“Ancaro imparo. (Still I learn.)” – Michelango
When describing his approach to sculpture, Michelango said that he could see fully- formed statues inside each massive block of marble. His job was simply to remove the excess marble and, in effect, set the figures free.
Some of his statues were only partially liberated.
Lining the Hall of Prisoners inside Florence’s Accademia Gallery are four statues begun by Michelango for the tomb of Pope Julius II. Due to difficulties with funding (and Michelango’s own challenges), the statues were never completed. Standing mere feet from the grand statue of David, the Prisoners remain partially encased in their marble, appearing to try to escape.
On a hot September day in 2015, I stood in the Hall of Prisoners and stared at The Awakening Slave. In a moment of fascination blended with horror, I recognized myself.
Even though I had made significant strides (essentially rebuilt my entire life) since the 2008 – 2013 Nuclear Winter of My Personal Life, I was still, in many ways, hiding. I was hiding my creativity under a cloak of “not enough time,” “too busy,” “too tired,” “too sluggish from numbing out,” “too afraid of judgment,” and “too worried I’d find out I really couldn’t do the thing that called me the most.”
All that hiding has a cost. In that moment in Florence, I understood – fully – what that cost was to me personally, as well as to all of us, collectively.
Like Michelango’s Prisoners, we are all – in some form or fashion – trying to break free from the casing that holds us captive, especially when it comes to our creative expression.
I am going to guess that at some point during your childhood (or young adult life) something happened that caused you to believe that you are not a creative person. Maybe you shared a piece of artwork or something you wrote, and the response that you received when sharing your tender, young creative act was something akin to shame and ridicule. And that moment that happened long ago lodged deep inside your psyche – deep inside your cells – causing you to firmly believe as a grown adult you are simply not “creative.”
Nothing could be further from the truth.
If you are like me, over the years, you most likely hid the painful belief – “I am not creative” – under layers of thoughts and actions that distracted you, numbed you, and kept you conveniently too busy to stop, reflect, and make any real changes in your daily life.
New York Times best-selling author and research professor at the University of Houston Graduate College of Social Work, Brené Brown, says we are by our nature, creative. She argues that unused creativity is not benign; it turns into grief, rage, judgment, sorrow, and shame. That is, not expressing your creativity is toxic!
Perhaps more than any other time in our history, we need powerful leaders with clear, clean access to their creativity and innovation to step forward. We need you to be the leader of your own life first and foremost, as well as a creative and innovative leader of our organizations, our teams, our companies, and our nonprofit organizations.
Each of us needs all of us. We need you to reclaim your creative confidence and uncover that spark that’s inside of you that absolutely has the power to move mountains; shift organizational cultures; solve problems; create new, innovative products and services; and disrupt entire industries.
Dylan Thomas described creativity as “the force that through the green fuse drives the flower.” There is such a force deep inside of you, and I will prove that to be true.
It is time for us all to break free. Just as we learned the false belief that we are not creative, we can just as easily dissolve that thought and replace it with one that is true. We can learn how to build creative confidence – it is the ultimate liberation.
Let’s get to work.