When lawyers—or really anybody—tell me that they’re not creative but they wish they were, I’m fairly sure I know what’s going on. They’re thinking that they’re not CREATIVE. Like, they’re not Joshua Bell-creative. Bell is a world-renowned violinist who, at the age of 4, was stretching rubber bands between dresser drawer pulls to play classical music.
Folks, that’s not creativity. That’s genius, prodigy-level creative. Honed, I might add, with a plethora of practice and commitment. It is exceptionally rare. It’s the creativity equivalent of Michael Jordan. Yet, most people don’t think that because they can’t play as well as Michael Jordan, they can’t possibly be a basketball player of some sort. But they do think if they aren’t a world-class writer/singer/painter, they’re not creative.
Yes, Even YOU Are Creative
Of course, that’s hogwash. I want to say very plainly: Every human being in inherently creative. Yes, even the most boring tax lawyer. Creativity shows up in myriad ways. Today, I’m focusing on what many equate with creativity, which is some form of artistic expression.
Because there are so many perfectionist myths that surround creativity and art in our culture, I’m giving you a decoder ring. These are not, by any means, the only tea leaves in town to tip you off that you’re creative, but they’re a decent cheat sheet. And just because I didn’t capture every possible permutation, I beg you not to conclude you are not creative. Instead, add your own insights in the comments, too!
Clues That You’re Creative in an Artistic Way
You just might be artistically creative if:
- You’ve been told that you’re too sensitive or too intense;
- You’re the one who always asks, “Well, why not?” Or “I wonder what would happen if?”
- You’re curious about a wide and eclectic range of subjects. Dwarf planets, Buddhism, medieval village life, heirloom garden plants and product design all seem interesting;
- In high school or college, you wore buttons that said things like “Question authority.” Creatives are often the first to say out loud that the emperor has no clothes, because they see with far fewer filters;
- You were the class clown at times. You could have been the court jester if you’d just lived 500 years ago;
- You occasionally go on art- or craft-supply buying binges, thinking that this time, you WILL do that project. Or, you have a stash of such things that you can’t bear to part with and have paid people to move them 3 different times;
- The idea of creating a garden makes your heart sing a little;
- You sometimes get taken with a word or phrase, rolling it around in your head or maybe even writing it down. For example, during document reviews, I often kept notes of really interesting names like Throckmorton;
- You have a real thing about the texture of paper, or the color of it. Pens have to be just the right kind and color, or it drives you bonkers. You buy cool-looking journals because they make you feel warm and fuzzy and right;
- You hear a story that happened to someone and think how that would make a great idea for a novel;
- You sometimes eavesdrop on coffee shop conversations because you just want to know what makes someone tick, or to hear a juicy detail or two from someone else’s life;
- You mentally re-arrange visual elements all the time. For example, you can picture how different colors would look on a sofa or in curtains. Or, you mentally edit a room, moving the furniture around, tweaking colors and textures to make it better. You can strip out the visual clutter and see the potential of a space, and you get confused when others can’t see your vision. You love watching This Old House and HGTV;
- You always know exactly what weird combination of colors will look super cool, whether it’s in clothing, rooms, or paintings;
- You really like the idea of making your own furniture, curtains, clothes, jewelry, house, food, or whatever, whether you actually make them or not. You watch shows, bookmark websites or clip articles about those things;
- You’ve been known to walk around with a camera just taking pictures of interesting doorways, fall leaves, bugs, streams, odd people, or some other thing that catches your eye.
- You spend inordinate amounts of time adjusting the fonts and color schemes of your word processor, browser, and wallpaper. Or, you are the one who knows how to add graphics to documents because you will fiddle with them until they’re perfect;
- Your class notes were filled with caricatures of classmates or professors;
- If you didn’t fear being mocked and had the time, you would happily dress for a Renaissance festival or a Comic-Con convention, and possibly play the role to the hilt;
- You think you might as well become an actor, since you’re so good at acting like you give a shit at work. Or, you think you should become a comedian, because after just 2 years in law you have enough material for a lifetime of sketches and riffs;
- You dance in the living room where no one can see you;
- You secretly loved the square-dancing unit in high school gym class. Or, you signed up for the ballroom dance class to fulfill a PE requirement;
- You need to move, and you’d really prefer to feel graceful when you do. If you could twirl down the street without being mocked, you just might. Or you harbor a secret fantasy to be in Stomp or Riverdance;
- You tap out rhythms while you work, without even noticing it;
- As a kid, you made up songs that you never sang to anyone else, or sang them to anyone who would listen.
- There’s a soundtrack in your head all the time, if you just listen for a second, and it’s often songs you haven’t heard in ages; or
- You see a particular instrument and would just love to pick it up, even though you’ve never had a lesson.
Notice what is NOT on this list: Achievement and performance. No stacks of completed paintings or short stories, no laundry list of musical or dramatic performances. Those things come from committing to your creative and artistic gifts, not from having them in the first place.
Many lawyers get lost on this point, because they want to see evidence of creativity before considering that they might have some. That’s backwards. The urge to create comes way before the manifestation, and that urge needs nurturing and guidance, not boot camp and production quotas.
Use this list, or other similar things you’ve noticed about yourself, as a reason to affirm that you are, in fact, creative. Then nurture your creative self, with plenty of sleep and fun. After that, you can think about honing your gifts.
By the way, that link up top about Joshua Bell? Read it. It’s a 2007 story in the Washington Post about how Bell played one morning, incognito, at a Metro stop. And there’s a recording of it, which is transcendent.
Jennifer Alvey is a recovering lawyer who dabbles in all kinds of art activities, and facilitates a local creativity group (if you’re local to Nashville, email for details!). She coaches lawyers to put down their billable hours measuring sticks and just experience the joy of creativity. To find out what that’s like, schedule a discounted sample coaching session by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.