Creativity Lesson: Trust
He finishes and holds up the piece of paper. “Mom. I’m done.” My 8-year-old shows me the snarling cougar he’ll enter for the school’s yearbook cover contest. “It’s good, right?”
Yes, it is good—but I’m his mother. There are four grades above his, all with students who will also enter the contest. I debate my choices on how honest to get with him.
“Yes. It’s very good.” I pause. My eyebrows furrow and my right shoulder lifts to my ear, “But you do know—not everyone who enters the contest wins, even if it’s a really good drawing, right?”
He doesn’t miss a beat, “I know.” He tucks the drawing into his yellow homework folder and as he walks away says to me over his shoulder, “But I don’t have a chance at winning if I don’t enter anything.” I nod silently, surprised. He’s my most creative child, most sensitive to criticism (and failure) child—I don’t want him to be hurt if he doesn’t win. He walks back over to me, smiles, and says, “Even if I don’t win. I’ll be glad I tried. Plus, I really like to draw.”
The fourth week of my senior year of high school, my parents went to Hawaii on their 24th wedding anniversary. When asked why they didn’t just wait a year and go for their 25th, my mom said, “We didn’t want to miss this opportunity.” Three weeks after their return, my mom began to feel … off. By December, she was in therapy for the pain the doctor told her was in her head. On a nondescript Friday the following March, I drove her to the hospital after her primary doctor palpated a mass the size of a grapefruit on her abdomen. A week later, I wore thrift store jeans and a j.crew henley to hear her diagnosis: cancer. My mom died on a sunny Thursday at the end of May, just ten weeks after that first hospital admission—four days before I graduated high school.
At 18, just when I was supposed to be stepping boldly out into adulthood, the foundation of my life crumbled away. It’s taken over a decade to find my footing.
A while ago, I found a journal from when I was 19. In it, I wrote, “I want to write so there can be purpose from this pain.” It’s fair to say I’ve wanted to write most of my adult life. But I’ve always had an excuse: too busy, too scared; where do I start, am I even any good, what’s the point? At my core, I thought writing was self-indulgent. I wrestled in the tension of why writing in a journal wasn’t enough and why putting myself out into the world was unnecessary. It’s just writing. No one cares if I don’t write. Except a day didn’t go by without words stringing themselves together, thoughts marrying each other, and ideas exploding in my head. It was after my first child, a daughter, when the desire to write, to leave my words for her, words I’d give almost anything to have of my own mother’s, grew from a glowing ember into a blazing fire.
It’s a longer story, but in a moment of eviscerating transparency just a few years ago, I realized that if I were to die young like my own mother, the two things I’d regret not pursuing, not trusting myself to try, were writing and adopting. Different as night and day, yes, but both were heavy on my heart—not just as something I wanted to do, but two things I felt I was supposed to be doing.
I was that girl who did all the right things, the safe things, the don’t-make-waves or bring too much attention things ... college, get married, get a job, have kids, buy a house. But in my heart, there was always something more. Something else. An unfulfilled longing. It wasn’t until, with the childlike confidence of my son, I trusted (in myself and in something beyond me) to simply admit: I like to write, I want to write, I think I’m supposed to write, I am going to start to write.
Why do we, as women, as mothers, have such a hard time trusting ourselves, trusting what is in our hearts to do? (Oh my goodness, please tell me I’m not the only one!) (See? Right there? I do it all the time.) Why do we second guess, think twice, play it safe when it comes to trusting ourselves to pursue our creative interests?
In life, when is it that we stop unabashedly saying things like I’m good at this, I like this, This is my dream, This what I want to try? Why is there some line drawn separating a child’s honest appraisal of his interests and talents—and us, grown women, saying the same things? How is it that we mothers encourage our children to take risks and trust themselves, yet so often intentionally choose not to be an example of doing this ourselves?
A few months after my confession about writing and adopting, I decided to write an essay and audition for Listen To Your Mother (a performance where writers read their essays about motherhood to a live audience.) I got in. Not long after, I started writing a blog. As I continued writing, my ability to trust spilled over into other areas of my life—from friendships, to motherhood, to big job decisions. Most notably, it felt like each little success with my writing helped me to trust that we were also supposed to go ahead and pursue adoption.
When I wrote that first essay for LTYM, never did I think I’d be on the Coffee + Crumbs writing team. Nor did I imagine I’d have a daughter adopted from China (who’s been home already for nine months!) Writing (or your thing) may not always be smooth, easy, or even your life’s ultimate purpose, but in trusting your passion to be creative, know it will take you exactly where you are meant to be.
This month, I want us to think about these seven areas of trust:
Trust Your Story (Where You’ve Been): The most amazing part of your creative ability is that absolutely no one has the same experiences as you nor is able to see the world through your eyes. Your joys, your hurts, your grief, your hope. You, and you alone, can bring what’s inside of you out. The brilliant part? People want a perspective other than their own. Don’t be afraid to share yours.
Trust Where You Are: Babies crying 24/7? Up to your neck in diapers and spit up? Finally taking a breath during preschool hours, or juggling work and life and everything is just barely getting done? It’s okay. Don’t live in the past, don’t wish away right now for the future. This, right here, right now, is where you are supposed to be.
Trust You’ll Get There, When You’re Supposed To Be There: You’re here because you want to pursue creativity. So pursue. But don't push. You may have a goal. Good for you. But hold it loosely. Don’t let your determination distract you from where the path wants to take you. (I could lament over how I wish I started writing years ago, or, once I did start writing, over all the rejections I’ve received. But in a very grand, cosmic scheme of things, if I started writing at the age of 20, we wouldn’t be here together now, nor would I have my adopted daughter.)
Trust Your Voice: As with motherhood, when we each have to find our way amongst the babywise, the babywhisperers, and the babywearers, we must also move forward with creative endeavors using our own cultivated style. Speak, write, draw, photograph your aesthetic. Don’t know yours? Examine what you love to read, look at, listen to: these are your best clues. As writers, some of us are sassy. Some of us are sweet. (Some have a gift of being a little of both.) Your art will be most compelling when it’s authentic.
Trust your Purpose: Intrinsic, extrinsic, a mixture of both? Spend some time this month thinking about why you write. Let your purpose be a beacon for you to navigate towards when you have trouble seeing your way.
Trust Your Process: Maybe you have a calendar with deadlines and write before dawn every day. Maybe you create at nap time and share your work sporadically. Maybe you have thoughts swimming in your head or write in fragments in your phone or scraps of paper and abscond to a coffee shop once a week (or a month?) for a two-hour jam session where you mold your thoughts into a coherent form; maybe you write in a journal (with a pen!) or on your laptop at midnight. Maybe you, like me, do a little of all of this and are still waiting for a “real” process to stick. Whatever and however, pay attention this month to what works to get you writing. Then do that again and again.
Trust Yourself (You are who you were created to be): Listen to me: You were meant to do what your heart longs for. What you say has value. What you know has purpose. What you share of yourself will change lives.
Write the story of a time when you questioned yourself as a mother. What ended up happening?
Write about a time you trusted yourself (or went with your gut). What happened, did it turn out well? How did it make you feel afterwards? What did you learn?
Fast forward 10 years and imagine you are given a devastating diagnosis. What is the thing (or things) you regret not trusting yourself to pursue in the last decade? Write to yourself about this with utmost honesty and a “really big life picture” perspective. Afterward, take some time to pray or think or meditate on what you wrote. Do you need to make some changes? Do you feel like you’re on the right track?
1. Describe your Ideal Reader/Consumer/Client. Do you trust this Ideal Person (or an audience full of them) to find you? What can you do to find them? Is there a real person who fits this description? As you work this month, create for this person (can we call them your muse without sounding weird?) and see what happens.
2. Finish these sentences, then pick one to expand on (extra credit: do them all): I would trust myself more if … The person I trust most is … I have trouble trusting because … I trust in … I lost trust when …
3. I believe the opposite of trust is fear. Identify an area where you have a hard time trusting yourself. Then answer: What is it that I’m actually fearful of? What’s at the root of my fear?
4. What (or who) makes you question yourself? Is there a voice in your head? A person in your life (present or past)? A life event or situation? Write about it. Then, head on, tell it why it no longer has power over you. (And if it still does, tell us why, how it makes you feel, and what you want to do about it.)
5. Back when I was on top of things, I used to make photo books for each of my kids. Hands down, these are still their favorite books to look at. Kids love to see and hear about their own life. We are their memory keepers. So, write a story, one your child will want to read over and over one day, about when or how he trusted himself and what you, as his mother, thought of it at the time and how you feel about it now.
For another exercise in trust, check out our Core Values exercise!