The importance of fostering creativity in your life and following your dreams

So, a former student of mine, who trained as a scientist but is now thinking that she wants to be an artist, contacted me yesterday to share her dreams. She was quite concerned that her dreams of becoming an artist were too crazy. And so this is how I replied.

Thank you so much for sharing all this. Everything you say makes so much sense to me. And maybe if you told me all this 37 months ago, I might’ve replied in a different way. But right now, what I hear and feel deep inside me, so strongly, is that you need to make that dream happen somehow. Maybe you need someone else’s permission to follow your heart and your soul’s yearning, which is why you can’t bring yourself to do it on your own yet. But you need to do it somehow. You can’t keep doing what you’re doing. And don’t think of it as sunk cost (the time you have spent on training as a scientist). It’s brought you to this moment. There’s so many times in our life we have to go through suffering and pain and challenges and things just don’t make sense. But here, you have this glimmer, this dream that feels so real, as something that would bring you true joy. Something that would inspire your soul and give you an outlet for all that creative magic that you have. There’s nothing more powerful than creation.

You know, life is a funny, strange, absurd experience. The spectrum of human experience is so friggin vast, it blows my mind when I think about it. And yet, despite the fact that there are SO MANY DIFFERENT ways to live in this world, to be in this world, to survive and to exist in this world, we get so caught up in the particular narrow views in which we grew up. It’s surprisingly hard to break out of those views.

For example, I grew up being taught that I was very smart and a hard worker, and if I put my mind to it, I could go to a good college, get a good academic-related job that used my mind, I would find a husband to marry, have kids, own my own home, have the typical American dream life that I was supposed to have. If I was a good girl and did what I was supposed to do. But doing something out of the box, off the beaten path, was not encouraged.

And I did it. I did what I was supposed to do. In some ways, I was wildly successful at it. And yet, at the PEAK of me “making it”, having tenure, having money, having everything I had ever dreamed to have and more, I was still so fucked up inside. I had insomnia and woke at 3AM every morning, to start working. I had an autoimmune disorder and I couldn’t even take a shit normally. For years. Even though I “had it all,” had everything I was supposed to have.

And so even though the last three years have been a hell (for my relative existence) that I could never have imagined, I am still GRATEFUL for it all. Truly grateful. Because I am free now. Not completely. But free enough to feel what freedom can actually feel like.

Human beings are SUPPOSED to be creative beings. Every day. I am now learning that my favorite thing to do is write and share what I write. I don’t really care what I’m writing and sharing about. I just want to create. So yeah, we are all supposed to create.

But our traumas and difficult life circumstances are painful for us, and so our mind’s defense mechanisms don’t like that pain, don’t like it ONE BIT, we FIGHT the pain, and so we then lock up parts of ourselves that our mind thinks are responsible for being vulnerable to that pain. We lock them up so tightly that we often forget those parts of us, the best and most beautiful and free and creative parts of us, we prison them away and do our best to ignore them.

But we can’t. But we don’t understand what’s going on inside of us. And so most of us struggle.

You have this opportunity right now. You have spoken with your inner children (research shows there are more than one of them in there, you know). And you have this dream of what could make you happy. And yeah, all the protector parts of yourself are trying to stop you, to keep you “safe”. But it’s not worth being safe if you are caged up and unhappy and miserable. It’s like, I know this is such a cliche, but it’s like caging up an animal in this small tiny cage where they can’t do anything that they love, because you want to keep them SAFE, because if they actually go out into the open world and run and jump and fly or whatever, they could get hurt. There is danger out there. But god – would you rather be a caged bird that never gets to fly, or go out there anyway and soar and experience the world how you want to?

Is it a “danger” to take the risk of following your dream? Sure. You could struggle financially for some period of time. It’s true. But you know what? You are loved and connected enough that you will not be fighting for your survival because of a lack of finances. Hell – you could take some non-thinking service job while you spend the rest of your time creating. If you become homeless, I’ll fly you out to live with me for awhile until you figure out how to get on your feet. I assume you won’t need to take me up on this offer, but it is out there. And I know I’m not the only one who loves you like this and will support you.

I am confident that you can figure out how to make this work, to follow your dream of creating that movie you wrote of. I love the idea. If you start creating this art that you write of, I will do everything in my power to promote it and support you. I will buy your art. I will put it on my websites. I will advertise it to the world. And I’m just one person. I believe in you and your vision. So do you what you have to do to go back to school and get the tools to do it. It’s never too late.

As for your idea though, that you were “never supposed to end up here”. I don’t necessarily think THAT. In fact, I think this is EXACTLY where you were supposed to be, in order to help you realize what it is that you really want to do. Pain and struggle and depression has a place, you know. And I don’t think you were NEVER supposed to be a scientist. Of course you were. You are a brilliant scientist. You just wrote that you love developmental biology with all your heart. But just because you are a brilliant creative scientist does NOT mean that you should follow the buttoned up scientific academic path that is safe for the masses. No. That’s like saying someone doesn’t want to believe in God because most organized religions are messed up. And your love and appreciation of science is what will ENABLE YOU to make the beautiful art that you can share with the world.

That’s what matters, you know. Beauty. Appreciation of beauty. I don’t know if you remember what I said once, in a life advice about why I chose my research focus. Students would always ask me how I knew what I wanted to study. It had almost nothing to do with the actual science. There are so many important questions in biology, it’s hard to choose just one. But the microscopy images of what I eventually ended up studying were BEAUTIFUL. I still remember the first time I ever looked at them under the microscope. I was awed. And so if I had to study something, I might as well study something that is beautiful, you know? That’s the only reason. Nothing more significant than that.

And she wrote back –

“Thank you SO much for your encouragement. It really does mean SO much that someone that I admire so much, and who in my mind is the most powerful person in the universe, who can do absolutely anything she sets her mind to (and who has been so instrumental in everything I have become) is telling me that dreams are worth having, and that the act of creation is holy. And of course, written into your advice is my favorite thing that you always taught us from day one, anyway– do things that scare you.”

Writing with her (we went back and forth a few times) made my day. Being able to support another human being in her pursuit of following her dreams and being involved in creation. It made my week. It helped me to feel like myself again. To remember that what I value most in my life is connecting with others and supporting them and inspiring them to be their most authentic selves.

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