We all start off life as painters, musicians, inventors, explorers, but often it gets knocked out of us as we get older. Someone tells us we can’t sing, or our dancing is embarrassing, or our ideas aren’t very good. And gradually we stop doing them. We believe that when we get the time and space to reconnect with those aspects of ourselves it can be fun, empowering, and beneficial in all aspects of our lives.
I know that from personal experience. Four years ago, I was someone who always had to get everything right. I was terrified of failure and never started anything unless I thought I would be good at it. I found myself feeling stuck, flat, and anxious about life – and so I took a month off work and got people to set me different creative challenges to do every day. It changed my life. I met people I would never have met, I had to take a risk and fail every day, I realised I didn’t have to be perfect to be OK.
Along with my colleague David Micklem, I started 64 Million Artists because I was passionate about this idea of everyday creativity – the idea that we’re all doing little acts of creativity all the time and there is no mysterious ‘talent’ involved that some people have and some people don’t. Creativity is different for everyone, because it’s an expression of ourselves.
We’ve worked all over the country with communities, offices, factories, universities, schools and government and engaged tens of thousands of people. In this book I’ll be sharing some of what we’ve learned about using your creativity at work, at home, in relationships, in your community, for tough times and for celebration, for your mental and physical wellbeing and just for fun.
Each chapter will share practical ideas and simple creative challenges to do. You might call them everyday adventures in creativity. There will be a community of people to connect with who are also reading the book, new things to learn and old things to find. Who knows what you might discover about yourself along the way?
Then the flat feeling became more and more uncomfortable, and it turned into anxiety. Then one day I found myself in a meeting and I knew I was going to cry and I had to pretend to go to the toilet and found myself locked in a cubicle having my first ever panic attack. I felt like everything was caving in around me and I couldn’t breathe and I felt sad and overwhelmed and lost. I was used to being in control and suddenly I felt very, very far away from that.
I had always been someone who got things right. I wanted to be good, to help people, to be seen as nice and competent and happy. Most of the time I was those things, but the fear of not being, the pressure of trying to stay on top of ensuring nothing bad happened, had built up and up until I was literally unwilling to take any risks. I never did anything I wouldn’t be good at. I never approached people I didn’t know were already ‘my kind of people’. I didn’t embark on projects that might fail. Somehow I had built a life where the stakes around being successful were so high I couldn’t do anything differently, and it was suffocating me.
Like most people, that’s not how I’d started out. As a kid I played games, I got messy, I made up stories, I made friends with all sorts of people. I once made an entire leisure centre out of an old TV box. It took weeks and I loved making all of the individual toilets and changing rooms (ok, maybe not every kid loved this, maybe I was just weird and obsessed with The Brittas Empire). I didn’t care about getting things right, I just had a go. I dived right in and didn’t care about the outcome or the consequences. I was fearless in my creativity.
So what had happened along the way? I don’t remember a single moment that stopped my creativity in its tracks. I wasn’t, like plenty of others, told ‘you can’t sing, just mouth the words’ in choir, or mocked for my dance moves, or told my ideas were rubbish. I was told I wasn’t neat enough in my drawing and that I was too noisy, and made to feel like an alien for having so many feelings. But it was more that whenever I was good at something I was praised, and whenever I was bad at something I felt shame. So gradually, I stopped doing the things I thought I wouldn’t be great at and be praised for and did fewer and fewer of the things I wasn’t the best at, no matter how happy they made me.
This is a normal part of growing up, finding what you excel at and getting good at stuff, but the school system and society more broadly has become so focused on life as this linear trajectory of getting things righter and righter and better and better and the stress of ensuring that keeps happening was enough to find me sobbing in that toilet and wondering where it had all gone wrong.
So I decided to go back and try and find that freedom of playing around and not knowing again. I knew it was in me somewhere so I wanted a way of uncovering it. I asked for some time off work and sent out a message to lots of my friends and colleagues and some strangers to see if they could help me. The message went like this:
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These people are helping to fund Everyone is Creative: inspiring adventures for everyday life.