On People Telling You You Can't

Like many of my creative friends, I’ve been reading Elizabeth Gilbert’s Big Magic the last couple of weeks.  Her premise is that creativity is something we all possess just by virtue of being human. 

 big magic elizabeth gilbert

She says,

“If you’re alive, you’re a creative person. You and I and everyone you know are descended from tens of thousands of years of makers--decorators, tinkerers, storytellers, dancers, explorers, fiddlers, drummers, builders, growers, problem-solvers and embellishers--these are our common ancestors.”


With her book, she seeks to encourage us that even though the world tells us otherwise, some people are not any more destined to live creative lives than others. We all can live beyond a shallow existence and the way to do that is to express our creativity. 


Gilbert continues,

“The guardians of high culture will try to convince you that the arts belong to only a chosen few, but they are wrong and they are also annoying.  We are the chosen few.”


Guardians of high culture....


That got me thinking...


When I was in high school, an English teacher said my writing was so bad, it was (and I quote!)  UNSCORABLE--too bad to even get a grade.  I had to rewrite the personal narrative I’d turned in the day before and resubmit it the next day. Even then, I received a D.


Never in my life had I received a D on any assignment. Ever. 


 cheerleader melissa  

He did not know the weight his words carried. He did not know that I perceived reading and writing to be my strength as a student.  He didn’t know I had tested highest in all my classes for reading and writing. 


The tragic part was that I didn’t know HE didn’t know this back then. He was, at the time, the only “guardian of high culture” I knew. 


And so when he said I couldn’t write, sadly, no matter how many times I’d been told in the past I could, I believed him.  And I quit writing.


Why is it that the negative feedback we get is always the loudest? 


For years, my inner critic had the voice of that old teacher.  And it was LOUD.


Inner Critic:  Who do you think you are?


Me:  Um...?


Inner Critic:  You’re wasting your time.  If you were going to be a writer, you’d have moved to New York already and would have done it.  You’re not interesting enough to be a writer. Get a REAL job.


Me:   Yeah?


Inner Critic:  I mean, hellloooooo.....?!  UNSCORABLE?  Remember that?   You’ll never have a by-line, let alone a book to your name.  You’re ridiculous.  Go get a real job.


Me:  ...


Luckily, I had a couple professors later in college who encouraged my writing and helped me to see that you ARE a writer if simply, YOU WRITE. 


So I kept writing.  I wrote just to create.  There was no pressure to make it my living, so I became a teacher to pay the bills and kept writing on the side.  I got my MFA in Creative Writing just because I loved it.   


In my time as an English teacher, I pledged that each day I’d find something in my students to encourage and build up, instead of tearing down.  If a kid loved the guitar, I’d encourage that.  If a kid loved singing or acting, or ceramics, or decorating the classroom, I’d encourage it.

high school graduation (with my last group of graduates, Class of 2012)


See, I'm aware enough to know that kids don’t need a stamp of approval in order to simply create. They create because that’s what we are made to do. 


They create because it feels good.


They create because no one has yet told them that their efforts are not worthy.


And, believe me, I wasn't about to be the one who ever said to them, “Your creative pursuits are not good enough.”   


How is this something that any of us could be so audacious to know about anyone else.  That this person has a gift but this other person does not?  


Continue to write if that is what you love-- whether or not you ever go on to publish anything. 


Continue to do that thing you love just because you love it.  Get back to that childlike creator mode we all experienced and do it.  And as much as possible, block out the noise of those who tell you, you aren’t good enough.  

You must simply continue to create.

Melissa Camilleri Compliment


Gilbert writes,

“Whether you think you’re brilliant or you think you’re a loser, just make whatever you need to make and toss it out there. Let other people pigeonhole you however they need to.  And pigeonhole you they shall, because that’s what people like to do.  Actually, pigeonholing is something people need to do in order to feel that they have set the chaos of existence into some kind of reassuring order.


“Thus people will stick you into all sorts of boxes.  They’ll call you a genius or a fraud, or an amateur, or a pretender or a wannabe, or a has-been, or a hobbyist, or an also-ran, or a a rising star, ora  master of reinvention.  They may say flattering things about you or they may say dismissive things about you.  they may call you a mere genre novelist, or a mere children’s book illustrator, or a mere commercial photographer, or a mere community theater actor, or a mere home cook, or a mere weekend musician, or a mere crafter, or a mere landscape painter, or a mere whatever. 


"It doesn’t matter in the least.  Let people have their opinions.  More than that--let people be in love with their opinions, just as you and I are in love with ours.  But never delude yourself into believing that you require someone else’s blessing (or even their comprehension) in order to make your own creative work... Just keep doing your thing.”


I’ve grown a lot in the last five years in terms of caring about the opinions of others when it comes to my creative pursuits. I fit in very few boxes now and I like it that way.


Am I a writer?  Yes.  Because I write.  But I’m so much more.


Am I a jewelry designer? Yes, because I design jewelry.  But I’m so much more.


Am I a teacher? Yes, because I teach people every day.  But I’m so much more.


Am I an entrepreneur? Yes, because I own my own business.  But I’m so much more.


You get the point.


We are what we say we are.  

We are what we continually do.

 And you, my sweet friend, don’t need permission or a stamp of approval from anyone else to bring to life the beauty that is living inside of you. 


Keep.  On. Creating.

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