Overcoming the Fear of Creative Risk-Taking
by Pamela Hastings
Creativity is as natural and necessary a part of life and the survival of the species as exploring the benefits of standing on two legs instead of four, as dangerous as discovering the atomic bomb.
Why are our fears of creative risk-taking so strong, that our Inner Critics want to clamp the lid on just as we begin to explore areas that we haven’t touched before? Does the culture bind us in the early days of public school, when the first teacher insists, “Trees are green balls on top of brown pillars, not purple and yellow smudges” – tell that to the Impressionists! Interesting that the struggle between the forces for conformity against those restless souls who can’t seem to stop themselves from pushing boundaries have resulted in amazing advances in health care and our understanding of our natural world.
Children learn by their curious exploration of their bodies and the environment. When they are encouraged in both their successful and their not-so successful experiments, as I was, they don’t lose the urge to create. When our experiences are validated, rather than condemned, we grow in the courage to reveal ourselves more and more. Cultures, countries, religions seem to be created to emphasize the status quo, which responds to the restless explorer with defensiveness. Our primitive natures seed validation in mothering for women and hunting and gathering for men. Those who even appear to question the norm are ostracized from the group – high school is a prime example of the primitive urges at work.
For me, the steps to overcoming the potential fear and shame of self-revelation starts with thinking, “What’s the worse thing that can happen?” Picking a supportive environment in which to reveal myself – and providing a supportive environment in my classes makes creative stretching a safer act. Knowing that each individual has a unique set of skills and approaches, with no “Right” or “Wrong” ways to do things makes creative play feel a bit safer. The creative leap can occur inside the Process, rather than the Product. When we learn to be humble and not competitive, we can learn from whatever comes out. Even if we learn not to sit on the branch we are sawing off the tree, we know we have friendly hands waiting to catch us and see what we have learned – and taught from our experience. I always learn as much from my “students” as they do from me – and now I’m willing to admit it publicly.
If you are not ready to create in a non-competitive group, try becoming that accepting support for yourself. If you are inhibited by facing expensive art materials, find a large sheet of brown paper and a new box of crayons. Give yourself a half hour of time alone, and a place where you can stand up to work. Put on some music and move around the room. Get your whole body going. No one Is watching, so don’t be afraid to look silly. Make big, expansive movements, so your whole being is engaged, and just scribble, using your both arms and whatever colors and movements feel good. Don’t share your work, if you’re feeling tender and vulnerable. If you’re a writer – put down words, instead of marks. If you’re a dancer or athlete – just move. If you feel drawn to three-dimensional construction – work with clay or blocks. The hardest step to take is the first, so just start.
Take a class in something you’ve never done before, where you know you will be a beginner and you don’t know anyone. Notice that nothing awful happens if you don’t do it perfectly the first time. Look outside yourself and see that others struggle, too. Nothing awful is happening. Take the baby steps to push yourself on and out from there, each time noticing that nothing happens that you can’t tolerate. What if someone is rude enough to make fun? Does it really kill you, or do you think a little less of that insecure person who can’t stand diversity?
Above all, think of creative stretching as play, and have fun, amazing yourself – and perhaps even others – with what comes out. Why deny yourself such a primal play experience?
Start with making a visual representation of your Inner Critic or the part that keeps your creative juices from flowing. Hold a burning or burial ceremony for that block, and allow yourself to keep going. When people are creating, they are happier and more fulfilled—spread it around, bake a cake or plant a garden. Look for ways to spread the joy. With the whole world creating, who would have time for war and prejudice? Who needs all that compulsive shopping? Let your creative spirit fly free – do it for world peace, if not for the pure joy of the process! Why should children have all the fun?