Certain things we tell ourselves as we grow up get us nowhere.
Afriend of mine is a highly esteemed educator and success coach. Last week, she began an interesting conversation on Facebook:
“I’m not creative”
I hear this a lot. Interested in hearing what this makes you think or feel.
As it turns out, people had lots of thoughts. Some folks felt it was not only relatable but true.
Others likened it to those who say, “I’m not good at math.”
A lot of comments mentioned the disconnect that lies in the way we define creativity. Many people use ‘artistic’ and ‘creative’ interchangeably, and when they do so they are mostly thinking about visual art.
While visual artists must undoubtedly use their creativity, such arts and crafts are not the only endeavors where we might stretch our creative muscles.
I agreed with most everything the others said about the matter and then I added my own two cents:
This is such an adult thing to say. Far too many people grow up and grow out of trying new things or simply practicing the joy of creativity.
Everybody is creative in some way. But they have to let themselves enjoy the creative process and quit worrying about the end results.
This entire question of creativity got me thinking. What other lies do we tell ourselves to feel more responsible or grown-up?
“I’m nobody special.”
“Who do you think you are” is such a small yet powerful question, and we often hear it used sarcastically. It goes hand-in-hand with the notion that we are (obviously) nobody special.
But most kids grow up hearing from somebody that they are special. Even if it’s only heard on PBS, healthy self-esteem is usually seen as a positive trait for children.
The dynamic shifts, however, as we enter into adulthood. Special is suddenly no longer healthy or true.
Instead, we repeat older, supposedly more mature mantras like “nobody’s perfect” and then we look down upon those who dare believe themselves to be something special.
Grownups have a problem understanding how everybody could be special if nobody is better than another. We can’t wrap our minds around the idea that everybody might be some sort of winner, or that imperfect people could still be perfectly good.
Often, it seems easier to tell ourselves that nobody is special. We can make better sense of that.
Perhaps we can recall being taught that we were special or good at something when we were a child. Then, we grew up and discovered that other people were good at that thing too. Some were even better than us.
The disappointment and rejection as adults might seem more manageable if we set the bar intentionally low and refuse to believe that we are special in any way.
“I can’t do what I want to do.”
Grownups often get so excited when children have big dreams for their future. What do you want to be when you grow up? We ask the question with excitement and then eagerly await their fanciful answers.
Like lion tamer. Firefighter princess. Artist, baseball player, marine biologist, or President — no dream is too big for our kids.
But for us? It’s different. We don’t get to do what we really want to do because we’ve got responsibilities and of course, bills to pay. Who’s got the time or resources to follow their dreams?
Not I, each of us sigh.
If anything, it’s a collective out. A way to say that life would be different if only our circumstances would change. Oh well, there’s a certain amount of safety in denying our dreams.
At this rate, we’ll never have to risk anything all.
“I’m too late.”
This is something I’m beginning to hear more often as I get closer to 40. It’s a way to hold onto our regrets in a sort of dreamy and romantic way.
Oh, nostalgia. If only we were still 19. If only we’d had this opportunity when we were younger. But we didn’t and alas, it is now too late.
This lie gets us out of thinking too deeply or solving our problems in new ways. It’s so easy to let this lie take over our whole life. We’re too old to be happy. Too old to make a difference. Too old to even try.
We’re simply too late.
And that excuse works for virtually anything. Want a better life? Well, you can’t teach an old dog new tricks.
“I can’t rock the boat.”
It doesn’t matter what or whom you fear. Most of us grow up to fear something and in some way, we all fear to make waves and attract the wrong kind of attention.
For some adults, it’s about maintaining the status quo. For others, it’s about obedience to their family or religion.
The “thing” is not necessarily the issue. It’s the fact that we often grow up believing that we cannot rock the boat. And it’s a tragedy because children are usually equipped with the gumption to do their own thing.
It’s not until kids learn shame for not following some script (be it cultural, religious, or whatever) that they grow up afraid to swim upstream.
Innovation often requires the ability to go against the grain and keep trying regardless of the insults the naysayers might throw.
Have you grown up believing that you’ve got to fit into some box? You’re not alone. This is such a common belief for many adults.
But it simply isn’t true.
“I would look stupid.”
Much like rocking the boat, we’re often afraid of what others might think of us. As children, we might have laughed, danced, and played without shame, but it’s different for us grownups.
Whereas children can be blissfully unaware, we are increasingly aware of what is and isn’t done. We fail to follow our hearts in so many ways on so many days just because we’re convinced that our efforts would make us look like fools.
Worries over looking stupid are so strange. They trick us into valuing the wrong things and even silencing our inner voice. And for what?
To simply not stick out like a sore thumb, right?
As if that’s the most important thing.
We don’t want to stand out and look different if we’re not sure how the rest of the world will take it.
These lies keep us in cages.
In my favorite film adaptation of Mansfield Park, the “villain” of the story gets to shine in a stirring scene where he reads this excerpt with a quiet passion:
In my return back through the passage, I heard the same words repeated twice over, and looking up, I saw it was a starling hung in a little cage. “I can’t get out! I can’t get out!” said the starling.
I stood looking at the bird; and to every person who came through the passage it ran fluttering to the side towards which they approached it, with the same lamentation of its captivity. “I can’t get out!” said the starling.
“God help thee!” said I, “but I’ll help thee out, cost what it will;” so I turned about the cage to get to the door; — it was twisted and double twisted so fast with wire, there was no getting it open without pulling the cage to pieces. I took both hands to it.
The bird flew to the place where I was attempting his deliverance, and thrusting his head through the trellis, pressed his breast against it as if impatient.
“I fear, poor creature,” said I, “I cannot set thee at liberty.”
-The Starling, by Laurence Sterne
Often, we are a little bit like the mournful starling. We grow up and may find ourselves in cages, begging others to let us out. “I can’t get out,” we cry.
As if it’s up to others, or our circumstances to step in and save us.
When we grow up to believe the lies: I’m not creative, I’m not special, I can’t do what I want, I’m too late, I can’t rock the boat, and I’d look stupid, we give up our own magic and agency to get remarkable stuff done.
Who would we be if we didn’t believe the lies?
What could we accomplish?
We would create miracles if we would just break free from these lies that hold us back from our power.
That’s why the most successful people don’t worry about going their own way. They are willing to believe in their own unique gifts without worrying about what’s popular.
So, what will it take for you to believe in yourself too?