Losing My Creativity

Do you remember pumping your legs back and forth on the swing set, trying to reach far into the sky, only to jump off to see how far you could fly? Did you stay up late at night reading under the covers, hoping not to get caught? Did you write short stories as a kid which you then recited out loud to your parents?

We’re born creative, curious beings and remain that way until somewhere around adulthood the harsh world of reality sets in and we turn more pragmatic. The transition from a creative, carefree kid into a serious, logical adult is sadly not that uncommon.

My story began in Warren Michigan, the home of General Motors' headquarters and a gritty suburb of Detroit just on the other side of Eminem’s 8 Mile. My dad built concept cars for GM—cars that were designed to get 100 miles to the gallon and the first electric car that GM unveiled to the world. He has three patents for his innovative designs. Before she took care of us kids, my mom was an advanced composition teacher and accomplished accompanist. If they’d grown up after the depression, my parents might have made riskier choices in their careers. But as children of the Great Depression, their practical natures won out, and they settled into a pragmatic life—my dad in corporate America, my mom scrambling after four rambunctious kids.

Throughout my childhood I could be found doing three things: at the local library checking out stacks of books to read late into the night, singing or writing short stories. By high school, I had learned to play five instruments and was a classically trained singer who performed in four choirs. I was on the yearbook and journalism teams, was one of the school’s photographers, appeared in several plays and had a radio show with my best friend called the Perky Twins. We played Depeche Mode, OMD, New Order and Madonna. In my senior year, I took an independent study teaching myself how to compose music. That year I also took Mrs. Mark’s English class; notorious for her strict grammar rules, Mrs. Marks pushed me to work harder rather than to rely on my natural gifts.

The school released results of our class vote a month before graduation. Always thinking of myself as uncool and unnoticed, I was shocked to see I’d been voted the Most Talented girl of our class. I discounted the award, worried that as the most visible “creative” girl I got it by default. Learning that I'd won by a landslide made me sad. Not even 18, had we already so thoroughly given up creativity that I was the only one still expressing it?

Following graduation many of my classmates took a practical path, winding up at community college or working the line for Chrysler, GM or Ford. I went to a university known for its music program and for its reputation as a party school. My mom’s reaction to my desire to be a singer was tempered. Performing was highly competitive, best hedge my bets by having a back-up plan as a music teacher. Not wanting to be a teacher but not ready to give up my dream, I entered the college's competitive music program, where only the most creative, musically inclined and hard working would survive. Even though I finished my first semester with better than passing grades, my mom's words still rang in my ears. Fearing I wasn't talented enough to make it as a performer, but not wanting to be a teacher, I quit the music program.

For the next year, I plowed myself into writing and English literature classes. During spring break of my sophomore year, I sprung my new major on my mom.

“I’m going to major in English and become a writer!”

“All the smartest kids from your sister’s class are going to be English majors. Maybe you should be an English teacher,” my mom replied.

Rather than trusting myself or taking a risk, I decided her simple statements meant I wasn’t talented enough to make a living being creative, so I’d better choose a safer path. When I got back to school I didn’t declare an English major. Instead, I took up Psychology, a degree which often leads to jobs in business, but I secretly took as many film and writing classes as my electives would support. In my junior year I transferred to Michigan State University for a strong academic program, giving myself a better chance at success in the business or academic world. My creative pursuits relegated to a shameful secret, I looked at my future with a mixture of sadness and resignation, girding myself to fit in rather than pursue individual expression.

Somewhere in my thirties I started exploring what creativity meant to me as an adult with a responsible life. Today, I’m still rediscovering my creativity. My current day job as a CMO-for-Hire gives me some creative outlet, but I always ache for more.

I recently started an experiment I’m calling 30 Days of Creativity which I’ll write about in my next post. Check back in the next few days. In the meanwhile, I hope you’ll follow along and join the conversation on Twitter using the hashtag #30DaysofCreativity.