Scrambling to find a professional seminar to attend as the deadline approached to report my continuing education credits, I stumbled upon a course called “Exploring Shame and Building Resilence” by social worker Brené Brown. Never heard of her, nor of anyone ever presenting on s-h-a-m-e (shhhh!), but I was secretly drawn to the topic. It was the spring of 2007 when I made my way to the venue in the back hall of a dingy airport hotel along with less than ten other brave souls. Usually struggling to keep my eyes open during these daylong classes, I found myself fixated on this unassuming yet passionate woman as she introduced a concept that would eventually become “The Power of Vulnerability,” one of the top TED talks of all time. I recently heard a podcast of the now immensely popular Brené Brown discussing the topic of creativity with Elizabeth Gilbert (paraphrased in parts).
EG: “Riff a little bit on what creativity means to you.”
BB: “Five years ago, I would have said, ‘I don’t really do A-R-T because I have a J-O-B.’ Now my answer would be, ‘Creativity is the way I share my soul with the world.’
I have come to the conclusion that the only unique contribution we will make in this world will be born of creativity. Unused creativity is not benign.”
EG: “Essentially you are saying that ‘this will make you sick if you don’t bring forth what is within you.’”
BB: “There is a lot of shame around creativity. People don’t think of themselves as creative. They think creativity is self-indulgent, they don’t think it is productive enough, they don’t understand what it means, it was shut down for them as children. What I mean when I say that unused creativity is not benign, I mean that it metastasizes into resentment, grief, heartbreak. People sit on that creativity or deny it and it festers.
When I started my research on shame thirteen years ago I found that 85% if the men and women who I interviewed remembered an event in school that was so shaming, it changed how they thought of themselves for the rest of their lives. For fifty percent of that 85%, those shame wounds were around creativity…. Fifty percent of those people have art scars, creativity scars, and so we have to go back and unearth that.
When you are taking on creativity, you are taking on soul work; this is not about what we do, this is about who we are.”
EG: So when these things happen, the takeaway for these people is that “they were never allowed to be makers again, they were never allowed to be participants in creation again. They could only be consumers. You are not allowed to contribute to the evolving story of the universe that is in motion. You just get to watch and buy and purchase things and that’s all you get to do. Or be a brick maker – just makin’ bricks to keep society going.
The reason people are afraid to put their art forward into the world and don’t take risks is they are terrified that it will be rejected, that they will be ignored, that they will be diminished, but it’s very likely that that thing [the thing of which they are most afraid] already occurred in the very worst way that it ever will.”
BB: “And that thing that already happened a lot of times is their own voice.”
On the inspiration that is behind creativity…
BB: “I don’t leap or jump for the landing – I leap for the experience in the air, because you cannot predict the landing. When you get to the place where standing on the edge is more painful than risking a failure, I think you owe it to yourself and the world to leap…. I don’t know anyone who has ever stuck a landing the first time….”
Which brings us back to shame, the killjoy of creative risk taking….
BB: “The anecdote to shame is not discipline, the anecdote to shame is empathy – talk to yourself like you would talk to someone you love: ‘You are born to be a maker and we need what you can bring to us because you are the only one who can bring it.'”
‘You were born to be a maker and we need what you can bring to us because you are the only one who can bring it.’”