We creative types tend to have an optimistic streak.
I’m not talking about an eternally sunny disposition (Even I don’t have that and I’m sunny by nature!) I’m also not talking about always looking on the bright side or never feeling hopeless, exhausted or like throwing in the towel.
What I mean is that we have something inside ourselves that responds creatively to whatever comes our way. We naturally engage. We want to make it better, to make it work, to figure it out.
That tendency serves us in all sorts of amazing ways. We can make the best of a situation. We can make the most out of what we have. We can find solutions. We can create beauty. We can turn a challenge into an opportunity – almost always.
This creative optimism can sometimes get in our way.
We can stick it out too long. We can bang our heads against a brick wall (repeatedly). We can invest our energy, time, love, heart, money, smarts and creative fire into a ship that’s sinking. It’s not in our nature to give up! We come at it from another angle. We try a fresh approach. We journal it out, chat it out, plan it out. We read how other people do it. We’re resourceful and determined and we figure that A-effort should yield A-results.
And when it doesn’t, we look for the problem within ourselves. There should be a solution, a way to work this out, and if we can’t find it, then the flaw must be our own. This gives our inner critic powerful proof that we’re incapable, that we’re not smart enough, strong enough, popular enough, blessed enough, what have you.
But sometimes a brick wall is just a brick wall.
Sometimes we’re trying to change something that doesn’t want to be changed – and that includes other people. This is when the creative impulse has turned into a tool of destruction and when we recognize this point of transition, we’ll know when to take our foot off the gas.
So, how do we tune into that awareness?
How do we know when we’re putting in the hard work of creating something magnificent and when are we spinning our wheels?
First, look at is the energetic difference.
Draw on your personal experience. What is an example of a time when you put in deep effort to bring something you truly wanted to life? When was a time when you were wholeheartedly fighting against the tide?
What felt different?
For me, the energetic difference feels like two kinds of tired. The first kind is when I’ve shown up to the day and put my heart into it, along with lots of elbow grease. I feel like I’ve lived, like I’ve done something. On those days, I can let myself be tired and sink into bed with a sense of ease and have a good night’s sleep. The other kind of tired shows up when I’m straining, struggling and second-guessing. It’s the exhaustion of pacing a room not going for a run. If I’m mentally frazzled and physically frayed, there’s a good bet that I’ve moved from creative optimism to destructive insistence.
It’s the difference between being “spent” and being “beat.”
That relentless fire of determination can be destructive not only to ourselves but also to others. This happens when our desire to create turns into a drive to impose our will on someone else. Instead of respecting their sovereignty, we try to make them change and fit into our vision. Sometimes we do this for “their own good” and sometimes for our own.
But other people are not here to fill the roles in our scripts, just as we are not here to mould ourselves into someone else’s vision of mother, daughter, lover, friend, writer, singer, dancer, artist. And if you’ve ever tried to do that, you know how destructive it can be.
It’s creative when we’re expanding definitions, when we’re getting stronger, when we’re bringing something to life.
It’s destructive when we’re constrictive, when we’re using force, when we’re being hurt and/or hurtful, when we’re sucking the life out of something,
It’s not always easy to tell the difference but it is easy to explore the question. Start paying attention. When the work is hard, ask yourself, “Is this effort creative or destructive? What am I helping or harming here?”
And here’s something important to know – sometimes it will be destructive and you will choose to keep going.
Sometimes destruction is necessary in order to make room for creation. Sometimes relationships, preconceptions and old stories break under the strain – and, painful as that may be, that can be a good and helpful thing.
And sometimes you may choose, with full awareness and your whole heart, to fight against the tide. You may decide that it is a noble and beautiful use of your life. Great change has happened because people have stood up and given all their strength to move what appeared to be immovable mountains.
What I want for you is the ability to choose, the wisdom and discernment to pick up the right tool, to wave your wand of creation or destruction with awareness and intent.
What I don’t want for you is the tragic and unrelenting pain of believing you are creating while all around you the walls are tumbling down.
You have magic in you. Wield it well.