Personal (Creative) Development

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Well hello there fearless friends. I know it’s been a while since our last fireside chat, and I do apologize for that. It’s been kind of a wacky time here, part of  a rather strange and transformative year (and it ain’t over yet!). So, what’s been going on since our last installment?

Well, first of all I turned 40, which involved a lot more thinking and soul-searching than I really anticipated. I also went through an intense spurt of writing on the still-unfinished-but-really-actually-proceeding Cliffjump Manifesto. More on this shortly.

Then rehearsals for my big winter show started. It’s a circus/cabaret kind of thing, not my highest calling in the world but I’ve done it before and I know the terrain. Plus: the band is absolutely top-drawer, I needed to reconnect with playing, and frankly I also needed to make a bit of money for a while to stabilize things around here. There are certainly worse jobs! But the rehearsals are pretty intense and all-consuming.

Finally, I had a bike accident riding home from said rehearsals one day, and managed to dislocate my left thumb. No serious damage, nothing fractured or torn, so it’s not an outright disaster – I was able to return to playing, if a bit gingerly in the left hand parts, fairly quickly. But it was certainly a bit of a reminder that I am a vulnerable human being and need to keep that in focus even as I try to push the envelope a little, which of course is part of the goal with this site and this work.

Authority or Authenticity?

Which brings me to my point for today. During all the aforementioned soul-searching, I began to realize that I perhaps have a tendency to try to present myself here (and in life in general, for that matter) as Having It All Figured Out. You know, being a totally together, highly evolved person. I’m concerned about this.

In an attempt to make these posts helpful, informative and worthwhile I have put a lot into them, but I have also adopted a somewhat professorial tone (hey, I come by it honestly: my father’s a retired professor, and we do tend to try to emulate our role models), maintaining a detached and distant tone in the interests of authority – but at the expense, perhaps, of authenticity.

So here’s the deal. I’m not fearless at all. Not remotely. I touch on this in the About page, but I’m not sure if anyone really reads those, and I figure it’s good to get it out in the open here. I try not to let fear dominate my life, but if I’ve given the impression that I’ve conquered it entirely, or that I believe I have, I apologize… the truth, as usual, is a bit more complicated than that.

Where we’re headed, not where we are

While I’ve been able to do some satisfying work over the years, it is not because of any kind of imperviousness, whether learned or innate, to all the normal fears and anxieties of creative people (and since I tend to think that everyone is creative, at least potentially, that means pretty much everybody).

No, I can write about these fears because I know them intimately. They are my constant companions. I chose the name Fearless Creativity because it represents a kind of ideal I’d like to strive for and work towards, but I’m pretty sure that, like most worthwhile goals, it can never be fully or finally achieved. But working towards it can help us do more and better creative work and, as a nice bonus, maybe make us better people into the bargain.

And I’d like to do both of those things. I’d like to do more and better creative work, and I’d like to be a better person. There’s certainly plenty of room for improvement on both counts.

So I’ve realized that this work is as much about personal development as it is about creativity per se. Heck, you can figure that out by looking at the Tag Cloud over there on the right – I’m more interested in the psychology and philosophy of creativity than I am in specific techniques or tricks to generate ideas. I’m after bigger game; I’m interested in transformation

Help yourself!

However, I’ve always had a somewhat uneasy relationship with the Personal Development genre. What’s the other word for it? Oh yeah: Self-Help. That’s one of those labels that seems innocuous enough if you’ve been living on another planet for a few decades and have missed the icky vibe that’s attached itself to the term.

It’s kind of like New Age music. What could be wrong with a New Age? Nothing, inherently, but many musicians (myself included) who make music that fits the bill in many ways, tend to avoid it like the plague. It’s just been sullied somehow through association with what is all too often tepid, soulless music with too many warm synth pads and way, way too much reverb.

Self-Help literature suffers from a similar problem. To make matters worse, writing about personal development presupposes that you’ve got stuff more figured out than the average person and are all self-actualized… And people willing to present themselves that way are often, for lack of a better word, insufferable. So why would we want to read books on how to be more like them?

What do they know that I don’t know?

Well, as it turns out I decided a while back (well actually I kind of just drifted into it, rather than making a single conscious decision) to try to answer that question by delving into the genre a bit, checking out some acknowledged classics* and some newer entrants*. It’s been edifying, to say the least.

While I’ve avoided reading books about it up to now, I’ve certainly done my share of thinking about the core issues that are usually raised – personal responsibility, honesty, clarity and focus, goal-setting, connecting with an inner sense of purpose… And so much of the material I’ve been going through has resonated, and naturally some fresh perspective doesn’t hurt either.

I guess that’s another reason I’ve avoided these books for so long (and maybe this applies to others as well) – I figured I either knew it all already or could figure it out for myself. And much of it I have, though the simplification and organization bit seems to have escaped me up to now.

But knowledge doesn’t change us. Clichés don’t change us. Giving over our sovereignty to a ‘guru’ doesn’t change us, at least not in any lasting or meaningful way. Action can change us, especially if it’s informed by knowledge and even more especially if we manage to make a habit of it. Maybe visualization can help, though I tend to be suspicious of those who insist that all we have to do in order for everything we’ve ever dreamed of to land in our lap effortlessly is to just Ask the Universe for it and wait for it to show up.

What does it all mean?

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You know what I think really changes us, in a deep and lasting way, at the level where real growth and transformation can happen? Creativity. Making stuff. More specifically, making meaning. Our own meaning.

That’s a concept I’ve borrowed from the work of Eric Maisel, billed as ‘America’s foremost creativity coach’ and author of more than 30 books – including the now-classic Fearless Creating*. Believe it or not I hadn’t heard of that book when I started this blog and it had nothing to do with my having chosen the name… I guess that  chord has been struck before. Happily, it’s been a fruitful discovery for me.

I’ll be reviewing that and several other books of his in more detail over the coming months, as they’re resonating very strongly with me – more so than the more general PD titles I’ve sampled. In a nutshell, though, ‘making meaning’ is the major focus – our job and our great privilege and responsibility as creative people is to make our own meaning, and to offer this meaning to other people, to our cultures and societies.

With a little luck, a lot of hard work and every bit of honesty and authenticity we can muster, our meanings will resonate and make the world and our lives a little more connected.

And that’s what I’m really after here. To achieve that would represent, to me, real Personal Development. So this is a bit of a mini-manifesto – you can expect more of that in these pages in future. Less hiding behind dry academic language, more open and forthright sharing of my discoveries along the path of personal creative development. And you can hold me to that (please do!).

I’m happy to report, as well, that the Cliffjump Manifesto (which I hereby pledge to release before the end of the year!) will be a major step in this direction – as well as, hopefully, being useful and enjoyable. It represents the best of the meaning I’ve been able to make over the last few decades of creative work, and I hope it will resonate with you…

As always, I welcome your thoughts, ideas, suggestions, complaints, accusations or anything else you feel inspired to put in the comments section below…