You Are the Most Creative Person in the World

It's a good time to rediscover your talents

For my final art class project in 8th grade, I painted a masterpiece watercolor still life of an apple.

Prior to this, I had never considered myself much of an artist. Attempts at painting people resulted in lopsided faces, off-color skin tones and hideous limbs that could inspire horror-movie prosthetic departments. Attempts at beach landscapes were a blurry mess, with too-light oceans, too-dark skies and unrealistic orange sand.

For this project, I was determined to be an artist. When Mr. Nichols showed us how to correctly paint shadows on an object, I studiously observed his technique. I perfected the murky reds on the apple, misty grays of the fruit bowl and some dark shadows.

When he gave us tips to emulate a light source, I took note. And when he gave us pointers on including little details, I proudly added blemishes to my apple. I even included some glistening water drops on my pinky-red fuji.

When I finally finished the thin dark stem of the apple, I considered the painting just perfect. I imagined it would be hung in the Art Gallery of New South Wales. "Still Life of a Fuji Apple, 1995" would be analyzed by cohorts of art students at Christian Community High School. They would marvel how a kid just like them had created a fine masterpiece in this very art room. I assumed I'd receive an A-plus.

I was wrong.

"Jeffrey Tan, C," said Mr. Nichols as he thumped the evaluation sheet on my desk. I thought he was joking as I looked down at the paper, fully expecting my true grade to be revealed, accompanied with a witty comment such as, "Jeffrey, this watercolor is the apple of my eye. Mr. Nichols."

That wasn't the case. One single, monstrous letter in black marker squashed my art aspirations like an overripe fuji apple under Mr. Nichols' stomping heel. When I approached him after class for further feedback, he looked me and simply said, "I just didn't like it, Jeffrey." When I pressed him for clarification, he shrugged and dismissed me. 

I never again held a paintbrush in my hand.

Today, I am a non-famous-onetime-watercolor-artist-parent of an imaginative 3-year-old boy, Hudson.

This week, Hudson used his 12 colored markers to draw masterpieces on his library books, my sweater, our woolen rug, the sofa, my wife's multiple fancy embroidered (and totally unnecessary) sofa cushions, several pot plant containers, the walls, and our sanity. He even drew on the apples in our fruit bowl, oh the irony. We had earlier made the classic first-time-parent mistake of remarking to each other, "Wow, Hudson seems to be entertaining himself quietly," and continued to let him play unsupervised.

When I saw his creations, I found myself torn between exclaiming "NO, DON'T DRAW ON THE WALLS HUDSON, THIS IS A RENTAL!" while balancing this with a desire to not stamp out his creative toddler spirit. 

Mirriam-Webster defines creativity as "the ability to create." By the way, a pet peeve of mine is a dictionary that defines a word using a derivative of the same word. Did you know discovery is "the act of discovering"?!

During my workshops, one of the first things I request is for each person to share what was the last thing they've created. Most of my participants are middle managers from various backgrounds including media, data and technology who wouldn't typically call themselves "creative." This question generally freezes everyone for a few seconds. Then, slowly and inevitably, they open up. 

Anecdotes are shared about hats that were made, flower bouquets arranged, dog kennels built, Lego towers created with their kids, cookies baked.

I truly believe we all have an innate ability to create. Like 3-year-old Hudson, creations live deep inside and need to be extracted (just not on the walls, dammit!). For most of us and for most of the time, our creative potential remains inaccessible, like a fuji apple forgotten at the back of a fridge. We forget that the apple exists. Slowly over the course of our lifetime, it decays a tiny bit at a time.

During these unprecedented times, use any extra opportunity to rediscover your inner ability to create. Flex it. Expand your world. Tap into your imagination. Break free from your adult limitations and be a child again.

Draw a sketch. Paint a fuji apple. Sing a new style of beat box. Write a limerick. Learn your grandma's stew recipes. Buy an Asian vegetable you don't know how to pronounce. Stitch a quilt. 

Simply, create again.

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