Creativity, Productivity, and Self-Worth

When I was writing more short stories, I tried to “play” with toys like I used to as a child. I thought this would help me get my creativity flowing. It was hard, like something was in the way of the river that used to flow effortlessly.

Sometimes that river still flows. I create a new necklace design, or make a song unlike any others I’ve made so far. It’s a great feeling, one that I’d love to have at the push of a psychological button.

But if there’s one thing I learned from great books like the Happiness Trap and Daring Greatly, it’s that you can’t control or force feelings.

In this post, I will explore a few things in my relationship to creativity that have been prominent in the past week.

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Some of my necklaces. Etsy store coming soon I think!

Here’s one frustrating chain of events that happens regarding necklaces:

1. I start creating from a free creative place. I make some cool macrame design that I’ve never done before.

2. I decide to do that design again, on another necklace.

3. I start making necklaces that all have that design, or some variation thereof.

This happens with more than necklaces. It happens with my songs. I never used to think about how a song would be received when I wrote it, but now I do. If one song is received very well, I am more likely to play it again or to try and find why it went over so well so that I can incorporate that element into other songs.

On some days, the goal-less innocent free-form creativity feels like it’s taking a back seat to the “get-er-done” mentality, connected to the “do things that other people like” mentality. It’s less creative, more productive. Sometimes this is useful, like with necklaces- especially if there is a style that is selling. Then I definitely want to make more of that type, because I’m trying to make that my livelihood. But that mentality does not need to touch my music, and it also isn’t useful to have it around the clock with the jewelery.

So where does it come from? I think I have a feeling about at least part of the story.

Creativity & Pleasing Others & Self-Worth

I think one strong factor in this process is the phenomenon of pleasing others. It’s truly an amazing one. The fact that you can do something creative, sometimes with no intention of even showing another human, and get praise can actually rock your world a little bit.

Suddenly, that reward is part of the process on a visceral level. If you sing a song and someone likes it, even though you didn’t expect them to, that feels good. You just made someone happy for a moment with innocent goal-less creativity. The next time you sing a song, or make a piece of art, part of you may wonder if someone will like it. Maybe they do, maybe they don’t. If they don’t, the something that wasn’t even missing before is now missing. Sometimes it can still feel fun to share, but sometimes, the fun is zapped and you are left confused about where it went.

A couple of times last week, I’d play at an open mic and finish and feel horrible about myself. Full of shame, like I should have never even touched a guitar in my lifetime. People would be saying nice things, but I didn’t believe them. I was expecting a reward to change how I felt, and it didn’t. I realized I had to look at what was going on, or else it was going to be a nasty spiral. Whenever shame is playing a part in what’s going on, I turn to Brene Brown’s work.

In her book Daring Greatly, Brene Brown talks about attaching self-worth to what we create. Here’s an excerpt from page 63: ” Because of how you were raised or how you approach the world, you’ve knowingly or unknowingly attached your self-worth to how your product or art is received. In simple terms, if they love it, you’re worthy; if they don’t, you’re worthless.”

She explains how sharing your art or project is an essential part of Wholehearted Living. On the next page, she writes “With an awareness of shame and strong shame resilience skills, this scenario is completely different…Yes, it will be disappointing and difficult if your friends or colleagues don’t share your enthusiasm, or if things don’t go well, but this effort is about what you do, not who you are. Regardless of the outcome, you’ve already dared greatly, and that’s totally aligned with your values; with who you want to be.”

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Playing at the pool party at my apartment complex! You can also hear my new song Supermoon

Her words helped me see the situation more clearly. I was beginning to confuse people liking my work with the joy of creating it. If I’m playing guitar and focused mainly on what others are doing, trying to assess the value of my performance that way, it’s a disaster. One person talking or walking away can be converted in my head to a definite sign that I suck. Really, that’s not what that indicates, and I know that, but in the moment that’s how it feels.

When I play guitar and stay in my body, focused more on feeling present and enjoying the physical sensations of playing, then the person walking away doesn’t bother me. I may not even notice. And because I stayed present and didn’t get obsessed with what others might be thinking, I may actually be able to take a compliment at the end because I didn’t already made up my mind that it was a disaster.

Creating Versus Producing

When I’m trying to use any creative project for an actual income, it’s an interesting line. Creating and producing are two different things. Both are sometimes necessary.

I can produce necklaces very fast when I need to, just like I can produce writing or songs. I can also take my time and create necklaces, writing, and songs. I can wait for that playful part of my brain to chime in, notice the feeling of that, and make the most of it when it arrives. Like I said, I don’t expect to force it to come. I’m sure I can cultivate a friendly relationship with it the more I learn to look it in the eye and not confuse it with its distant relatives, like the people-pleasing impulse.

How about you, do you have an interesting relationship to creativity depending on how much you are relying on it for income?

Do you think it’s easy to zap into free-form creativity with no expectation of a result, or do you always create with an eye on the prize of how it will be received?

Do you show all of your creative projects to others or are there some for just you?

Have you been enjoying this time of year?

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15 thoughts on “Creativity, Productivity, and Self-Worth

  1. When I think of pure creativity, I think of the ultimate example of creativity – the creation story in Genesis, which, unfortunately has been too often co-opted by those with a scientific bent either to the religious right or dismissed by those with a scientific bent to the secular left. If we can simply let it breathe as the shaping story of creation it’s intended to be, what huge lessons for any of us engaging in creative expression on any level. God creates, and sees that it is “good.” What makes it good? Who was applauding? Who was “liking” his latest creative “post,” his latest “song” with the wildlife chorus, his latest necklace formed with stars for jewels? There isn’t so much as a single, “Well, what do you all think? What are the sales projections?” He simply sees that it’s “good.” And after six days brimming, overflowing with creative expression, he steps back and sees that is “very good,” evidently enjoying the view so much he decides to take an entire day off simply to savor it. I would draw from this that when we create simply for the pure joy of creative self-expression then we are most true to ourselves, most in tune with the creation around us. Yes, production is necessary (I love the distinction you make here!), and we certainly can produce creatively, and when we do, how much better a product it will likely be. And yes, there is most definitely utility to be found in much of creation around us. But utility is not the point. It’s simply one of the many benefits that results from creativity. When utility – whether the utility of other’s “liking” or the utility of others buying – becomes the point, creativity is swallowed up in consumption and conformity – and we all die just a little. Keep creating, Jennifer! πŸ™‚

    And yes, I have been enjoying this time of year, but then, today is our first triple digit day…I thrive in milder days…

    • I love how your writing is so infused with poetry…wow. Necklaces of stars, wildlife choruses…yes indeed, who was applauding? You so fully captured what I was feeling with that example! I thank you for that, it’s so refreshing every time you mention something from the Bible that I hadn’t thought about in that particular way before. Have you heard of a book called “Jesus Christ- an autobiography” or something along those lines? A friend is reading it, and he keeps sharing stories from it with me. It’s by an anthropologist I think, who discusses what some words mean that we commonly misinterpret, as well as the context of them- like what mustard seeds were like and things like that. I’m not sure if you’d like it, but if you get hungry for that type of book, it seems interesting! Maybe super dense, too.
      And if that was your first triple digit day, I feel some of your pain..for us it was maybe the 5th in a row…now it’s a sweet cool 97 or so…refreshing πŸ™‚ I hope it cools down soon for you! I am going to read that comment over and over, maybe even write most of it down and hang it by my jewelry table!!

      • Thanks Jennifer. So glad my meanderings speak to you! If you can get me the author’s name of that book I’d love to look it up…did an initial search on Amazon and the search results are a bit overwhelming. πŸ™‚

  2. Don’t forget to let us all know when your Etsy store is open! I must have a Starship Jennerprise necklace.

    I used to have a quote posted near my desk (before moving back to NC – who knows where it is now??) that read: β€œThe creative mind plays with the things it loves” – Carl Jung. I love connections, and try to use words to make them, or highlight them. So I wonder if that’s the trick: Creativity is satisfying when I’m approaching it playfully, and with love.

    • I will definitely keep you posted Vicki! πŸ™‚ I love that quote. It also reminds me of in the Bradbury book (I think) when he says that inspiration is sort of like a cat. Or maybe you said this..and you can’t chase it down but you can leave treats out and watch it and be gentle when it’s around, or something like that πŸ™‚ I am getting better I think at finding what my mind even thinks of as fun, or what that creative part likes…a great and nourishing and exciting process, for sure!

  3. Hmmm, I needed to read this. I have been feeling a little “worthless” about my writing, and my blog in particular, which is probably irrational – but based on the fact that not much is flowing in right now. It’s negatively affected my joy and my ability to just write. It’s negatively affecting everything! Maybe I should read Brene Brown’s book…
    Thank you for this beautiful insight, once again. xx

    • Aw Zanni, if you can find the Brene brown book I think you’d love it! Her book “the gifts of imperfection” is also great. Her TED talks are easy too because they are free online and can be listened to instead of read πŸ™‚ I love your writing, and I’m not even a mom πŸ™‚ I want to catch up on your new blog, I will do so soon πŸ™‚

  4. Very deep post ma’am, I mean, whoa! Very interesting to read your thoughts and opinions on such a topic of discussion! Sometimes I agreed with your ideologies and other times I didn’t. When you were initially negative about how you believed people felt about your performances due to their physical behavior, I didn’t agree, but you eventually provided alternative suggestions to this that relegated your negativity to a positive stand point, which I quite enjoyed. I think at times we place too much emphasis on the importance of what others think, and although they may be an audience and we may indeed need to create something they generally like to appease them and garner their attention indefinitely, I think that can hinder creativity rather than further inspire it. Of course, this is easier said, or, in this case writ than done. I myself often say that I don’t care what others think, then I spontaneously (and albeit hypocritically) deliberately go out of my way to react to the opinions and actions of others. I don’t believe this is an individual’s fault – I think as social creatures, we humans have been designed to act with regards to what others say and do, whether we want to or not.
    Also, like your post ma’am, your questions were additionally very well thought out! For me, if I am relying on my creativity for income, I usually try to do better I guess, since I know that the overall amount of work I put into whatever it is that I am at present promulgating is going to affect my life, and the better I do, the greater the potential positive avenues are. Recently I have been trying to have some of my poetry published in certain anthologies, and I find myself reading the previous pieces that have been published on these sites and in these chap books as to better improve my chances so I know the styles, themes and ideas that this particular publisher generally likes to produce.
    With regards to your second question, I used to be care free, until I wasn’t. Basically, I used to receive a lot of positive feedback about my short stories and such, and this continued throughout my undergraduate university course, with even the tutors providing me with beneficial praise. However, I later find that they may very well have been handling me with kid gloves, because when it comes time to workshop one of my pieces whilst undertaking my masters, I receive fifteen minutes of negative feedback about how terrible my piece was. Safe to say my ego died there and then, but it did help me ascertain that I now need to write in a specific way, with greater attention to certain ideals, including the feelings of fictional characters I create, not just their actions, and my choice in words. Apparently I’m verbose – seeing as this comment is already filled with like a billion words, maybe they are not wrong…On this note, I have never always shown all of my creative projects to others, and after this little occurrence I suddenly see that as a good choice. I believe now that writing with a particular thought in mind as to how a certain piece will be received is almost a mandatory fixture of creation.
    Thank you for writing this post ma’am, it was a very interesting read.

    • A mandatory fixture of creation..I like that!
      When I was writing for a living, I remember that process of reading so many online publications to get an idea of what they were looking for, and there was always that balance of writing for fun (which could maybe lead to money if I found the right place) and writing for money. When the creativity is income, and income is necessary, it feels much more like the way it is received is absolutely a critical thing to think about. There’s no way around it- getting money means you have to make something that someone will pay for. Maybe what I hope is that in creating for money, I can always also have the part of me that creates for fun, and that it won’t get squashed by the part that has to consider outcome and reception as being of utmost importance..I am excited to read your published pieces, I really like some of the phrases you come up with, and you seem to have such an ability to look at any topic from so many angles, which seems like a good trait for a writer πŸ™‚

  5. Really enjoyed reading this, Jennifer. I think blogging has tried to illuminate this for me over the years. At some times I have got very confused because of the number of people who liked my posts and have gone way off balance. Lost perspective about the joy of creating versus the opinion of the reader. Lately feel more balanced around this issue, like something has resolved. Something finished. So we’ll see where this goes for the future. Thanks again. Always enjoy stopping by your blog.

  6. Pingback: The relationship between self-worth and creativity - My Little Sunshine House

  7. Pingback: Clarifying confusion about money | power of language blog: partnering with reality by JR Fibonacci

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