I suddenly realized that one of the core competencies of being human was that we were the only corner of creation that could refuse to be ourselves. The Kingfisher doesn’t get to choose to be a crow. And the mountain is just a mountain, and the cloud is just a cloud. The tree is just a tree. That’s why the natural world seems to be so nourishing to us because we get an intonation of what it might be like just to be ourselves. But as human beings, we have this extraordinary ability not only not to be ourselves, but to pretend to be someone else and to hang a mask in front of our real identity.” ~ David Whyte
The Jet Blue puddle jumper touched down at the St. Thomas airport right on schedule. I pulled my bag from the overhead bin and stood in the aisle. While I was waiting for the line to move, I glanced down at my customs declaration form and read again what I had written in the box labeled “Occupation.”
“Writer/consultant/real estate agent.”
About a half hour earlier, I had had something of an existential crisis when filling out the form. My pen hovered over the blank field to the right of the word “Occupation.” I started to just default to writing in “real estate agent”—simple, clean. Something inside of me roared back, demanding I proclaim my status as a writer.
My pen continued to hover.
My inner voices were now in a full-scale shouting match. “Oh, for God’s sake, Susie!!! You are a writer!!! W-R-I-T-E-R into the blank! Do it!”
“Who in the hell do you think you are? You can’t just say you are a writer! You have to be a writer!”
“You are a writer! You write! Ergo, you are a writer!”
I did the courageous thing and wrote in “Writer.” And then I qualified it—watered it down—in some sort of appeasement offering to my ego: “Writer/consultant/real estate agent.”
I was at once proud, giddy, and embarrassed.
I handed my form to the agent inside the airport. Expecting to breeze on through, I rolled my suitcase toward the exit.
“Oh! You are a writer!” said the agent.
“Uh, yes I am.”
“What do you write?” he asked, while gathering forms from other passengers.
“I write essays … nonfiction mostly. About creativity and leadership. I’m also writing a book….” I was pushed forward by the crowd, and my voice trailed off.
The agent waved at me with the enthusiasm of a loved one sending me off on a long journey. “That is very exciting! Good luck!”
I rolled my bag into the bright sunlight and got in the long taxi line. I slid my sunglasses onto my nose and realized that something magical had happened. Albeit qualified/watered down, I had just publicly claimed my creativity—my status as a writer—to a stranger for the first time.
Why is claiming our identity as a creator so challenging? What is it that we are afraid of?
My vivacious and brilliant French tutor, Sabrina, said to me this morning via Skype that she is afraid to tell her friends and family she is a writer. She said, “Je crains que si je dis que je suis un écrivain, tout le monde attendra de moi que j’écrive!” Translation: “I am worried that if I say I am a writer, everyone will expect me to write!”
Ah, that’s really the core of it, isn’t it?
If we claim it, we will have to actually do it. Follow through. Stop hiding. Say No to the things that do not light us up. Say Yes, with knees knocking, to things that call to our heart most deeply. Do the work.
And when we finally scale the wall of fear and share whatever it is we have created, we stand alone in the blinding sunlight, squinting, hand over eyebrows, scanning and waiting for the judgment. The proof that we are untalented imposters.
After all, we believe, all the real writers, painters, dancers, chefs, actors, musicians, etc. are over there.
So what is the remedy?
First, claim your creative identity to yourself—and only yourself. You may write it in a journal, speak it to your reflection, and/or visualize in great detail an inner movie reel of you in creative action.
Next, find a person whom Julia Cameron calls a Believing Mirror—a person whom you love and trust deeply who can be your creative confidant. This person mirrors back for you (sans negativity of any sort) your dream, holds it in a positive light, and expounds upon all the possibilities.
Next, speak your secret to a stranger. Write it as your occupation on a form. Practice claiming your creative identity at parties, meetings, and social events (be prepared for all kinds of reactions!).
Finally, go public with your “everyone”—the very people who pop into your mind when you dare to dream of living your dream. The ones you point to when your ego fights back and says, “Everyone will think I’m crazy to say I am a ______!”
Or, “Everyone will wonder who the hell I think I am to say I am a _______!”
Once claimed in the private and public spheres, take one, decisive action. That is, write something (or paint, play, cook, etc.). Begin with one, small project that has a beginning and an end.
Finish something and share it.
Let us inside—at least to the foyer. You don’t have to serve us tea or offer us a snack. A moment or two just inside the front door is enough.
You can invite us back anytime you want.
Now, let’s go back to the fellow in St. Thomas who was collecting customs declaration forms. Why was he so excited for me? Why did he react the way he did?
I believe it is because he is just like everyone of us. He knows deep inside he is creative. He has something to say—to offer the world. When he encountered a fellow pilgrim on the journey, he saw himself in me and me in him. He saw his potential—all of the possibilities his creativity holds. He saw himself living the creative life.
In other words, in that brief moment, I was a Believing Mirror for him.
When we step out onto the narrow ledge of our creativity (with our bodies breaking out into hives due to our fear of heights), we hold the lantern for the person who just crossed the threshold into creativity’s dark cave.
Courage begets courage. Courage begets creativity.
Reaching into ourselves in ways we’ve always feared helps us not only to remember how to live in accord with our true selves. It is an act of benevolence, kindness, and compassion.
We simultaneously wave with enthusiasm to our fellow traveler wishing him or her safe journey.