What Do You Need to Be Creative?

Years ago, I taught an Educational Psychology course for people who wanted to be elementary or high school teachers. One of my favorite activities was centered on creativity, and how to foster it in young learners. I put the students into small groups, and gave each group a large envelope filled with odds and ends from around my home and office – cotton balls, paper clips, magnets, straws, napkins, remnants of cloth, wire, etc., whatever I could find and could fit in the envelope. Their directions? To create something functional, something that could solve a problem or do a job of some sort. They had the full class time to work and then to present what they had created. It was always great fun, with lots of silliness, ideas coming in fits and starts and then the hum of concentration as the groups settled on their projects and the creations began to take form.

The next day I asked them about the creative process. How did their groups manage to create their inventions? How did the creativity flow (or not) for them? What did they find they needed to be successful?

The answers were simple but insightful. The groups agreed that whether you are a child in a classroom, an artist in a studio, a writer at a desk, or a corporate employee in a cubicle, we all need the same things to be creative in our work:

1) Time – Creativity can’t really be rushed. In fact, a 2002 Harvard study of 177 employees at 7 different companies showed that time pressure negatively affects creative thinking. If you want to tap into your innate creativity, you have to allow yourself the time to do it!

2) Persistence – Those who wait until they ‘feel’ creative before working rarely are prolific. Rather than waiting for the muse to show up, it is us who need to show up and start, knowing that just the act of being there will eventually kick-start the creative process.

3) Space – In this case, this does not necessarily mean physical space, though that’s nice to have, too. But what we really need to be creative is the mental space to make mistakes, to create something less than perfect, or in fact, something really bad — and still feel supported enough to keep trying. After the groups worked through all their ‘dumb’ ideas, they said, that’s when they came to the idea that would work for their projects!

My point in sharing this is that we all deserve these three gifts, too. All of us are creative by nature, and if we are having trouble accessing that piece of ourselves, we probably just need to give ourselves the time, persistence, and space we need to be our best creative selves.

Having and Being a Beautiful Friend

To have a friend is a beautiful thing. To be a friend is as beautiful, if not more so, as it makes the rest of life, no matter how difficult, pretty beautiful, too.

Years ago when I taught second grade we spent the month of February celebrating friendship. It was an obvious choice for February with Valentine’s Day right in the middle of the month, but also by this time of the year, after a winter’s worth of indoor recesses, we were all ready to learn to appreciate each other once again.

One of my favorite books to read with the class in February was Judith Viorst’s Rosie and Michael, the story of two friends who take turns narrating what makes their friendship so special. What they describe are the characteristics of any beautiful relationship, whether it is between two friends, two loves, a parent and a child, or siblings. Here, illustrated by the words of Rosie and Michael, are the characteristics of any beautiful relationship:

* Friends accept each other as they are. “She likes me when I’m dopey and not just when I’m smart.” “I worry a lot about werewolves, and he understands.”
* They rely on each other in times of trouble. “When my parakeet died, I called Rosie.” “When my bike got swiped, I called Michael.”
* Friends are loyal to one another. “It wouldn’t matter if two billion people said she robbed a bank, if Rosie told me she didn’t, I’d believe her.”
* They are trustworthy, too. “If Michael told me a secret and people clonked me and bopped me, I wouldn’t tell what Michael’s secret was.”
* And if necessary, friends are forgiving. “And then if people said ‘Speak up or we’ll throw you in this quicksand,’ Rosie would forgive me for telling her secret.”
* Even if they disagree, friends can still stay friends. “Just because I call him a banana head, doesn’t mean that Michael’s not my friend.”
* Friends support each other, too. “Sometimes I get on the diving board and deicde that I’ve changed my mind. but Rosie wouldn’t laugh. She’s my friend.”
* Friends are honest with each other. “Michael is my friend. When he honest and truly wanted to know if his feet were smelling stinky, I honestly told him.”
* And they always have your back. “She’d hunt for me if kidnappers stole me away. And if I was never found again, she could have my Instamatic. She is my friend.”
* Special friends are the ones we think of first, last and all the times in between. “I’d never move to China without Michael.” ” I’d give her my last piece of chalk.”

To have a friend, to be a friend is one of the best gifts life has to offer. And now is a wonderful time to celebrate and thank those special friends that make our lives beautiful. Thank you…you know who you are.

Should We Just Resolve to Persevere? Maybe That’s Enough

A show of hands from those of you who have already fallen off the wagon of your New Year’s resolutions? Right, I thought so. This post, now two weeks past the date I had set on my schedule – one of my resolutions – is living proof of why my hand is raised high, too.

By mid-February, the newness of January’s resolutions has likely diminished quite a bit, just as the excitement over winter’s first snow has worn thin, with each new snowfall the wonder of it replaced by the weariness of having to clear the driveway yet again. The excitement and resolve with which we all begin a new year can become frayed as the hard work it takes to stay with a promise made to yourself becomes a reality.

By now, I am over winter and ready for spring, but I recognize that no matter the time of year, there are often “winters” of the spirit, too, times when we are weary, overwhelmed with the minutiae of our days and weeks, and just feeling uninspired by life. The sky is cold and gray, and so are we.

This would be a moment to say something along the lines of “when the going gets tough, the tough get going.” True enough but we’ve all been around long enough to know it isn’t always that easy. Maybe the tough going we face is related to poor health, grief, financial concerns, depression, or just big life questions, to which there are no easy answers, no readily available bootstraps with which we can pull ourselves back to our feet.

It is during these winters of the spirit, that maybe a gentler approach is needed to achieving the goals set with so much enthusiasm in January. John D. Rockefeller once said, “I do not think that there is any other quality so essential to success of any kind as the quality of perseverance. It overcomes almost everything, even nature.” To persevere through the winter in anticipation of the spring, to not give up, but to do your best to stick with it, even if ‘it’ – whatever ‘it’ is – falls short of what you hoped to accomplish. Maybe it is late, but here it is, and maybe that is enough. Enough to do, enough to expect, enough to carry me through until the new habits are formed, and the second wind of springtime hits in oh about a month or so.