I Am Worthy of a Creative Life

After wrapping up a meeting downtown for the pre-production of After Oil, my webseries with Jessica Naftaly, I headed down to a new cafe on Main Street and grabbed myself an iced coffee.  While I was sitting out under the awning, I slipped out my copy of Elizabeth Gilbert’s Big Magic and decided that, right then and there, I was going to finish reading it.

It dawns on me as I’m writing this that Big Magic is the first book that I’ve been able to get through all summer.  I found myself nearing the end, and when I approached this quote, I felt I was about to cry:

I plan on framing this quote and hanging it above my desk when I move back into the city for the fall semester.  There were many times, in reading Big Magic, that I found I wholeheartedly agreed with the sentiments regarding creative living that Gilbert talked about.  But it wasn’t until I read this paragraph that I truly felt that the book was reaching out and speaking to me.

Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear is ultimately an exploration into what it truly takes to live your life “creatively”.  Within each segment, Gilbert goes into detail to explain all the elements you need to live a creative life - courage, curiosity, permission, persistence, and trust - and all the things you do not need in order to live creatively - fear, ego, passion, and perfectionism, to name just a few.

I found a lot of what Gilbert had to say on the topic of creativity to ring true.  But throughout Big Magic, as she explained the tenacity needed to be creative; the necessity to be intrinsically motivated beyond external validations such as success, stability, or admiration; the need to keep faith in the process, and more than anything else, to truly love what you are doing, I kept asking myself -

What if I don’t anymore?

Writing used to be all I ever cared about.  In high school, I used to spend every spare moment of my day writing.  I would spend my school lunches in the library working on novel manuscripts.  When I got off the bus, I would rush to the computer to write collaboratively on RP forums, with people on the Internet whom I’d never met in person before.  I had a composition notebook I kept full of story ideas, and was scribbling new ones into it constantly.

Since graduating high school, I’ve started a new composition notebook.  Not a single note contained within it is original.  They all refer to story ideas I conceived in high school.

I really couldn’t figure out what had changed.  It terrified me.  I was afraid I’d lost my ability to be creative.  I was still generating content.  But I lived in fear of the day that I would eventually run out of the ideas I had generated as a teenager.

For a while, I thought depression was to blame.

Now, I’m not so sure.

See, I’m pretty sure I was just as clinically depressed in high school as I am now.  The only difference is that, in high school, writing was the only thing that made me happy.  Writing was where I was “safe”.

I made a vow at the age, however, that I was going to be published before I was out of school.  I was convinced that if I couldn’t be a writer, than I couldn’t be anything.

And by defining myself so narrowly by my writing, I think I lost a little bit of myself.

I lost the bit about writing that just used to be fun.

When I was a teenager, I used to think my thoughts were precious.  But as my depression continued to evolve and go untreated, I began to shut out my own inner voice.  I couldn’t trust it anymore.  The thoughts it was providing me with were toxic, draining, and self-destructive.  I started to train myself to shut my own thoughts out.  I’ve taught myself that thoughts are poison.

Writing wasn’t safe anymore.

It was no longer about how writing made me “feel”.  It was about being “good at it”.  About getting to a place where it would be valid and okay for me to write as much as I wanted to, so that I could call it my “job”.

By tying not just my writing to my self-worth, but my writing career to my self-worth, I had doomed myself to be “unworthy” unless I hit success.

And let me tell you, even when I’ve hit big career milestones, I still haven’t felt “worthy” of them.

There was so much of Big Magic that I agreed with, but couldn’t relate to.  I don’t suffer from the starving artist complex.  I’m hard on myself, but I’ve never claimed to be a perfectionist.  I’m not afraid to persevere; I’ve grown accustomed to disciplining myself.

None of these are the problem.

The problem is, I’m not happy anymore.

Nothing I ever create seems to be “good enough”.

I can see now how wrong I was to define myself by my work.  You can’t do that.  You are not what you create.  We grow from our creativity, and it can keep us whole and happy.

But you can’t just live through your work.

Your work is going to fail you.  Because failure is inevitable on the road to any sort of creative success.

Regardless of whether your work “succeeds”, you are still worthy to create.

Regardless of whether you create, you are still worthy to exist.

I want to live a creative life.  But “Big Magic”, to me, is realizing that the key to my own personal happiness is not a “successfully” creative life.

Big Magic is being happy.  Wherever that may take me.

HAVE A SAFE AND LOVELY DAY!

Want to read Big Magic for yourself? Find it here!

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Shai Cotten