You Don't Have To Be Good At It: Why Creativity Requires Bravery, Not Talent
One rainy afternoon a couple years ago, I sat on my couch watching old concert footage of Rich Mullins on YouTube. Though he died the year before I was born, he’s been one of my favorite artists for as long as I can remember. One of the videos I watched had about 10 minutes of him chatting with a few people after the concert. He was telling them that he and his best friend had recently bought a bunch of watercolors and had started painting, though they had no professional training or any real talent for it. He said, “I don’t know why people think they have to be good at something to enjoy it and do it anyway.”
As a kid, I used to be so proud of what I created. I wrote a poem when I was six, decorated it with metallic markers, and showed it to everyone who visited our house. I used to draw and paint, and even if what I made wasn’t necessarily good (it wasn’t – by any stretch of the imagination), people still appreciated the work I put into it. I was young, I tried. That was enough.
But I think something happened the older I got. I stopped drawing because no matter how hard I tried, it never looked like the kind of art people would admire or purchase. I stopped singing in public out of fear of being off-key. I stopped playing sports because I felt I could never be as good as my brother. I stopped writing poetry because I told myself “I’m just not that kind of writer.”
Why is it so important for my work to be perfect, to be “good,” in order to try? Why do I care if other people like it? Why is it that anytime I show my work to anyone, I have to offer some kind of disclaimer – “I know it’s rough,” or “It’s not finished yet”?
I think there’s a level of vulnerability and trust we must live at in order to be wholehearted about the way and the reason why we create. It takes a lot of bravery and believing that we’re loved no matter what to be able to come with our imperfect selves and skills and say with a smile, “I made this” or “I did this.”
We have to be courageous enough to be the first to love our work.
If we can learn from anyone in this, we can learn from the one who made us. God created humans, giving them the ability to choose whether or not they would reciprocate his affection and obey his voice. They didn’t. They were the only part of his creation that turned their backs on him and made a complete mess of things. It would have been completely reasonable for him to scrap his work and return to the drawing board.
But he didn’t. Because of his love. Romans 5:8 describes his love as this: when we were still in sin, in the mess we created, in the grotesque reality of everything that was anything but beautiful and lovely, Jesus still died for us. He loved us first (1 John 4:19), before anyone else did and even before we ourselves could have the capacity to understand that love.
We will never be able to love him first. We will only ever be able to respond to and return his great love. But he has made us with the capacity to create, to build, to work with our minds, hearts, and hands. With that capacity to create, he gives us the capacity to love what we’ve created – to be the first to love what we’ve created, just as he was the first to love what he’d created.
But so often, we don’t. We hate what we make, and we wait for someone else to validate our work before we allow ourselves to even like it, not because we lack talent, but because we’re plagued by fear.
Love is the only force strong enough to defeat fear and bright enough to expose its barrenness. We can live crippled by the fear of rejection, of coming face to face with the pain of our own inadequacies, or we can choose to let love lead, building in us the courage to create and to take a healthy pride in what we create, regardless of whether we’re able to sell it, regardless of how people respond to it. When our reason for creating is to express, to enjoy, to engage, and most importantly to love, we are entering the very realm in which our Father operates. And when we do that, it doesn’t matter what fear has told us or even how much talent we have – only that we’re getting closer to him.
At the end of the day, I don’t think it’s really about what we create, but that we create. There is no shortage of people before us who have made magnificent contributions with their craft, and there will be no shortage after us. I don’t know about you, but I want to leave a legacy of character, not of craft – of the way I did things, not of the things I did themselves. I want to be always ready to fearlessly charge across the perimeter of my comfort zone so that those around me will be empowered to do the same.
I care far less about winning awards or notoriety or fortune for what I do with what I’m good at, and more about the fact that I’m willing to do things I’m not good at. I don’t want to be known for what I knew but for the fact that I knew I don’t know everything, that I kept reaching out and asking questions without needing immediate answers. I don’t want to be remembered for what I was given but for what I did with it – not for my talent, but for the way I worked with what I had and the way I trusted my Creator with both the process and the outcome.
I want to challenge you to do something you’ve always told yourself you couldn’t.
Starting this January, I’ve made plans to take piano lessons. I’ve always wanted to play an instrument, but it’s never come easy for me. Every time I tried in the past, I gave up. So I’m trying it again, but for a different reason this time. I may never be told I’m great at it or be asked to play for others’ enjoyment or edification. I may never make money with the skill. But I’ll be able to say that I can do it, that every voice that’s ever told me I couldn’t was a liar. I’m going to do it because I’ll enjoy it, because it will require something of me that I’ve never had to give before, and I know there will be good that comes from it.
So grab a journal. Write down some things you’ve wanted to do then make plans to practice. Talent isn’t a factor. Past experience or exposure doesn’t matter. It’s never too late to learn something new or to do something you may not be good at. Just do it. Do it for yourself. Do it for those who will watch you and who will want to be brave like you. Do it for love.