Creativity and Fear: Conjoined Twins

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While on maternity leave with Baby #2, I was listening to a Rob Bell podcast where he interviewed Elizabeth Gilbert, author of “Eat, Pray, Love.”  (If you have some time, I highly recommend listening to it here.)

During their conversation, Gilbert said several things that really struck a chord with me, but the loudest thing that rattled around in me was something she said about creativity and fear:

Don’t try to kill the fear because fear and creativity are conjoined twins.  If you want to live a creative life, then you’ll have to make a lot of space for fear.  One of the ways I see people kill their creativity is by trying to kill their fear. Because it’s so discomforting for them to experience it and they don’t want to have it, they don’t do the things that make them scared– and then they don’t get to have creative, curious, inventive, interesting, expanded lives.  It’s really worth it to have the fear so you can have the creativity. You just have to create a big enough internal, expansive space so that they can coexist.

This makes so much sense to me.  For as long as I can remember, I’ve wanted to write.  I still want to write.  But not just casually or flippantly.  Purposefully.  Compellingly.  Beautifully.  And with those ideals comes fear.  What does it mean if I write and the writing doesn’t have those qualities?  What if no one notices or cares?  What if what I think is compelling and beautiful is flat and boring to others?  Fear.  And then there is the part of the podcast where Gilbert talks about fear wearing lots of disguises.  One of mine is busyness.  I wrap myself up in a to-do list so that it saves me from my most fear-inducing (but life-giving) activities.  (Hence the loooooooong absence of activity on this blog.)  But here I am again, trying to create a space–  however cramped it may be in the beginning –for my conjoined twins.  Because I do not want to live my life without creativity.

I recently went through a leadership development program which emphasizes self-authorship and growth as a means to elevated leadership.  On the last day of the program, we were directed to write “our story.”  It was rather open ended, but was to be somewhat directed at the growth we had experienced during the time in the program.  At the end of the day, we read our stories out loud to the other participants.  As I attempt to sketch out mine, I didn’t like it.  I felt sure it hadn’t accurately communicate my “a-ha!” moments and emotions… the ideas and goals I was walking away with… the place I had come from.  But time ran out, and the moment of vulnerability arrived.  At approximately four sentences in, I started crying.  I was surprised even as it happened.  I thought, “Woah.  Turns out these were the words I meant after all.”  And in the spirit of creating that space, of living with both fear and creativity, I want to share again – this time with you.  Here’s what I had to say:

Hi, my name is Emily and I’ve spent life earning “it.”  You name it, I’ve striven for it.  The grade.  The position.  The praise.  The peace.  The relationship.  The love.  But what I’ve really wanted…  What I actually wanted from a very young age, is to be understood.  Understood, and then valued just in that space of knowledge without my effort.  I wanted to be myself– flaws and all –and be “gotten.”  And cherished.

But funny enough, all that earning I did but resented, I then put onto those around me.  “Earn it.  Do it right.  Pull it together.”  And so, I perpetuated a cycle.  A cycle I’m determined to break.

I experienced conditional love.  I was given the impression that my gifts were not as valuable as others’.  And my defense mechanism was to teach others the same.  But I want to own who I am while affirming others in who they are.  I am an intuitive feeler with strong instincts and an understanding of how things will effect people.  I am strategic to a fault.  And though The Right Path calls me a “Deep Thinker,” they could have tacked on “Deep Feeler” too.  I value genuineness, creativity, and growth.  I lose steam and interest without a purpose.  But I now know a wider purpose.  In the words of the Prayer of St. Francis of Assissi:

“Oh Lord, grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to console,

To be understood as to understand,

To be loved as to love.

For it is in giving that we receive,

It is in pardoning that we are pardoned,

And it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.”

So, in creating space for others and providing to them what I most wanted and want, I will receive all that I need.  There is enough value, gifting, and love to go around.  I do not have to collect it for myself.

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One response »

  1. Em, I thoroughly enjoyed reading this post, and getting a “glimpse” of the things that have been swirling around in your beautiful, thoughtful brain. =) I miss you. I miss having you in my daily life. I hope I can see you soon! I pray that everyday you become more and more free to be the person you truly long to be–that “all striving will cease”. I pray that as you are filled with God’s power to put others needs above your own, as St. Francis of Assisi reminds us, that you will be overwhelmed with the rich aroma of God’s heart for you…for YOU…not for anything you do…but for everything that you are…Chosen…Redeemed…Righteous…LOVED…Just Emily, no extras needed. (And I pray this for myself =)

    Love you friend. Keep writing. Keep being you. =)

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