Recently my husband and I decided to go for a bike ride around our neighborhood, as we often do on a warm weekend afternoon. We rode on the road, on paths just for bicycles and pedestrians, over a river, through the woods and alongside high rise luxury condos. I felt pretty strong for most of the ride and proud at how far and how fast I could ride without taking a break.
Then we started climbing up this huge hill. My husband, a lifelong cyclist who has spent countless hours exploring the world by bike, switched gears and rode up the hill, slower but quite surely. As I approached the incline, I told myself “You can do this. You’re not going to stop, you’re just going to keep going. No getting off the bike allowed!”
Hold on, what? Who was this little voice inside my head forbidding me to stop, to reassess my plan, to give myself a different option?
I listened to the voice. I pedaled harder, bearing down with all my might, and began to roll to a crawl as my bike struggled to keep moving forward up the hill. My wheels stopped turning and I made a decision.
Without whining and without making a big show of it, I got off my bike and walked it the rest of the way up the hill. At the top of the hill, I hopped back on the bike and whizzed down using hardly any effort at all. When I caught up to my husband, we simply kept riding towards the park we were headed for.
Recap: I biked, when it got really hard, I stop riding and started walking, and then when it felt better, I kept going. No big deal. Simple as that. So why does getting creative with the “rules” often feel so hard?
Whether or not you self-identify as an athlete, I believe that we have all internalized the stereotypical sports coach who pushes and yells and berates their team members to “NEVER GIVE UP! NEVER QUIT! BE STRONG!”
The thing is, I didn’t quit. I simply got creative with how I chose to get up that hill. I made it up that hill, even if I was walking, and there wasn’t any scary sports coach at the bottom berating me for being a failure, mocking me for not taking the hardest path possible. In the end, the voice in my head wasn’t someone else being hard on me--it was me being hard on me. That critic was actually the personification of the conditioning that we have all experienced to feel shame when we break the rules or do something differently than we “should.”
But what exactly are these rules we pressure ourselves to follow? Who makes them? Who enforces them?
Who decides what we “should” do? Who defines what “quitting” means? What does “weak” really mean?
Who else has to live our life except for us? Whose experience is this, anyway?
I often think of being creative as rebelling against the “do as much as you can, as fast as you can, for as much money as you can” culture that we live in. Creativity always feels a bit rebellious: doing something for the sake of joy, curiosity, and magic? Whoa. You rebel, you.
And yet, I see how so many of us (talking to myself here for sure!) reject the rules of our fast-paced, productivity obsessed, endlessly assessed society, only to pursue creativity and play with the same rigid, unforgiving, obsessive standards. How often do we wish to be free and playful only to end up beating ourselves up because we aren’t doing it “right”? Why do we fence our creative souls in with all these rules, when it takes so much of the joy away? What would happen if we loosened up a bit?
I decided very recently that I am going to experiment with what it might feel like to retire many of the rules that I have about being creative and playful. Why? Because I make the rules and I can break the rules and I can throw all the rules out the window any time I want. Why? Because that’s the way creativity works. Because this is my life.
I’m allowed to get off the bike and walk it.
I’m allowed to start reading a book that looks interesting and stop reading it 20 pages in because I’m not into it.
I’m allowed to start writing a short story and halfway through, get rid of one of the characters.
I’m allowed to watch the same movie a dozen times because I love it that much.
I’m allowed to decide that after years of writing plays, I want to write a screenplay instead.
I’m allowed to be offered a role in a play and turn it down simply because I don’t think the writing is that good.
What new adventures might be waiting to be experienced and enjoyed if we simply gave ourselves permission to make our own rules and to accept that our creativity doesn’t owe anyone, including ourselves, anything?
Alright, here’s your end of blog post task to try to put these musings into motion:
- Repeat after me: I am allowed to do anything I want when it comes to being creative. I make the rules. I break the rules. I can follow any rules I want to. I can get rid of the rules altogether.
- Choose a rule that you have for yourself and GO AND BREAK IT. Seriously, go ahead and do it--I won’t tell anyone. Do you usually go running? Break your own rule and take a swing dance class instead. Do you never allow yourself to eat your dinner in front of the t.v.? Get yourself to the couch, put on your favorite episode of Seinfeld and enjoy the hell out of that plate of tacos. Always wear black? Wear a bright bold color instead. See what happens, see how you feel.
And if you do break the rules and decide that you really do like wearing black and eating dinner at the table and running as your form of exercise? Then by all means, go back to these things; there’s no rules about how you make your rules. Returning to things that work well for you doesn’t make you weak or a failure or anything else that the obnoxious sports coach bully tells you that they mean. What returning to these rules does mean is that you can return with the knowledge that you broke your own rules and learned something from it. Because in the end, maybe it’s not about breaking all the rules all of the time, but just becoming aware that we have the freedom to experiment with our own lives in order to help discover what makes us feel most alive.