what a conversation with a seduction guru taught me about creativity
This week I wrote an article for a magazine. Which is an interesting development in itself, because I never saw myself as someone who wrote articles for a popular women’s magazine. I saw myself as someone who wrote fiction. Period. I was a novelist. Period. Nonfiction just hadn’t been woven into my DNA (never mind that I’d been blogging for five years, which is how this magazine discovered me in the first place). And why I ever thought this — well, who knows.
The research for this article involved a conversation with a “seduction guru”. (I’m not sure he would call himself that – in fact, he probably wouldn’t – but I get such a kick out of the term that I have to use it. I just really like the word ‘seduction’.)
He was as charming and engaging as I expected him to be – I would have been bewildered otherwise (this guy has built a 30 million dollar business on how to charm and engage).
One of the points he made was that human beings are lousy at predicting how they’ll feel in different situations, which is why it’s important to put yourself in as many new situations as possible.
Which reminded me of an idea I came across in a book by Sir Ken Robinson about creativity:
You don’t know who you are until you know what you can do.
Because we tend to have such a messed-up idea of ourselves. We rely on other people to reflect us back to ourselves — on how parents, teachers, friends, strangers react to us, and our interpretations of those reactions. Which is kind of like walking through a funhouse hall of mirrors. Some of those mirrors distort you more than others, but none of them are fully accurate.
And we internalize way too much crap.
My ex-husband used to tell me that I wasn’t funny. For years I accepted what he told me as gospel truth (I was gullible that way, but that’s a whole other article). But then I started noticing that, at dinner parties, I could…wait for it…say things that made people laugh. Sometimes I even managed to crack everybody up, so that a guy would have his forehead on the table, he was laughing so hard. And people started telling me that some of my blogging, my emails, were…wait for it…funny.
“Well, no,” I said, “I’m actually not. I’m not funny at all.”
Finally one night a male friend, who I kind of had an innocent crush on, said, “Justine, every time you start drinking you start saying things that are hilarious.”
“Quick-witted,” said someone else.
And I realized: when I had a drink, or two, I loosened up and started saying the stuff that was running through my head on a fairly constant basis. Which also made me realize that I was a lot more inhibited than I’d ever thought. It was as if I’d clamped down on my own personality in order to fit into this twisted definition of myself. And also, quite possibly, my marriage.
(And now a moment of silence for my marriage. Okay. Moving on.)
It’s not just that people reflect us badly, or at least incompletely, but that we get stuck in those reflections. Someone tells us something when we’re young and it is forever sealed into our sense of who we are, so much so that we seek out other people to tell us the exact same things (“you’re too stupid to try that”, “who do you think you are?”, “you’re a spoiled ungrateful brat”). It’s familiar, so it seems like home.
And because we keep telling ourselves we’re this way and not that way, we never put ourselves in certain situations that we would actually enjoy, or have a talent for; where we could even learn to excel.
Which means that we don’t allow ourselves to learn what we can truly do.
Which means that most of us don’t know who we are – who we really are.
It’s a very high price to pay, when you think about it. And for what, exactly?
Do you know who you are?
Is there something you want to do – feel yourself yearning toward – but won’t attempt — won’t even let yourself seriously consider? Maybe it’s that yearning that holds an important truth about your identity, and it’s the stuff holding you back, the reasons and justifications and ‘logical’ thinking, that’s bullshit.
Maybe you’re more of a shapeshifter than you ever realized.
And you could seriously surprise yourself, if you gave yourself a real chance. (A real chance, not a half-hearted, setting-yourself-up-to-self-sabotage chance, and I bet you know exactly what I mean.)
Something to think about.