Creativity and Change

For most people the word change conjures up images of difficulty and stress, not improvement and growth. This is because we humans are hard wired to resist change: familiarity equates with safety and certainty (even when it is neither safe nor certain), whereas the new is seen as threatening because it has yet to prove itself in the crucible of daily life.

The new and better will indeed destroy the old, thus its power to overthrow what is ready to go but resists destruction. Like the apocryphal story about a tribe in ancient times that threw inventors over the cliff; many of us would rather stick with the unworkable than deal with the anxiety that goes with stepping into the unknown.

Needing a guarantee of success may cause you to avoid risks, resulting in a feeling of stagnation you try to alleviate with drama-ridden or vicarious relationships that take the place of genuine excitement. By contrast, a creative life is an ongoing process of challenge and growth. Each new goal you set has its stage of drudgery and triumph, a beginning, a struggle, and a victory.  The elation you feel when you “get there” is in direct measure to the terror you felt until you were sure you made the right decision.

Fear and Creativity Travel Together

One of my clients told me she just wanted to get beyond fear.

“Every day when I wake up my goal is to not feel anxious,” Annette said.

“Well, that’s the day you’ll be dead,” I said, and we both laughed.

Annette had a history of perfectionism, a trait she developed while growing up in a controlling family whose need to be certain got passed on to her. Annette had just moved overseas to start a new job and life. Although she had lived in the country before, was fluent in the language, and she had supportive friends and colleagues there, unlike a decade ago, this time the move was permanent and the professional risk much higher. Her self-doubt was so intense Annette thought she was developing an anxiety disorder. This level of fear is a sign the conscious mind is not in tune with a subconscious desire to be free from restrictions.

The freedom urge will lie dormant until the subconscious “arranges” an event that starts the process of setting us free from whatever blocks growth. This can be an accident or illness, the breakup of a relationship, loss of a job, belief system, or someone who confronts us with our need to change.  When we are not conscious of what we need, we react with inertia, fear and anger, blaming events or others for our distress. In Annette’s case, she had felt bored and restless for over a year. After listening once again to her frustration, I urged her to take the leap. Within two weeks Annette was on the airplane. A day after she landed doubt reared its head: Are you out of your mind? Did you really think this through?

“Doubt is questioning your intuition,” I said to Annette, when she called to express her dismay. “It takes time to prove to fear what the intuition knows instinctively. Besides, you’ve been thinking about this move for over a year, so it’s hardly a rash decision. Even so, don’t expect to feel comfortable. See the anxiety as a normal part of growth. Exercise, breathe deeply, and get out and meet people. Soon the fear will subside.”

A few days later Annette wrote to say she felt more optimistic about her decision.

“The day after we spoke I went into town and just looked around. I spoke to some shopkeepers and to the receptionists at the gym and I noticed to my surprise that the words just flowed out. It was really positive for me and I was in a bit of a shock at myself. I’ve been reminding myself of what you said that even the best need transitioning.”

Annette had also broken perfectionism’s hold on her mind.

“I see now that problems are a good thing. This helps me to know and feel that the difficulties and challenges I’m facing are what I’m supposed to experience, and that nothing is wrong with me. I went back to what you said, that the intuition is always right, then I continue to trust it and continue on with courage.”

Discomfort is a Sign of Growth

The desire to avoid discomfort is the bane of creativity, since the creative process is just that: a non-linear process you can’t predict.  Depending on the risk you are taking, the struggle stage of growth is like being in the middle of the Gobi Desert where oases are few and far between. The tendency is to give up and settle for what used to be, rather than endure the agony of not knowing if you have what it takes to survive and thrive.

Learning how to confront and work through fears until they lose their power is the ultimate payoff for change. In fact, if you look back on a difficult period in your life, wasn’t the process of getting there the success, not just the end result? Didn’t the triumph come when you saw that who you are today is not the person you were back then?

Overcoming the Fears That Hold You Back

Rather than hang on to what is dead and gone, or wait passively for something or someone to force you to let go of what isn’t working, make a list of what you want to improve about yourself and your environment. Ask why you want to change, who will benefit, and why some will resist these changes. As you travel through the daunting stage of change share the struggle, which is not the same as complaining about how bad it is. Letting others know that change is not easy for you will make them feel better about change being hard for them. It also helps to:

  • Have compassion for the human condition. Don’t be fooled by appearances: we are all insecure travelers on this planet. Tolerance for error makes it easier to correct mistakes. You will also be more open to constructive criticism from people who can show you how to improve.
  • Be prepared. Preparation is like a pair of hiking boots that take you through the roughest terrain. If you don’t take shortcuts, no matter how severe the critics, you will handle criticism and setbacks with ease and grace.
  • Keep your sense of humor. Even the harshest critics are disarmed when you can laugh at your mistakes, as Annette learned to do. If you find yourself getting too serious watch funny movies, read stories that make you laugh, exercise vigorously, and talk with people who can remind you that the mountain you are making of the situation is a molehill.
  • Celebrate when you get there. Tell others about your success, not to brag, but to let them know it is the quality of the struggle that turned you into the capable, confident person you were designed to be.

Nancy Anderson is a career and life consultant based in the Sacramento/San Francisco Bay Area and the author of the best selling career guide, Work with Passion, How to Do What You Love For a Living, and Work with Passion in Midlife and Beyond, Reach Your Full Potential and Make the Money You Need. Her website is workwithpassion.com.