As a self-taught designer, I’ve often felt like a creative imposter. The label “creative professional,” and even more so esteemed “creative director” title, always felt somehow awkward to wear. And even now, after 20 years and a full career, I still have moments where I feel uncomfortable designating myself in that bucket.
But a few years back, a former boss asked me a question that not only radically changed my view of creativity and myself–it sparked a deep desire to validate other’s creativity. The question: “What are you doing to nurture your creative self?”
Creative self??? It took me a minute. And then I got it. It was the first time anyone (other than myself) had acknowledged that distinct part of me–let alone inquired about its “well-being.” It instantly allowed me to see my creativity as worthy of stewardship and care. In three seconds–for as long as it took to ask the question–I claimed my vision, perspective, value–and most importantly, permission to play.
It’s crazy that something so instinctive to a child, to simply follow your curiosity and imagination, can feel so foreign as an adult. When I was younger, I looked for ways to experience and appreciate creativity, from museum trips with my dad to magazines and art. I sought out visual culture before I even had words to describe it.
As I grew into my career, though, I realized that without steadily seeking new inspiration—burnout is inevitable. You must refuel, and give yourself permission to do so. At its core, inspiration causes movement, which drives action and energy that fuels your spirit, confidence, and ultimately your ability to create. Which contagiously inspires others in your wake.
At In/Visible Talks, where we bring together designers, artists, and innovative thinkers for discussions on the creative process, we’ve learned a ton on how to nix that nagging imposter syndrome, strengthen creativity and inspire others to do the same—and we’ve got a few tips:
Be Selfish. Indulge in inspiration
Let yourself have what you need—whether it’s going for a walk, reading an old book, or taking a new class. Once you have your inspiration, don’t meddle. We often experience guilt or regret over doing something “unnecessary” or spending too much time on pleasure. Fight the inner critic and selfishly indulge in play.
Follow your obsessions
Follow the your curiosity trails. If you suddenly develop an interest in Brazilian history, reclaimed wood, or NASA space launches–run with it. For me, art has always been key. I’m obsessed with using my hands to make (rather than mouse and keyboard) so I started letterpress business to make what I craved. Visiting museums, galleries, and art fairs is another great way to seek out new obsessions.
Clear the crap
Clearing the physical makes room in the mental for clarity and fresh ideas. When you feel inspiration drying up, eliminate the clutter–be it organizing your desk, cleaning your closet, turning off the computer, and reveling in open space.
Play beyond your real job
Are you an architect who loves drawing cartoons? A doctor who loves to bake? Have a project to call your own. Personal play ignites the creative self, which is a storehouse of energy. As noted creativity researcher and author Julia Cameron said, “I need to create what wants to be created.” Listen to that voice inside you.
Ask someone else how they’re strengthening their creative self.
Looking back on that afternoon with my boss, I realize his question may have been directed inward. We oftentimes ask questions that we seek answers to ourselves. By inquiring and listening to what sparks others, you might just ignite something in yourself.
Arianna Orland is a creative director, advisor, and artist. She is the founder of Paper Jam Press and In/Visible Talks, a design conference on the creative process cofounded with Dava Guthmiller of Noise 13, In/Visible Talks aims to bring people together through conversation about art, design, inspiration, and creativity: In/Visible Talks.com.