Creativity Is Our Birthright

Limiting beliefs about what we call "creative" stifles expression.

Posted Oct 18, 2012

When I was in nursery school, a teacher told my mother there was something wrong with me because I made pictures, and not towers, with my building blocks. Thankfully, my mother, an artist in her own right, had the good sense to find me another school that nurtured children's creativity.

Perhaps that’s why I’ve always had a proud creative streak. Yet I realize how easily it could have gone the other way. What if my mother had believed the teacher? How many mothers would have unwittingly squashed their child’s imagination for fear of straying from the norm? How many do?

Like most human qualities, creativity appears to be a product both of nature and nurture. Everybody has a little creativity and lot of creative potential. The degree to which people are able to tap into and express their imaginations accounts for individual differences.

Broadly defined, creativity is bringing something new into existence. As human beings, it’s practically our birthright. Every day, we wake up to a blank canvas with a wide range of colors, textures, and shapes at our disposal. From choosing what clothes to wear to preparing breakfast, each tiny decision sculpts our experience of the world. (Heck, we can even create other human beings!)

“Ah,” you might say, “how dare you compare the Sistine Chapel to an omelet!” And there lies the problem: I’m not. Too often, basic creativity gets confused with value judgments like “gifted” and “genius.” While these judgments and categories have their place, especially in terms of inspirational capacity, they can also lead to limiting scripts that block creativity.

By scripts, I mean the stories we make up about our identities that usually originate in childhood. Parents and other caregivers are usually the primary source of our scripts. If we were computers, parents would be our programmers and scripts would be our software.

Examples of scripts that stifle creativity include the following:

“I am not a creative person.”

The problem with this script is that it presumes there are creative people and non-creative people, when really we are all people with varying degrees of creative potential. What determines the expression of potential is the desire and courage to develop it. While some apply their potential to writing and painting, others apply it to scientific equations and working with people. Even Einstein considered himself an artist of sorts, stating “I am enough of an artist to draw freely upon my imagination.”

“I am not creative enough.”

To paraphrase this statement, “If I can’t paint like Picasso, I won’t bother painting at all.” This script is too wrapped up in value judgment about whether their creations will be good enough to be judged worthy by others, or an even tougher critic, oneself. It denies the value of creativity for its own sake, and can bring much frustration, disappointment, and unexpressed joy.

So if any of these scripts sound familiar, there’s good news. You can still rewrite them. Start by noticing the small, subtle ways you shape the storyline of your day. Observe how the choices you make can take your plotline in various directions. Once you discover the power to reimagine your daily existence, you’ll realize that creativity is all about shifting perspective.