Artists.” It isn’t limited to specific professions, personality types, hobbies, or geographical areas. Everyone can be creative, and everyone needs to be creative.
That said, I understand how hard it can be to convince yourself that you can be a creative person, especially if you have been telling yourself for years that you aren’t. So I want anyone in this group to remember three things:
Think of yourself as a child. Did you engage in creative play? Were you a daydreamer? Did you have big, aspirational goals for the future (my 8-year-old self dreamed of being an astronaut, for example)? Thinking about who we were as children can help us remember that we each have some level of built-in creativity.
Now, I don’t want to mislead you: there are definitely people who are naturally more creative than others. But that doesn’t mean they have a monopoly on creativity. Do not tell yourself that you aren’t creative or can’t be creative. That is a lie that will hold you back.
Your creativity is waiting to come out.
Creativity serves many purposes in life. It helps us solve problems, feel and express emotion, and get more in touch with ourselves. It brings your life to life.
What I’ve found over years in creative fields is that most creativity is itching to come out. It is just waiting for an outlet that will allow it to break free and accomplish what it is meant to accomplish. Your creativity can serve a profound purpose in your life, if you will just let it.
Your creativity may manifest itself in different ways.
If you struggle with creative thinking, you may just need to realize that creativity manifests itself in a variety of ways. You don’t have to be a free-spirited, artsy type to benefit from creativity. You just have to be willing to look at things from different perspectives, be open to new experiences, and let creativity work for you and your life.
Creativity is a lifelong endeavor. It isn’t something that is out of your reach. You can have it, and you will have it, if you want it and work for it. And if you keep wanting it and working for it, it will stick around and benefit your life for years to come.
To the people who think they are already creative
As hard as it is to help people who don’t think they’re creative, it is just as hard, in some ways, to help people who believe they are “already” creative and so don’t need to do anything to work their creative muscles.
If this is you, I want to first applaud you for owning your creativity. That’s no small feat, and it’s wonderful that you are confident enough to step up and say, “I am creative.”
I also want to say that no matter how creative you are, that creativity can and will slip through your fingers if you don’t continue to exercise it. Like a muscle, it will atrophy if not used properly and often.
Here are three things I want people in this group to remember:
No one “solves” creativity.
Creativity is not a question with a single, clear cut answer. It is not a problem with a simple solution. No one can “figure it out” and then never have to “figure it out” again.
Creativity means different things to different people at different times. How you use your creativity today may not be how you use it tomorrow. That’s why it’s important to recognize creativity as a lifelong endeavor—so you will keep working at it and applying it to the different stages in your life. Don’t think you’ve solved creativity; it doesn’t work that way.
You are constantly evolving.
Again, creativity is very personal. How you use it depends on your emotions, your circumstances, and your desires. And guess what? Those things are constantly changing, because you are constantly changing.
You are not the same person you were yesterday, and you’re definitely not the same person you were a year ago, or five years ago. You are growing and evolving, always. Make sure your creativity is growing and evolving with you. If you don’t, you might reach a point where you feel like your creativity doesn’t serve you anymore.
Your creativity isn’t a given.
I say this with a little bit of tough love: your creativity isn’t a given. The fact that creativity isn’t a fixed trait works both ways: people who think they don’t have it can build it, and people who think they do have it can lose it. Not that it will disappear entirely, but your access to it will diminish, so much so that you’ll feel like you’ve lost your creative spark.
The most common way I see this happen is when people take their creativity for granted. That might mean not using it enough, ignoring it entirely, or using it in the same ways over and over again (without challenge or innovation).
Creativity can also slip away as a result of life circumstances. Things like stress and overwhelm can make you less likely to use your creativity, as can mental health struggles or a lack of self-confidence.
Why it happens isn’t as important as recognizing that it can happen, even to the most creative people. If you want to prevent your creative muscles from getting out of shape, you have to keep exercising them.
Whether you think you aren’t creative or you’ve been taking your natural creativity for granted, creativity is a lifelong endeavor, and it needs to be treated as such. Fight to build and/or maintain your creativity. Don’t give up on it or assume you’ve cracked the creative code. Keep working to exercise your creative muscle. That is the only surefire way to be as creatively strong as you want to be.
Start down a more creative path today.
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