Why you’re not a creative person (and how to change it)

“I’m not a creative person.”

My friend looks at me with a glint in her eye, because she knows I am incapable of letting that comment pass me by.

She just knows I’m going to take task with it, despite my best intentions to respectfully listen to the other person and nod with empathy.

I know it’s said with sincerity.

I know they genuinely mean it, and that’s what really gets me.

Maybe you’ve thought it before, or even said it out loud. And, if you have, then my advice is this:

Dig deeper. Unearth the true story of your creativity. Live it fully because it is who you are.

Creative woman at desk feeling blocked
Photo by Birmingham Museums Trust on Unsplash

The problem with “I’m not a creative person”

“I’m not creative” means that you can’t change it. Something about who you are is not creative, and you don’t have a choice in the matter.

It implies that some humans are just not made that way.

There can indeed be particular talents that lend themselves well to creative expression and imaginative endeavours. But these can be nurtured. There are infinite versions of creative expression and one of them will be a perfect fit for you.

Creativity is entirely negotiable and anyone is eligible for the “creative person” title, given a bit of time and effort.

Creative blocks and creative voids do not spring from identity.

If there’s a big fat emptiness where creativity could be, then it is not an inherent lack on the level of who you are. If you don’t know where to start with bringing some creativity into your life, it does not signal an unfortunate exclusion from the gang of the chosen ones.

By reversing out of this mindset of non-negotiable creative endowment, a new version of innovative, creative living can flourish.

So where did this dead-end mindset come from in the first place, and how do we change it?

Creative scars and insane expectations

The story of non-creativity is emotionally charged. It’s imbued with numbed-out grief and is as old as the hills. It’s a story that we wrote a long time ago because we didn’t see any alternative.

We’ve all got creative scars. Even the ‘artists’ among us have them.

It’s hard to get through unscathed in a culture where some common core beliefs about creativity sound like this:

  • What you make is only worthwhile if it gains monetary value or recognition
  • The output is more important than how you feel during the process
  • You are only creative if you’re deemed ‘talented’ in a particular craft

Not only is the bar for creativity too high, it’s in entirely the wrong place.

How your creativity comfort zone gets defined

On a personal level, it’s equally unusual to be fully supported in healthy creativity. It’s common to hear messages such as:

  • “You can’t sing very well”
  • “What’s that a picture of? It doesn’t look like a bowl of fruit!”
  • “That’s a depressing song, bring us all down why don’t you!”
  • “Study something more realistic, the last thing we need is another poor artist”

These words can seem harmless and they can even sound like jokes. On the surface, we may have brushed them off and even forgotten about them.

But the underlying belief that formed as a result was that our creative expression wasn’t welcome.

That imagination isn’t important and our creativity isn’t good enough.

Some of these messages may have been expressed verbally, but they can also be conveyed on a more subtle level through silence or a withdrawal of attention.

There may simply have been a lack of validation for our creative efforts, so we learned that we’d get more love for academic achievement or ‘proper’ career progression.

Whether it was an explicit discouragement or subtle negation, it cuts deep.

Creativity is vulnerable by nature. We are exposed here, and even a passing slight can be enough for our creative self to be exiled.

The once spontaneous, free, vibrant self becomes more careful. The visible, playful, risky requirements of creative expression become too much to bear.

Self-censorship sets in, and eventually becomes our norm.

Creative child painting
Photo by Zaur Giyasov on Unsplash

Recovering the creative child

A child isn’t trying to be ‘original’ in their work. They’re not even thinking about the fact that drawing a picture of their house or their parents is a little clichéd.

They know – on some level – that their simple drawing serves a purpose, regardless of how it looks. They don’t get too attached, they know when it’s finished, and they don’t often judge the results.

By observing the way that children create, we learn a lot about healthy creativity. We can see what’s possible when the expectations of external validation or monetory value are dropped.

Looking at a child, it’s easier to understand that the process of creation in itself is contributing to their development.

It’s not the outcome – whether that be a picture, a silly song or a puppet show.

The value is derived from the creative process itself.

They learn that they exist as a separate being. They develop mechanical aptitudes over time and develop skills. They learn how to define, portray, explain something (and then let it go).

Creativity provides a sense of reality and meaning, at any stage of life.

We tend to lose sight of this as we get older. We forget the need to create. We get busy with a million other things that seem more important or urgent.

Who’s got time for playful curiosity anyway?

It’s totally socially acceptable to be creatively stifled and numb. It’s easy to stuff it down and get on with something else.

And, frankly, it’s easier that way. Creative exploration can be totally overwhelming after several years of avoidance.

Thankfully, there are simple ways that we can make creative recovery manageable. We can reclaim a strong sense of our own creativity, regardless of how long it’s been dormant.

Creative person journalling
Photo by Daria Tumanova on Unsplash

How to nurture creativity and heal the scars

By taking stock of our beliefs about creativity and our creative selves, something new can emerge. Rather than accepting the idea that we’re lacking in the creativity department, we carry out an investigation and write a new story.

The real story of our creativity entirely replaces the idea that we’re not creative. This story may initially seem more painful or disempowering, but it is the version of the truth that actually allows for change.

Make a list of the following so that you can start rewriting your story of creativity:

  • Times you were told anything negative about your creativity
  • Beliefs you have about creativity in general (even if you don’t know where they came from)
  • Beliefs you have about your own creativity (even if you don’t know where they came from)
  • The typical things your inner critic says to you if you have a creative idea or try something creative

Once you have this list, you can start to write down the reality of how you feel about your creativity and why. It often sounds something like this:

“I am afraid to make art because I was told a long time ago that my creativity was wrong. I was told this early on, so I’ve spent decades in creative suspension. I haven’t built up the skills, because I was too afraid to try. I am afraid of being humiliated and yet I can’t stuff it down. I’ve got feelings of creativity in my body, I’ve got ideas. I don’t know quite what they are, but they’re tugging at my sleeve. I know that something should be moving, that something wants to be expressed… but I’m afraid it’s too late. I need some help.”

When I hear this story I am – remarkably – less sad. I can feel the possibilities. It’s a full, real, authentic story.

The cause of the issue is conscious and the truth is out.

There’s room now to trace our way back to that curious child, that inherently creative and playful human who’s still here with us now.

There’s no exception. There’s no such thing as a human who’s not creative.

There’s only a lack of support, a long line of shaming and a pointlessly high bar of external validation. So don’t take it personally, and do allow yourself to play. Allow yourself to be the creative person that you most certainly, categorically are.

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