Growing Pains #8 – Where Do I Fit?

When I think about my life, I think about moments in time. I call the significant moments pillars in time. Sophomore year was a life defining year, it was a pillar in time that would hold up the Parthenon that is my life. I wrestled with so many emotions – grief, fear, anxiety, success, loneliness, pain heartbreak, joy, excitement, anticipation, shame, calmness, emptiness. My life felt like a Greek Tragedy. I had three family members pass away in just under a year and a half. A cousin. An uncle. A grandfather. I am a first generation student so I was feeling the pressure to succeed. I still wrestled with being black and what that meant. The year was weighing on me. I needed support. I needed community.

I was fortunate enough to be part of two scholarship cohorts. I was automatically part of a community because of the two programs. I was a Leader Advancement Scholar (LAS) and a Multicultural Advancement and Cofer scholar (MAC). Each of these programs were different. They were made up of different people, targeted different communities, and focused on different experiences. In LAS, the cohort was comprised of mostly white students. In MAC, the cohort included various races and ethnicities, but I would say that it was primarily made up of black students.

With all that carried over from K-12 and life before college, I found myself spending more time with LAS than MAC. I lived in Troutman with MAC scholars, but you wouldn’t have known that. I spent nearly every day of the first year in Barnes with LAS kids, and I moved out of Troutman my second year. I sought out to build deeper connections with LAS students because I hadn’t been shown any mirrors. I didn’t see myself in the MAC scholars’ cohort. I saw myself in LAS.

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I was hypercritical of the MAC scholars program. I took every opportunity to shine light on any fault or annoyance that I found with the program. I’d complain with other scholars. The meetings ran long. The AV didn’t work. This event felt like a waste of time. In hindsight, those events were so important, especially as I clarified my values and began to understand what I wanted to do with my life. (I apologize to anyone who had to deal with that). I didn’t realize it in the moment, and by the end of sophomore year, I left the MAC scholars program and almost left Central.

All year long, I suppressed the pressures of life. I finished the year and spent most of the summer alone in Mt. Pleasant. I had time to learn about myself and “deal” with everything that was slowly crushing me. It was meditative and rejuvenating. I had time to think. Time to be still. Time to just figure things out. That was really when things started to change for me. With emptiness all around me, I had time to find the mirrors. I had time to see my reflection with clear eyes. All the stimulation was gone. All the distractions were silenced. I was finding my fit, and it was inside rather than out.

The Growing Pains series will continue each day until the full story is shared. It is an honest look at how socialization, poverty, changing circumstances, and perceptions influenced me to hate myself, my skill, and my community, but ultimately how authentic relationships, challenging questions, and a deep look inside helped me learn to love myself and love my people. You see I’m black and I love it, but that wasn’t always the case. Check tomorrow for the next chapter – Growing Pains #9: Space will be up and ready for your reading.

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Growing Pains #7: Bad Genes

Context: The moments shared here are in the past and I hold no ill-will or angst toward people I am writing about, but those moments have served as catalysts for reflection and change. They’ve since apologized and we’ve moved on.


I arrived on campus several days before the semester started. August 15, 2010 – I walked around campus looking up at the sky in awe on how many stars there were. The sky was speckled with little exploding balls of light. I remember feeling an overwhelming calmness with each step. I would find that feeling a few more times before graduation, but more of that will come later.

My first year was exciting – events, meaningful classes, new friendships, shared interests and late-night discussions. With no men’s gymnastics team, I decided to try my hand at cheerleading. Tumbling skills got me on the team because my ability to stunt was very low at the time (sorry Obetts and anyone else I had to practice with during tryouts). College was off to a great start. I still had tumbling as an outlet and I made new friends.

As the fall semester turned into the spring semester, I found myself planning a spring break trip with friends from the team. It was my first spring break trip without family. It was college. We were driving down to Panama City Beach. I didn’t know much about it, but I was going with friends. Six of us piled into my friend’s van and we drove down to Florida.

GameDay    Stunting

Big Sean had blown up a little bit and Chiddy Bang was still popular at the time. Just look up Too-Fake by Big Sean and Chiddy Bang. It was basically our theme song for the entire trip. I remember straddling the border of Alabama and Florida for about two hours. Finally! We made it to PCB and Whenever by Kid Cudi was playing out the speakers. The line “you can sip chardonnay and imma have myself a brew. I’m a country ass n***a baby, you know how I roll” flew out the speakers and time stopped.

One of the women on the trip asked, with no inhibition or signs of skipping the word, “What’s a country ass n***a?” She was white and apparently confused. The rest of the car was mortified and I just became small and silent. My friends explained why she shouldn’t say the “n-word” and she proceeds to say, “well I just want to know what a country ass n***a is.” I chimed in and let her know that it was offensive and that we should move on. After all our trip was just beginning.

In that moment, the mirror appeared and showed me myself for the first time. I was a black man. Reality cracked my shell and slapped me in the face. My black face. There are many moments like this one throughout college – each one slowly chipping away at the facade I built up. Two people crossed the street to walk on the same side as a person in a ski mask. Having someone tell you that you shouldn’t date with the underlying, unstated reason having to do with ethnicity. Someone jokingly telling you that Popeyes is “Black people food” as you drive by it.

What did the mirror show me? It revealed that I didn’t really see myself in the people around me either. It showed me that I’d have to continue searching for my place in the world.

“Fight between my conscious and the skin that’s on my body.” – Lift Me Up, Vince Staples

The Growing Pains series will continue each day until the full story is shared. It is an honest look at how socialization, poverty, changing circumstances, and perceptions influenced me to hate myself, my skill, and my community, but ultimately how authentic relationships, challenging questions, and a deep look inside helped me learn to love myself and love my people. You see I’m black and I love it, but that wasn’t always the case. Check tomorrow for the next chapter – Growing Pains #8: Where do I fit? will be up and ready for your reading.

Growing Pains #6: Tipping Point

Poverty is a beast!

It was the November 29, 2008, the Sunday after Thanksgiving. I was listening to Dear Life by Anthony Hamilton. At 12:06am (I have this weird thing about remembering specific times), we pulled into the driveway after taking Kyle, my brother, back to school in Kentucky. It was his first year of college. It was nearly pitch black out except for a few dimly lit, orange street lights and the light on our porch. I stepped out of the car, followed by my parents.

“Give me the bag. Don’t move” A gun pointed directly at me and two men standing in masks demanding everything we had. There are very few moments that are as memorable as being robbed at gunpoint in your driveway. I was helpless.  In a moment that seemed to last forever, my resentment turned to hate. I hated the person standing in front of me. I was angry that there was nothing I could do. My hate was unfiltered and uninhibited. Thankfully, no one was hurt.

A week later, we received a police report that read like a grocery list. Bread, milk, peanut butter, chips, juice, and a two-liter Red Faygo. Less than two miles away, they bought groceries from a gas station. They lived in my neighborhood. Why would they rob us only to go buy food? Why were they in those circumstances? Was this normal? Why us? Why? Why?

Poverty. Poverty. Poverty. The anger lingered, but it was joined by confusion, compassion, fear, and uncertainty. The next two years floated by in a fog and I just moved on. I left Detroit for college with the intention of never going back. I didn’t have answers or solutions. I couldn’t fix anything. I walked away. Little did I know just how important my blackness and my community would become to me. A shield. A target. A reminder. It was the end of one story and the beginning of another, or so I thought.

The Growing Pains series will continue each day until the full story is shared. It is an honest look at how socialization, poverty, changing circumstances, and perceptions influenced me to hate myself, my skin, and my community, but ultimately how authentic relationships, challenging questions, and a deep look inside helped me learn to love myself and love my people. You see, I’m black and I love it, but that wasn’t always the case. Check tomorrow for the next chapter – Growing Pains #7: Bad Genes will be up and ready for your reading.

Growing Pains #5: Resentment

Everywhere I turned, I saw someone to blame. Everywhere I turned, I saw someone who looked like me. Everywhere I turned, I pointed the finger. Everywhere I turned I saw no mirrors. Well, there were mirrors… I just didn’t see myself. I didn’t want to see myself.


*Context*

I saw being black as a detriment. I believed being black was a setback. I saw being white, and even non-black, as better. In school. At home. In the activities I participated in. In life. I saw myself as better because I believed I was “non-black”. I was “50%” this, “20%” that. The last thing I was, and most times by default, was black. I would only claim to be black because it was so obvious that I was. I didn’t want to be associated with blackness. I hated that part of my life. The black experience in the United States was, and still is, defined by struggle and suffering. More than that, it seemed like everyone around me was defined by struggle and suffering. You know how tired I was of hearing about and seeing struggling and suffering. You know the type of hopelessness that creates?! It’s all you see. It’s all you hear. It’s all around you. In not owning my blackness, I felt like I didn’t have to deal with it. I was 10 years old and exhausted from life. How does that happen?

Even now, it’s exhausting to always explain to people what’s going on and things like Black Lives Matter or systemic oppression. It’s exhausting to deal with systems that ruin lives everyday.  Eventually, I saw a way out – getting through middle school and high school as soon as possible. – *exhales after getting that out* (Scroll below for content.)


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*Content*

By the time I was in sixth grade, I changed schools five times. There was a cycle. Start over, make a few connections, change schools, start over, make a few connections, start over. My parents just wanted to find the best education for my brother and I, which meant trying schools out and seeing what happened. I just floated through school.

I was part of another environment that seemed to drain imagination and creativity rather than cultivate it. In sixth grade, I was testing two years higher in all subjects and my teacher brought up the discussion to promote me to the eighth grade. I WAS OVERJOYED. It was happening! I’d get to leave sooner than I thought. You can imagine the pride and joy I felt about having this opportunity.

After thinking about it, my parents declined. “I wasn’t socially ready to be in the classroom with eighth graders.” “I was already young for my grade and I wouldn’t be prepared for the changing environments.” I was devastated. I was defeated. I RESENTED THEM more than I ever had before. I couldn’t make lasting connections anywhere. School was failing me. I was fed up. I was a grudge holder. I was so damn tired. They took away the one chance I had to leave it all behind sooner than I anticipated. That chance was gone before I could even blink.

I shut down. I checked out. I didn’t even try. The same feelings of arrogance and disdain toward my peers came back around. My frustration and anger even reached my brother. Kyle and I would’ve been in the same grade. For the longest time, I thought my parents were trying to protect him. I took every opportunity to bring up being promoted publicly to jab at them and remind them that I was angry. I can never apologize enough for how vindictive I was.

*I want to be a parent some day, but it scares me. I can’t thank my parents enough for how they handled me as a child. I honestly don’t know what I would’ve done in this situation. They just loved me through it. In hindsight, they made the absolutely right decision. There are so many things I would’ve missed had I moved on too early.

The Growing Pains series will continue each day until the full story is shared. It is an honest look at how socialization, poverty, changing circumstances, and perceptions influenced me to hate myself, my skin, and my community, but ultimately how authentic relationships, challenging questions, and a deep look inside helped me learn to love myself and love my people. You see, I’m black and I love it, but that wasn’t always the case. Check tomorrow for the next chapter – Growing Pains #6: Tipping Point will be up and ready for your reading.

Growing Pains #4: The Escape (Gymnastics and the Ocean)

Growing Pains #5 – The Escape

You’ve probably reached this point and have thought, “wow this guy’s childhood was rough.” We all have our rough spots, but my life was full of love. It took me some time to see it and appreciate it. It wasn’t all bad. In fact, there are bright spots that I reflect on now. I was a competitive gymnast in traditional gymnastics as well as trampoline and tumbling. (I’ve included links for trampoline and tumbling because people are less familiar with them.) I started at age four and rounded out my competitive journey at 17 before I left for college. Gymnastics gave me freedom. It was my escape.

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First National Competition. First National Championship. (It sounds cooler than it is. It was me and one another kid in the division. I only beat one person lol)

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I could spend hours in the gym. I wouldn’t even have practice and I’d want to be at the gym. It helped that my mom coached and eventually started her own team. There’s a certain level of peace you get from leaving the ground and just being still in the air for a moment. Yes, there’s the rush of trying newer, more difficult skills, but there is nothing like flying through the air detached from everything for a moment.

 

Our family vacations coincided with Nationals or the Junior Olympics. My favorite competitions happened in Florida and Virginia. I was near the ocean. Similar to the feeling of flying through the air detached, there’s nothing like the stillness beneath the waves in the ocean. I felt so much peace in the ocean. My life felt less chaotic, less loud, and less crowed. The ocean gave me rest and it always seemed to come at the perfect time.

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The Growing Pains series will continue each day until the full story is shared. It is an honest look at how socialization, poverty, changing circumstances, and perceptions influenced me to hate myself, my skin, and my community, but ultimately how authentic relationships, challenging questions, and a deep look inside helped me learn to love myself and love my people. You see, I’m black and I love it, but that wasn’t always the case. Check tomorrow for the next chapter – Growing Pains #5: Resentment will be up and ready for your reading.

 

Growing Pains #3: Space (The Beechdale House)

The Beechdale house was in my family for three generations. Decades of family history filled the walls. It is a four bedroom house. My favorite part of the house is the French doors that separated the living room from the dining room. Twenty-eight small windows filled each door. Anytime you entered either room, it felt like a grand entrance had to be made. There are seven stairs from the bottom floor to a landing with two windows that let light in halfway up to the top floor, and eight stairs followed upward after a short turn. The living room had three beautiful bay windows, a fireplace, and enough room for everyone. I loved that house. I didn’t love living in it.

There are plenty of happy moments. Like setting up my mom’s old gymnastics mats to have wrestling matches with my brother and our cousins in the living room or playing hide and seek in the dark with 10 people. Even family dinners at my grandmother’s victorian dining room table were very much enjoyed. Those happy moments will always be a prized possession. They also gave way to some of the pressure and anxiety I felt as a child.

I felt like I was suffocating more and more each day. I couldn’t wait to go in my room and shut the door. I just wanted to be left alone. I just wanted my one space. Everywhere you turned, despite having an immense amount of space, there seemed to be no room for anyone. Throughout my childhood and teenage years someone lived with us –  a cousin, an aunt, a family friend, another cousin… multiple people at the same time. Honestly, the list could go on. I didn’t fully understand the role poverty played in creating these circumstances. I didn’t know people chose between paying rent, buying food, or buying school supplies. I didn’t understand how difficult it must have been to ask for help. I just saw the people taking up space as a burden.

I resented my parents for always welcoming people in. I resented people who seemed to always lean on my parents in a way that took them away from me. At ten years old, I remember breaking down to my dad. We sat in our basement for what felt like hours. He asked over and over again, “What’s wrong? What’s wrong? What’s wrong? Help me understand what you’re feeling. What’s wrong?” Each question landing on my ears the way a sledge hammer lands on a wall being knocked down. I searched for the answer with each question. I clawed deeper and deeper to find nothing. Uncontrollably, I responded “I don’t know. I don’t know. I don’t. I don’t know.” With tears pouring down my face “I DON’T KNOW!” I didn’t have the words to communicate what was crushing me. We left that that moment unresolved, hanging over us like a storm cloud. A few weeks later, I went to a few therapy sessions and it helped a lot. All I wanted was my family. (GET HELP IF YOU NEED IT! THERE IS NO SHAME IN TALKING TO SOMEONE.)

Even to this day, I am very selective of who gets to meet my family. The few people who have met my family have done so mostly because of circumstance. It has absolutely nothing to do with me not wanting people I care about to meet my family. It’s more so about privacy and separation. You see, I love people and I learned that from my parents first. The values my parents demonstrated were love, compassion, humility, and dignity for all. Give as people need. The values communicated by their actions became my core values. People are worthy of dignity and respect, regardless of their circumstances. It took so long for me to learn that.

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The Growing Pains series will continue each day until the full story is shared. It is an honest look at how socialization, poverty, changing circumstances, and perceptions influenced me to hate myself, my skin, and my community, but ultimately how authentic relationships, challenging questions, and a deep look inside helped me learn to love myself and love my people. You see, I’m black and I love it, but that wasn’t always the case. Check tomorrow for the next chapter – Growing Pains #4: Resentment will be up and ready for your reading.

 

Growing Pains #2: Where Do I Fit?

“It comes as a great shock around the age of five or six or seven to discover that the flag to which you have pledged allegiance, along with everybody else, has not pledged allegiance to you. It comes as a great shock to discover that Gary Cooper killing off the Indians, when you were rooting for Gary Cooper, that the Indians were you. It comes as a great shock to discover that the country which is your birthplace, and to which you owe your life and your identity, has not in its whole system of reality evolved any place for you.” – James Baldwin, novelist, essayist, playwright, poet, and social critic.

Quiet hallways. Cinderblock walls painted white with deep brown stripe painted to divide the top from the bottom. A sea of brown faces. No Mirrors.

I started to notice differences immediately. I couldn’t see myself in the people around me. At St. Mike’s, I couldn’t tell you the ethnic make-up of the class because it didn’t matter. I mean I didn’t know it mattered to me. When I arrived at Thomas Gist, there was a pronounced feeling of difference. I was different. I didn’t see myself as black. I saw everyone around me as black. I was the exception, which is why I was ahead of everyone else. Unconsciously, I thought myself better than others because I was different, and at the time different meant better to me.

I understood this difference to be “black people are less capable of achieving,” which is absolutely not the case. However, there was something more significant that was influencing my perspective – social class. At both St. Mike’s and Thomas Gist, messages of success, brilliance, and imagination were espoused weekly, if not daily. Each teacher communicated that we were all capable students and that we’d one day succeed in reaching our dreams. There was only one difference, a subtle one to a six year old – less resources. Without similar resources and support, I recognized the difference as being the result of the people and not the system around the people.

In unconsciously blaming the people around me, I struggled to make connections with students who were “so different” than me. I didn’t fit. I didn’t know how to build new relationships with other black kids. Martez was my only friend, which was probably a result of him looking like my cousin Josh. For those years, I was very much an outsider and very much alone. I became more introspective and unwilling to interact with others. A quiet second and third grader found himself trying to understand why he felt so alone.

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Martez is in the front row and to the right of me.  He is wearing a gray shirt, black pants, and black/white tie.

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The Growing Pains series will continue each day until the full story is shared. It is an honest look at how socialization, poverty, changing circumstances, and perceptions influenced me to hate myself, my skin, and my community, but ultimately how authentic relationships, challenging questions, and a deep look inside helped me learn to love myself and love my people. You see, I’m black and I love it, but that wasn’t always the case. Check tomorrow for the next chapter – Growing Pains #3: Space will be up and ready for your reading.

Growing Pains #1: Bad Genes

Context:

For the past five years, I’ve been reconciling all the hate for myself that compounded over my short lifetime of 24 years. At that point, I was 19 and just starting my journey. Leading up to the middle of Black History Month (February 2017), I found the freedom to tell the story you’re about to begin (There was a long Facebook post). Growing Pains is be a blog series that reflects my personal journey and the semi-universal feelings that came from it. Pain, disappointment, frustration, loneliness, confusion, honesty, compassion, hope, curiosity, love, and peace of mind. My hope is solely to uncover my wounds so that others may see how to heal their own. In sharing this, I aspire to be vulnerable, authentic, humorous, creative, and instructive. Please journey with me from Self-Hate to Self-Love that extends back into a community that has given and still gives me so much joy. I love myself and I love my blackness.

Bad Genes

Bad jeans – I mean bad genes. Sixteen and wishing for color contacts to have the ocean blue eyes like the porcelain skinned girl I had a crush on in the first grade. Five years old, white oxford shirt, smirk, pressed blue pants, Reebok sneakers, Detroit Lions backpack, Hercules folder. I was ready for the first day of first grade at St. Michael’s School, a private school in Southfield, MI. Didn’t even know I was Black. I was a kid trying to figure out which one of the eighth graders was going to push me on the swing set during recess. I was a kid trying to figure out how the Gingerbread Man got from room to room. My mind was bursting open as if the sun was exploding and my imagination was a deep and as wide as the ocean. Day after day there was a new adventure to be had and a new lesson to be learned.

Decades before Arthur memes, I was dressed in a yellow sweater vest and jeans with the fake round glasses on for Arthur Day. We were paleontologists wearing 13-pocket vests looking for fossils in the dirt on Paleontologist Day. We made wax candles on Valentine’s Day after receiving a valentine from every person in the class. On Saturdays, I sat in a rocking chair with a blanket over my legs next to my brother, who sat in a power ranger chair, to watch Saturday morning cartoons while eating a mini bagel with cream cheese and drinking apple juice. I was 85 in a six-year old’s body, assuming that 85 year-olds sit in rocking chairs. Life was good. Life was amazing in fact.

First grade came and went. It was an exciting year full of first crushes, field day, elementary school birthday parties, and the Scholastic Book Fair. Second grade rolled around and I found myself at a new school, Thomas Gist in Inkster, MI. I went from a private school that was predominantly white to a charter school that was predominantly black. My world shook and I didn’t know how to handle it. Making friends at that age was challenging enough, but to change school and communities made it even more difficult. My second-grade head was spinning. I was alone in a new place. I imagine I am introverted by nature, but the next few years reinforced that feeling. I didn’t spend much time in the second-grade class though, because what I had learned in first grade at St. Mike’s, they were just teaching in second grade at Thomas Gist. So, I was placed in Ms. Murphy’s third grade class about a month into the school year. Change after change.

This is where my 6-year-old brain started to rationalize what was going on in my life. I mean rationalize as a process, not as being rational about the situation. I had to make sense of the world around me. My best interpretation was “if this school is predominantly black and I’m a year ahead in every subject, then that must mean that white kids are smarter and because I was around them, I was smarter. I wasn’t very rational at 6-years-old, and I was upset because I missed my old friends and teachers. I wanted things to go back the way they were. I just wanted to go back to St. Mike’s.

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The Growing Pains series will continue each day until the full story is shared. It is an honest look at how socialization, poverty, changing circumstances, and perceptions influenced me to hate myself, my skin, and my community, but ultimately how authentic relationships, challenging questions, and a deep look inside helped me learn to love myself and love my people. You see, I’m black and I love it, but that wasn’t always the case. Check tomorrow for the next chapter – Growing Pains #2: Where Do I Fit? will be up and ready for your reading.

 

HUMAN – A Reflection on the Film

With a vision to truly capture the essence of what humans experience, Yann Arthus-Bertrand spent three years taking photos, recording stories, and creating a deeply personal and effortlessly human film that allows people to be vulnerable, authentic, honest, and free to share parts of themselves that we can all find in our own lives. (Yann Arthus-Bertrand is a French photographer, journalist, reporter and environmentalist.)

HUMAN the movie (Link to VOL. 1) strips away the complexity of human life to date and shares it with viewers who can immediately empathize or connect with the people who are sharing their stories. Universal themes are at the center of the film – disappointment, love, hate, pain, happiness, sorrow, frustration, change, isolation, difference, belonging, anguish, trust, kindness, and uncertainty.

Many have said, and will continue to say, that technology has isolated us. My usual response to statements and situations when it comes to human interaction, belief systems, and how we treat each other is “It’s more complicated than that.” HUMAN makes the perfect case for that. In the wake of seeing how it has divided us, Arthus-Bertrand demonstrates how technology can be used to bring people closer together.

Right now in the United States, we are publicly seeing people treat others an inhuman. We are desensitized to the reality that we are all people first who have lives, emotions, experiences, needs, desires, ambitions, love, pain, worries, fears, and people that we care about. We are being crushed by adding layer upon layer as to why we are so different from one another, why we have disdain for people, and why we could never even be in the same room as some people. Whether you are liberal or conservative or neither. Black or white or multi-racial. Gay or Straight or Neither. Even if you fit into not of those categories, you are a person first. I am a person first. Though our beliefs may differ, we are people first. Though our ideologies may differ, we are people first.

I understand that how we come together is much more complex than that. There must be acknowledgement and reconciliation from past and current injustices. There must be progress made in achieving equal rights and human rights, as well as in the enactment of those rights. Poverty must be addressed. Decades of work or harm must be undone in order to create a more peaceful world, a world that thrives through collaboration, mutual trust and respect, and honesty.

Even as insurmountable as it may seem to build a better world, it starts with taking a deeply honest look inside to say, who do I see as not worth of life, support, love, opportunity, friendship, happiness, joy, rights? Why do I feel this way? What has brought me to this mindset? How can I get out of the way of others? How can I change the minds of people close to me? Do I see others as human beings? If so, I know what it means to feel pain, be forgotten, and unloved. But I also know what life is like when I feel joy, connected, loved, and appreciated.

When we can acknowledge one another’s humanity, we will be able to have better conversations about our differences and gain understanding about one another’s lives. Even if we do not agree, even if we do not reach a place of true consensus, we have taken the time to acknowledge one another’s humanity and treat each other with dignity.

I’ve included the trailer for a short introduction and a link to VOL. 1 of Human The Movie near the start of the blog.

 

 

But I’m Not That Creative…

Are you Creatives

To some, creativity has joined the junk drawer of buzzwords that currently houses inspiration, and innovation. In some cases, it fits the context in which it is used, but in many cases it seems to only translate into a filler word. *Skip to the bottom for tips and practices on increasing creativity.*

I’ve been wrestling with the question, what does it mean to be creative? After thinking about this for a few days, other questions followed: Am I creative? Can anyone be creative? How can I increase my creativity.

What does it mean to be creative?

To be creative is to have: “The ability to transcend traditional ideas, rules, patterns, relationships, or the like, and to create meaningful new ideas, forms, methods, interpretations, etc.; originality, progressiveness, or imagination.” – Dictionary.com

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In practice, creativity is:  “The use of imagination and original ideas to create something new; inventiveness.” Oxford Dictionary

To me, these definitions serve as a frame of reference, a sort of launching point to discover what it means to be creative. Historically, creativity has been a badge of honor assigned to artists, musicians, writers, designers, and the like. Now, it has become a commodity for communities, businesses, classrooms, non-profit organizations, and largely on the internet. People are constantly creating (not hyperbole). People are literally creating 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Most importantly, in my opinion, people are using creativity to solve problems that our world faces.

My initial reflection led to surface level questions that were directed outward: Is that really creative? Am I being a hater (a check we all need sometimes)? Is that what creativity really is? After my doubtful, judgment-filled questions subsided, I looked inward. (We all have these moments… At least I hope we all do. ha ). My reflection birthed different, more interesting questions. How can I become more creative? How can I think creatively? What skills and passions do I possess that can be used to solve problems?

My curiosity led me to painting. I drew inspiration from Jesi Ekonen, who owns justfollowyourart, which is an Etsy Shop for “Hand Lettered Pretty & Witty Gifts & Decor.” Her products are amazing and she donates some of each purchase to a given charities. I painted small canvases with a variety of colors and patterns. I enjoyed the process, but it didn’t stick for me. So I tried something new.

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Next, I tried writing. In my last role, we were tasked with keeping a blog. I wrote about 50 blog posts, over two years, which is basically one every other week. Also, my 4-line poem career on Twitter was short lived. It was less than 7 Tweets. I enjoy writing, but not enough to do it consistently. My desire to write comes in waves. Then I found my niche, cooking. From start to finish the process of creating a meal was methodical, passion-filled, and deeply enjoyable. I focused on the process and other people. An idea on paper translated to the plate and enjoyed at the end by myself and others.

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Creativity is imagination, original thought, trial and error, pausing, practicing, and learning. The questions isn’t “am I creative?” The question should be “how can I become more creative than I am now?” Think of creativity as ranging from coloring outside the lines to painting Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel. It can be enhanced through effective practice and consistency. It also doesn’t matter where your creativity is directed. Clarify your interests, refine your skills, and take risks. It’s how we use our creativity and connect with others that matters.

*Tip: Spend some time identifying one problem that exists in you life and 50 ways to solve it using your skills, passions, and interests. (Inspiration for 50 – Kid Cudi sampling Paul Simon’s 50 Ways to Leave Your Lover to make 50 Ways to Make A Record.) Try all of those

I needed to find where my interests, skills, and passions worked together to solve a problem or produce something useful/meaningful. Even in practicing the two that didn’t work best for me, I realized that the process of creating and the outcome have to be equally important. You have to enjoy what you create and you have to enjoy how you are creating it.

Various processes revealed that I enjoyed painting and writing, but not enough to practice them consistently. I also realized that the outcomes for both weren’t tremendously important to me. With cooking, I enjoyed the process and I also was invested in the outcome – Does the food taste good? Is it plated well? Are there various colors on the plate? Will the people I share this meal with enjoy the time we spend together eating it? Did we feel more connected as a result of dining together. Keeping these specific things in mind intensified my creativity in the kitchen.

I was able to build deeper and more meaningful connections with people I care about by using creativity – my imagination, skills, passions, and interests, . It wasn’t that we weren’t close friends to begin with, but I wanted to create a shared experience that resulted in us being more appreciative of each others’ presence.

Creative pursuits add value to my life in unexpected ways.

Now more than ever, I believe creativity is necessary to solve people problems. “People Problems” are problems, simple and complex, that effect people in various ways. We have to use our imagination, empathy, skills, and passions to make life better for others. It is no longer true that we reserve the title of creative solely for artists, musicians, and writers. WE ALL must use our imagination, passions, originality and creativity to make our world better. We must create a better world by listening to others, practicing our skills, collectively finding solutions, and making space for different types of people.

I’m excited to see how you bring creativity to life.

What does it mean to be creative:

  1. Using your skills, passions, and interests to solve problems that exists in unexpected/original ways
  2. Enjoying the process as much as the outcome
  3. Taking into account your head and heart when you generate original content
  4. Using your imagination to see the world around you differently

How to be more creative:

  1. Identify your skills, interests, and passions.
  2. Find processes that are enjoyable and outcomes that are important to you.
  3. Look for a problem that you can solve with your skills, interests, and passions.
  4. Enthusiasm is important! Enjoy what you do. (Taken from Tina Roth Eisenberg’s 99U Talk)
  5. Try. Try. Try Some More.