Humility vs Creativity

I used to dance growing up.  Let me make this clear without anyone feeling the need to pat me on my head and tell me I'm all wrong: I was not the best dancer in my class.  I just wasn't.  I am okay with that.  But let me make this also clear: it was very important for me as a dancer to believe that I was the best dancer in my class.

A little more confusion to go with that clarity:

Never at any time was I under the illusion that anyone else - teachers, classmates, small five-year-olds that stood on their tiptoes to watch us dance - never did I believe that any of those individuals thought to themselves that I was the best dancer in my class.  This, you see, was not the point.  After all, I knew I would not be accepted into any New York City ballet program at any time.  And I also knew I would not be cast as the starring role in my studio's upcoming performance.  Reality did not escape me on these points.

But always.  Always. I believed that deep inside me there was a magical core to my dancing that no one else had, and that this set me apart from anyone else on the floor - though more talented or skilled than me they might be.  I believed that - at my best - an outsider might look at me and say:  "Wow.  There is a definitive spark there that no one else has."  Or:  "She brings meaning to this dance in a way only she could."

In effect, there is a reason that this person is doing this - and it would matter if she disappeared and were replaced with another.  Perhaps she is not the best.  But she is necessary.  This moment of beauty would not exist in just this way without her here.  (And, of course, they would be saying that about every other dancer on the floor as well in regard to their own particular spark and meaning.)  And this is what I told myself over and over again, as I plie-ed (and, in the case of Julie's classes, tendu-ed) over and over again.

Okay, I didn't repeat that big long clunky paragraph to myself in the midst of a ballet exercise.  Instead I said:  I am something special.  I can create beautiful things that no one else can.  Because why else does a person push forward with a task if not to be able to say: no one else could have done this like me, and aren't you glad I did it?

In my own experience I have found this to be true of many creative endeavors.  In order to persist in a work a person needs to believe that deep underneath all the guts and errors they produce that they bring something necessary and vital to that field.  That somewhere deep inside them a genius is lurking.  An undiscovered genius whose starry insides could at any moment break out to blind the world with their awesomeness.

Certainly I have found this to be true in parenting.  Come on, everyone has to believe that they were meant to do great things for their children that no one else could quite provide, otherwise we'd all be hitting our heads against the wall for the many things we mess up.  I  have also found it to be true in my writing.  If I am going to write I have to truly believe that my writing is meaningful/beautiful/creative/lovely in a way that no one else's is in exactly that manner.  There must be words for me to speak back when doubt/discouragement/depression slink their way in and begin beating me over the head with a stick.

I must - in a sense - be egotistical and self-assured.  I must be able to say:  I am good at this.  Only I can do this.  I have something special here.  But mostly because I am frightened and unsure, and the only way to keep going is to convince myself that these things are true.

Which brings me to my point: Can creativity exist in a state of humility?
Which brings me to my second point: Creativity MUST be capable of existing in a state of humility.

Because at the end of the road there is always the truth:  The failed audition.  The jumbled feet in an intricate jumping exercise.  The form rejection letter delivered from multiple agents.  There is always that knowledge lurking just underneath that all these grand things you're telling yourself may not be true.

And in that moment of realized humility... when it becomes apparent that flaws exist, and Tolstoy is quite extraordinarily out of reach (not to mention a million other published authors and their achievements)... it becomes important to be able to say:

I am not the best.  No one appreciates my special spark right now.

But I will still keep going.  I will pick myself up.  Dust myself off.  Take a deep breath.
I will try again.

It is in these moments of realized humility that you become the person who keeps on going, or the person who gives up.  Creativity in the face of humility is creativity with strength.  Creativity that has been doused in a bucket up water and insists on continuing to exist as a flame is creativity that will eventually produce.  Dare I say that without humility creativity can never really come in to its full self?

I always knew I wasn't the best dancer in the world, but I also knew - deep inside - that I was.
They were/are both true.



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