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To Be Brave, Create in the Paradox

wwWhere Your Wilds Things Are  

You know the feeling. Something almost wild resides inside you. A bold idea. A bold story. A bold way of doing or viewing something.

Let’s call it a Wild Idea. Let’s say a Wild Idea is, to you, a radically new way of viewing something or it’s a possible project or career move or life move that seems almost out of character for you to give it more time, attention, let alone action than the “normal” and orderly things you tend to on a daily basis.

Still, the Wild Idea beckons. Won’t let go. Won’t let you sleep at night.

How do you express it? Shape it? Get it out into the world? Be it?

You lack know-how. You can’t possibly make time for it in your busy schedule. And what would your family, friends, and colleagues think of spending time on your Wild Idea when you have obligations to fulfill and money to make? And did I mention that you feel like you have no idea what you’re doing?

All of that not-knowing and unfamiliarity can shut you down.

So, you try to ignore it.

And in trying to ignore the not-knowing and in trying to “stay happy” on the outside, you wear the first face of anxiety.

I know this feeling intimately. I am onto a Wild Idea almost every day – either having a new one or pursuing one or more existing ones. And as big, hairy, and wild rumpus-worthy as they might be, their possibility still induces in me regular doses of anxiety. But I’ve been tracking the emotions and feelings that propel me and other gratified creatives.

Here’s what I’m discovering to be true.

You get to a point with your Wild Idea that you cannot ignore it anymore. You cannot not create this project. This project that will change you in the process. And the people around you. And, perhaps, the people who will benefit from your project’s medicine.

And by not ignoring your Wild Idea, you stop trying to flee anxiety and actually move toward it.

You start to make the negative emotion positive.

Welcome to the paradox of being creative. 

Positive Psychology is Not Just Happy Faces

Martin Seligman’s mission of positive psychology has been welcome in changing how we view ourselves not simply as neurotic, sex-fixated creatures who need to develop a rational superego but as creatures who can flourish by leveraging our positive emotions. (Psychologists and Freud fans, you need not remind that that statement was a gross over-simplification.)

Note about “positive” and “negative”: When psychologists label emotions as “negative” or “positive,” they’re not imposing a moral value as in “good” or “bad.” Instead, they’re referring to how a human being either moves toward (“positive”) or away from (“negative”) the stimulus. Fear repels. Joy attracts. In scientifically measurable ways. That sort of thing. At least that’s the general 400-year assumption that underlies those terms.

Sometimes, though, we ignore the nuances and consume only what we want to hear. “I’ll take the happy meal without the anxiety, please.”

Yet, here’s what I’ve discovered: When we let the seeming negative become positive, we create in the paradox.

Create in the Paradox

I work with organizations and individuals to help them be bold in creating new ways of doing things, viewing reality, and living with purpose.

An organization’s leader says she wants her team to be more creative and innovative. But for that to happen might require the leader to give away some of her power. It might mean trusting her team with more autonomy. It might mean she lets her team fail without complete recrimination or job loss.

A young writer and teacher weeps because part of him yearns to go big with his work, reach a larger audience, and earn a sustainable living. Another part of him wants to retreat into the safety of his own creative cocoon and create what he wants, how he wants, with no risk of criticism, failure, or further disruption to the safe patterns already established.

Anxiety propels us into creating with the desire to connect with and even change a patch of the planet. But in that very impulse, anxiety also prompts us to withdraw and protect. The dualistic “negative” and “positive” labels break down.

That contradiction between wants (“I want creativity and creative change” and “I want things to stay the same”) gets at the heart of where we either can let anxiety paralyze or propel our creative courage and our courageous creativity.

Feed Your Heart

Know that it’s okay and normal to feel this creative tension and the anxiety that comes with it. It’s part of our paradoxical biology. Recognize it for what it is.

But I implore you not to ignore it. You can assess whether it’s worth it. Later. But your Wild Idea could lead to the next raving story that changes a little girl’s or a middle-aged man’s perspective. Or the next solution to our technology malaise. Or the spot-on response to our foodie questions.

Pay attention to the itch, the pull, the call, the Wild Idea in increments. You don’t have to take a “jump-in-and-take-no-hostages” approach.

Make a Wild Idea notebook/sketchbook. Whenever you get an inkling, itch, scene, phrase, design, drop it in your notebook. Whenever someone says something or you observe something that might relate to your Wild Idea, drop it in your notebook. Sketch your future. And connect those damn bubbles and doodle in the margins if you want to.

Make a Wild Idea computer file and an Evernote folder. Whenever you see an article or want to type out further ideas, early in the morning or late at night or during your lunch break, go for it.

Walk or run with your Wild Idea. The body and your senses communicate to your unconscious mind – about 95% of what we call mind. So, put that 95% to conscious work. Two clients of mine get their best ideas on the running path. Before they take off, they prime their minds by clarifying a simple Intentional Focus.

An Intentional Focus can be a question related to your Wild Idea that your running, sensory body might answer. Or it can be a simple statement of intention: “I am focusing on X.”

Then, they put the intention on the back burner and run – with pocket notebook and pencil in back pocket!

Let mastery move you. Anxiety creeps up when we feel incompetent in the face of our desires. Especially when we feel so competent in other areas.

You want to create a video series but can barely turn on your webcam. You want to write and publish a book, but you haven’t a clue how your journal-shards and napkin-scraps and volumes of Morning Pages add up to a Book. You want to make more time to create, but you lack the skills to work it in your burdened schedule and burdened mind.

List the skills you want to learn and get better at. Doing so objectifies the creative process in any field or medium. It helps you remember that lack of know-how is normal and that you can gain know-how that, in turn, will help you feel more agile, dextrous, and, yes, courageous on your creative quest. Then seek the right allies and mentors – for pay or not.

But don’t think you should be able to soldier your way through your Wild Idea all by yourself. DIT (Do It Together) trumps DIY in many instances.

Remember the benefactors. None of us will save the world. But we can salve our own patch of the planet. For you, that might be ten people. It might be ten thousand. Regardless of size, your patch of the planet is the group of people united, captivated, and elevated by what you create.

When you feel how their hearts and minds might be salved even for a few minutes or hours by what you create, that feeling can be a bold drive for you to continue feeding your own heart’s Wild Idea.

When you feed your heart, you give your best self what it most deserves: encouragement.

And not only having creative courage but giving encouragement affords a deep joy that converts anxiety and that flat happiness often cannot touch.

How do you mitigate and convert the inevitable anxiety that arises when you’re onto a Wild Idea?


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  1. Thanks for creating so much wild idea wiggle room. Creative courage and encouragement CAN do wonders…even if only just a drop at a time.

    1. My pleasure, Dawn. I agree- – most creative action occurs incrementally. 45 minutes, 60 minutes of action. 12 seconds of capturing an insight and acting on it.