How well do you know yourself? We put a good amount of time and energy into getting to know others: their kids’ names, where they’re from, what their interests are, etc. But do we put the same amount of energy into getting to know ourselves? We should, because getting to know yourself can help you find your creative voice.
Why we don’t know ourselves
As far as I can tell, there are three big reasons why we don’t know ourselves as well as we should.
- We know the basics. Like I said above, we define “getting to know” someone as learning basic information about their life. But when it comes to our own lives, those basics are second nature to us. That might lead us to believe we already “know” ourselves, when in reality, what we know barely scratches the surface.
- We are afraid. Whether we do it consciously or not, we can sometimes hold ourselves back from digging too deep and getting to know ourselves too intimately, because we are afraid of what we might find. What happens when you have to face your dark side, your biggest weaknesses, or your defining mistakes?
- We don’t know how. Even if you do realize that you don’t know yourself as well as you would like to, how do you overcome the fear and explore your innermost thoughts and feelings?
Why we should get to know ourselves
Clearly, you have to overcome some natural tendencies if you want to get to know yourself. But do you want that? Why should you want that?
For creatives, the answer is pretty simple: getting to know yourself helps you find and use your creative voice.
Your creative voice is the unique spin you put on every creative piece you do. More than anything else, it is what makes your work yours.
Getting to know yourself will help you tap into that creative voice more effectively and apply it to your creative projects. It will help you put a little bit of “you” into everything you create.
Questions to help you get to know yourself
Now that we know why it’s important, let’s talk about how to get to know yourself better. One way is by asking yourself big questions—both philosophical and practical. If you really want to get to know yourself, you should know the answers to these questions.
As you answer these questions, try not to think about what the answers “should” be. The truth is, there are no right or wrong answers to any of these; whatever is true for you is the right answer.
What do you care about?
What are you passionate about? Which tasks on your to-do list actually excite you? What gets you up in the morning? What could you talk about for hours?
It doesn’t matter if your answer is astrophysics or Harry Potter. The point is just to identify some things you love in the name of getting to know yourself better.
If you’re struggling, try taking the Design.org assessment. It can help you narrow down some of the bigger, more abstract concepts that matter to you (like family, career, wealth, etc.) to give you some direction.
What are you afraid of?
Fears guide us just as much as passions do—and sometimes more. Think about the fears you have that hold you back. Common fears I see in creatives are:
- Disappointing others
- Success (yes, many people fear success)
Knowing what you’re afraid of can help you be aware when those fears pop up and prevent your progress. You might also be able to see how your fears are stifling your creative voice.
What inspires you?
Identify the stories, people, or causes that fill your heart with joy. What makes you feel like you could do anything? What makes you want to make a real difference in the world?
Once you’ve answered that question, answer this one: how can you deepen or broaden your experience with those things, so that you can be more inspired, more often? That inspiration is what is going to fuel your creative voice and make your work feel more fulfilling.
What motivates you?
Think of this question as a more practical one. What actually motivates you to start working or to be creative? What gets you into gear on any given day? It could be meeting a deadline, earning a paycheck, setting an example for others, being a leader, hitting a personal goal or career milestone, etc.
Answering this question can help you leverage that motivation, deliberately accessing it in order to push you forward.
What are your work habits?
Another practical question, this can help you know when you are most likely to feel creative. Do you prefer to do your creative work first thing in the morning, or late at night? Do you work best when you do small amounts of work at a time, or when you dive deep? What work environment brings out your creative side? When do you take breaks, and for how long?
Getting to know yourself by identifying your work habits will help you pay attention to when your creative voice is speaking out. It will help you listen to it more. And it will help you be more creative and productive as you build your days around your creative high points.
Other ideas that will help you get to know yourself and find your creative voice
Asking yourself these big questions can help you get to know yourself and find your creative voice, but there are some other things you can try too.
Start an inspiration board of your own work.
What are you really good at? What is your unique style? These can be hard questions to answer on the fly. That’s why it might help to gather your work and start an “inspiration board” featuring your very own work. This could be works of art you’ve created, designs you’ve done, phrases you’ve written, etc. If you’re a musician, you could even create an “inspiration playlist” full of your favorite pieces.
This will help you see the commonalities and strong points of your own work. You’ll start to see patterns emerge that will help you see that you do have a clear creative voice—which you can then use to create in the future.
Ask for feedback.
Feedback can be hard to swallow, whether it is criticism or praise. But if you are willing to accept feedback from people you trust, it can help you see things you might not have seen on your own.
Let other people tell you what they think your strengths and weaknesses are, or what they think is unique about your creative voice. Check what they say with what you have observed. Use your own observations, combined with those of others, to get a clearer picture of your creative self.
Keep a journal.
I can’t tell you how many creative ideas I’ve had that I thought I was going to remember … and of course, forgot. Even our best creative moments can be forgotten if we don’t document them.
Keeping a creative journal can help you track your creative thinking and progress. Write down your creative ideas. Track your setbacks. Document the highs and lows of your projects. You can also use your journal to process the many emotions that come with creative work.
Don’t just write in your journal—read it often, too. Go back and remember the thoughts and feelings you had at different times in your creative career. This will help you really get in touch with your creative self so you become familiar with your creative voice.
Think back to your childhood.
Most creatives were also creative as kids—maybe even more so. What sorts of things inspired you when you were little? What did you enjoy creating? How did that creativity make you feel? Thinking back to your childhood can help you tap into a truer, more raw version of your creativity, before the cynicism of adulthood kicked in. It’s a great way to get to know a creative voice that has maybe been lying dormant.
Getting to know yourself can be a powerful tool as you work to find your creative voice. You don’t need to be afraid to get to know yourself; trying to hide from it won’t change who you are. Instead, embrace the opportunity to get to know yourself better. Deliberately search for the answers to the questions discussed earlier. Spend time getting to know yourself, and discover the creative voice within. It will help you as you strive to create a happy, meaningful life.
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