When was the last time you consulted your inner child? Yes, I know. You’ve been working like crazy, taking care of everyone but yourself, and your weekends are spent sleeping in, catching up, running errands, catching the game on TV. But when was the last time you turned off the TV and filled in the blank, “When I was a kid, I dreamed of being ________” and then compared that to your adult self?
“The creative adult is the child who has survived.” – Ursula K. LeGuin
When I was a kid, I wanted to be a writer. I still have the notebook that has the first two-thirds of my seventh grade novel. I was a voracious reader. I lived on a farm and rode horses. I used to blow the dandelion blooms in the yard, much to my Dad’s chagrin. I took walks in the woods, trailed by the barn cats. I used to practice trying to draw my horse. I would side in the pasture and watch him eat while I sketched in my notebook. I even made a comic out of him, my horse who was so much like old TV show horse Mr. Ed.
There were years when I completely, totally, 100% forgot this about myself.
But you can get it back. That mojo. That childlike sense of awesome. You just have to practice.
This past weekend, I got to practice with Spacious, my favorite new DC-based organization dedicated to “encouraging recess, engaging otherness and having adventures,” at their Blank Canvas Day, co-hosted by my other new favorite DC spot, Bloombars, a very cool space that incubates the artist in all of us. Seriously, every city needs organizations like these. Uptight DC could use several hundred or so. Actually, just do me a favor and sprinkle ’em like Starbucks on every street corner.
Anyway, back to my weekend. Having just filled out a questionnaire about myself as a kid, I stared out at the blank canvas. We had newspaper over the tables, plastic on the floors, fruit-smelling markers, paper, acrylic paints, brushes and canvas. When was the last time you were in a situation like this? Where you are the kid?
It’s intimidating looking at that blank paper. The blank canvas. In the blog Creativity Post, author Darya Zabelina describes the inner adult critic perfectly in the entry, Thinking of Yourself as a Child Can Unlock Your Creative Potential: let go of inhibitions and learn to draw from a four-year-old. Our host asked us to close our eyes and put the fruity markers to paper and just let go. Just draw. You could almost hear the protests – But what are we drawing? We can’t see! I only have one color! Can we stop now? What if I go off the paper into my neighbors’ paper?
When we were done, our host asked us – now what would you have done when you were a kid? Take this straight to mom, of course. If it made it to the refrigerator, that was a sign it was good. Creativity Post author Darya was right. If you think of yourself as a child, you begin to feel creative again.
What does it mean to re-connect to your inner child? When was the last time you created, imagined, or dreamed something free from your own inhibitions or the judgments of others? If you watch kids on a playground or drawing, you’ll see that this freedom from inhibition. It’s a key ingredient in renewable enthusiasm, and a key ingredient in childhood that adulthood so often lacks.
I know from experience that if you lose it, you can get it back. You just have to practice.
If you don’t believe me, ask my improv teacher who writes the blog Hello Moment. She told us to remember, It’s Only Stupid if You Judge It.
“But who has time for play,” you judge.
Ask Tim Brown of Ideo. His 2008 video examines Creativity and Play. When we play, we make friends. We learn how to trust. We learn how to explore. We stop self-editing so that our ideas come through. Many famous companies have built play into the work environment to support creativity as a business imperative.
Yes, but that’s the Ideos and Googles of the world, you might protest.
Ask Gallup Press author Jim Clifton, who tells us in his book The Coming Jobs War, how important optimism, determination and energy are in building the enterprises of the future. His Gallup Journal article, Why Entrepreneurs Matter More Than Innovators walks through several blockbuster ideas that on their face seemed stupid to many. It was the optimism, determination, and energy of the creators who did not self-censor their ideas, but built on them and turned them into the Fortune 500 companies we have today.
If you still don’t believe that embracing your inner child is an imperative for our times, fine. Pick up some markers and paper anyway, just because. Because when I started recovering my sense of creativity, I developed the courage to start this blog. And now I can say that I’m a writer. Just like my ten-year old self wanted to be.
If you’re in DC, be sure to check out my two new favorite organizations, or build or support something like them in your own city: