‘But I’m not creative’

That’s what I hear sometimes when people hear about my art therapy groups.

Really? You don’t think you’re creative? Even better reason to come along and see that you are!

You don’t have to be an ‘artist’ or have ‘talent’ to work with an art therapist. Art therapy is a form of expression, a way to get the inside out, and a way to connect with the power of creativity, the deep life-force in us all.

The art therapist guides you, creates a safe space, provides an opportunity.

You step out, feel your way, see what emerges.

The art isn’t there to earn a gold star or a grade. You can’t fail.

It’s not being made to sell or impress.

It’s being made to express, to speak for you and to you.

Honestly. With rawness, and strangeness and mystery. With bluntness and humour and whimsy.

What you make might surprise you in how easily it speaks on your behalf.

Your creativity may have a different opinion on this whole situation you see. It might come out to play no matter what you say on its behalf.

Try it and see.

 

Press pause and make version 1.0

When we are creative it can feel like we have never ‘arrived’ at the structure of the thing we want to work on. The big picture decisions keep shifting and changing – so how are we ever meant to knuckle down and make the thing when we haven’t landed on the design yet?

This happened to me recently when I was working on a complex report. I kept coming up with new ideas for how to structure the report, new content, the headings and lay out and structure of the document kept changing. I knew if I continued I would have a half done outline and nothing written, all my hours of thinking invisible in the previous versions of the structure I had worked on and discarded as my thinking had evolved. At one point I had to say to myself ‘just stick with this structure, even if it’s not the best, just stick with it and write a draft of every section’.

It can be painful to press pause on the creative process and knuckle down to start making within a defined structure. What helps me is to think of these stages as different types of work.

I think ‘hmm, ok I’m getting carried away with design right now, when what I need is content. I need to flip into making content, and later and can revise the big picture again’.

My creative brain needs to be acknowledged, and to know it’s not getting sidelined on the project, even if I am pressing pause on that kind of big picture thinking. I know that I can layer the approach so that sometimes I am assessing big picture, and sometimes I am working to that vision and filling in the details.

I think this can happen in our lives as well. We get paralysed or lost in the depths of dreaming up possibilities for our lives, but sometimes forget to press pause on the idea generating and actually fill in the details to bring one vision to life. And that’s shame, because bringing one vision to life doesn’t mean we can’t rearrange it later, can’t redesign, restructure. Only this time we have some juicy content to move around as well, and sometimes in the doing it helps highlight new things that we want to consider in the design or big picture.

So whether it’s writing a document or thinking about your next career or life move, remember to pair thinking with action. At some stage press pause and make version 1.0, you can always rearrange things later.

Need help getting started? Get in touch and book a free QandA to see whether coaching might be a good fit for you. 

Why I love coaching

Now. I know when we work in the ‘helping professions’ there can be an expectation that the MAIN reason we do things is for the warm fuzzy feelings of knowing we’ve helped someone along.

But after 15 years working in my last profession (what? yes, I had another career until quite recently. More about that over here) I learnt the hard way that doing things just because you think they are important and someone should be doing it is not a recipe for long term career satisfaction. You also need to do things that play to your strengths.

And when I say strengths, I don’t mean just mean skills, or ‘anything you do well’. I mean more specifically your FAVOURITE skills.

Using your favourite skills, the ones that are FUN to use, the ones that come almost ‘naturally’ to you, the ones that you barely feel like you even have because they are so familiar and come so easily. Using those skills, A LOT, is a key part of job satisfaction – well I reckon it is anyway.

And to tailor our work to our favourite skills, we need to get pretty good at spotting when we are ‘in flow’, when work is satisfying, and we we feel like we can get lots done pretty easily. We need to notice these moments and observe what exactly we are doing when we feel like that – and then we need to structure our work so we get more of that. I reckon.

Here is why I love coaching:

  • It is left and right brained* – It is highly creative but a sharp eye for analysis can also be a bonus – I love this! I love to flit between the two.
  • It is incredibly client centred as you enter the world of your client to understand its landscape and find ways to help them where they are. What fun! I love seeing different world views up close, and figuring out what the beliefs are that are creating barriers to movement.
  • It is playful. Without enthusiasm and a light touch coaching just creates a list of things to do. With playfulness and enthusiasm it helps create a sense of possibility, energy and urgency. I love playfulness!
  • It is incredibly diverse – you get to learn about the world, different professions, locations, different life experiences. Each client brings their own universe and I am lucky enough to be learning as we speak.
  • It is about feelings – if you ignore the feelings attached to people’s dreams and actions you miss the point. I am not scared of feelings and I’m happy to make space for the tough ones.
  • It is all about support – I think the world is happier place when we have allies and champions and helpers and encouragers on our side. It makes me happy to know my client isn’t having to face things alone.
  • It requires improvisation – some coaches use a fixed script or set of steps, I plan each session to meet the unique situation of the client – and half the time end up improvising and creating something new in session. I feel comfortable doing that and it brings me such joy to be relaxed enough to change direction, trust my gut and ‘dance’ with what is unfolding.

All of this helps me understand myself better as someone who enjoys thinking, enjoys learning, enjoys creating support structures and enjoys authentic, deep connection.

What do you love about what you do?

What does it tell you about what your favourite skills are?

How could you spend more time putting your favourite skills to work?

 

*Look I don’t want to get into this but there is a lot of recent research that says left and right brain are not as separate and distinct in their function as people have believed. So here I’m just using it as a metaphor but noting that it’s probably outdated terminology.

Dabbling in rest

As a busy scanner with lots of projects that light my brain up, engaging in ‘passive’ relaxation activities is not my ‘go to’. I often want to jam pack my ‘down’ time with painting, or writing, or gardening, or community projects. Which I love doing but eventually my body does need rest and quiet time. If I don’t give it the rest it needs sometimes it responds with exhaustion, illness, burnout or low mood.

It can be a challenge if we have a long list of ‘fun’ projects we want to work on. The fear can be that if we don’t work on them NOW when we have a day off we will never get to them.. we will never ever get them done.. and that it’s a ‘wasted’ day.

But just like sleep is just as important as awake to creating balance in our lives, so to is passive relaxation* a balance to active relaxation.

A book.

A bath.

A cup of tea feeling the sunshine on my face.

Laying flat on the couch and watching a tv show that isn’t wildly engaging.

A slow meandering walk with eyes really open to my surroundings.

Having lunch laying on the green grass of an inner city park looking up at the leaves of trees.

Being absorbed in music.

A brief nap.

 

Slow.

 

Not tied to productivity.

 

In and noticing the body.  

Through these activities I slide from a more activated and excited, engaged, ‘creative’ state into a more restful and calm state… even if just for a few minutes, a half hour. I soak in the essence of rest.

I recharge. I ‘refuel my tank’**.

I prevent exhaustion later by taking little sips of rest along the way.

This is part of how I aim to prevent future experiences of burnout, and keep myself working and playing steadily into the future.

—-

*I’m using the word relaxation synonymously with ‘leisure time pursuits’

** Terribly fossil-fuels-centric metaphor isn’t it? I ‘recharge my solar batteries’??

Structure and flexibility

In art therapy we need to provide structure: a bounded time, clarity of roles, guidelines for safety and confidentiality.

But we also need to provide flexibility, the ability for participants to go as deep as feels comfortable, some choice in materials, choice in expression.

If we have few boundaries and little structure in our groups then partipcants have the benefit of making choices and exerting control, but not the benefit of embodying flexibility. The lack of structure can trigger those who do not feel safe without structure. they may feel like they are in freefall or chaos or lost in too much space.

If we have firm boundaries and a lot of structure participants have the benefit of embodying flexibility (responding to what is) but less opportunities to make choices or exert control. The lack of flexibility can trigger those who do not feel safe within with intrusion or demands or not enough space.

A dance with our edges. A dance with our preferences.

Image: mixed media art I made a few years back as part of a series

Reader question: how to respond to ‘what do you do’?

A scanner called Mery asks: “I’m wondering how you introduce yourself to others when they ask what you do? I usually stumble through something about taking care of my little gal first and foremost and then doing virtual assisting work from home (I really need to tighten up my elevator pitch 🙂 ), but in my mind I’m running through all of the different things I do. Wondering how other scanners handle this conversation piece?”.

This is such a great question, and one I struggled with for years (double digit number of years) even when I was an employee and had a job title. The job title was vague enough that people still wondered what I actually did and then my absolute deluge of scanner interests would come rushing into my brain and I would awkwardly say things like ‘oh, you know, I do do projects, in topics like water, and um.. waste, but you know, I work on community engagement and social research, and deliberative democracy.. I like, um, systems stuff.’ Truly I think I gave the impression that I was just random walking past who had nothing to do with the mingling event at hand and was just regurgitating random words from the brochure.

You see it wasn’t that I didn’t know what I did, it’s just that I could see all my projects and their topics, and the various processes and fields that they spanned, as if they were there in three dimensions around me, and I couldn’t find a way to condense or simplify all that for a quick and easy few sentence answer. I knew in advance I would probably end up boring or confusing the person listening and still feel unsatisfied because I had been inaccurate or glossed over whole sections of my work. I sometimes longed to say ‘oh I’m an engineer I design bridges’, or ‘I’m a baker and I mostly bake cakes and pastries’ or ‘I work in HR and design all the training for our new staff’. Something that people might be able too visualise or understand and that I could say between mouthfuls of egg sandwich.

These days running my own business I am a bit clearer on the strands of my work, even though as a scanner its true that they evolve and change. Right now I can cheerfully tell you that I have 4 different connected threads running through my business: art therapy, coaching, art and consulting. These are 4 different businesses operating under the one roof if you like. Within that there are a squillion projects and beyond that are all my other scanner passions and side projects (although most of my side projects now fall under the banner of my business because I’ve build my business around the things I love to do).

But if you were to say ‘what do you do?” to me now, I would probably say ‘I run my own business, and I help people go after their dreams, live more creative lives, and use art for healing.’ I would probably add something concrete like ‘right now I’m working with (organisations X and Y) and also seeing my own clients’. If the conversation continued I might say ‘sometimes I help organisations as well’. (Well. That’s what I’d like to say. You still might catch me mid egg sandwich and find I mumble something about art and then switch topics to something else.)

So in your situation, you might like to just practice a short answer that covers the main things you want them to know. You could say ‘I have two main areas of work – I’m a mom of a 3 year old, and I also work with business owners as a virtual assistant. That suits me for now but in the future I hope to also give time to all my other passion projects and hobbies’. If they are interested they’ll ask you. You’ve hinted that you have lots more to say, let them choose where to go next.

If your day job is boring you to tears and you don’t even want to tell them about it, feel free to just share one other thing you’re doing right now. No one said you have to answer based on the MAIN thing you spend your time on. It’s perfectly Ok to share the thing that is most interesting to you right now. I sometimes say: “at the moment I’m focused on..” Or “I’m juggling a few projects at the moment, one that’s big for me this week is Y” or “I work as an X but what I’m really excited about this year is Y”. Here are some examples of how you could focus more on giving a glimpse of one key project within your business, or highlighting the ‘other’ projects if that’s what you’re excited to share:

I spend most of my time working as a parent and virtual assistant but what I’m really excited about this year is researching different college courses.. I’m planning to study in the health field down the track (flag an up coming thing)

One of the things I do is work as a virtual assistant and this year I’m trying to find some local businesses to work with because a lot of my existing clients are overseas and I realise I miss the face to face (talk about one project within your business)

I work as a virtual assistant and I’m a mum, I also really love anything to do with gardening! (kept it brief but flag all your main areas of interest)

I work as a virtual assistant and I’m a mum, and on top of that I just super love learning. I am always reading and attending courses, I can’t get enough of it! (kept it brief but flag all your main areas of interest)

I juggle a few different things: parenting, working on my own business, studying, and a whole bunch of writing and craft projects (as above, kept it brief but flag all your main areas of interest)

I am a real organiser, so I love anything to do with getting people organised and working more efficiently. At the moment I’m raising my daughter and also helping business owners with their marketing and communications. (focus more on your favourite skills and who you are as a person, what makes you tick, let them know that the way you use those skills changes all the time)

Oh! So many things! I’m someone who always has lots of projects on the go. Let me see, what’s big this month? At the moment I’m taking on new clients for my virtual-assistant business, I’m helping at my daughter’s school with the new school play they’re putting on, and I’m cataloguing seed for our local seed swappers library. How about you? What are you working on? (the detailed snapshot of a moment in time – this can often tell more than generalities anyway)

So in conclusion…

Remember, this exchange is NOT a job application or CV, so you don’t have to convince them of anything. It’s also not a tax return, or college application that needs to be complete and include an accurate summary of all your activities. The answer to this question DOES NOT need to list everything you do, convince them you’re good at your job, be focused only on income earning work, or leave them knowing every little thing about you.

It IS an introduction, a glimpse, a handshake, an aroma. It’s a step forward in a conversation, not the whole conversation. It’s a tiny gift from you to them of showing yourself. You get to decide what you want to show, what feels right to show, what will be safe to show and still leave you able to chat. What you choose to share today with this person might be a different glimpse to what you choose to share next week to someone else. It’s just the tip of an iceberg.

But as a scanner, rather than one fixed and static iceberg you have a whole Antarctica full of them. In answering this question you get to choose which icebergs to reveal, which ones to keep under water. You might share the tips of a few of them, or talk about one whole iceberg in detail. You might just describe the landscape as full of icebergs, and not describe any in detail. All up to you. You get to decide.

What is art therapy for?

When can art therapy help?

Art therapy can be used for:

  • gaining new perspective on all the things going on at a given time
  • expressing a mix of thoughts and emotions without the need for words
  • focusing on felt sensations in the body, including symptoms
  • acknowledging various aspects of ourselves and gently accepting and integrating them
  • accessing relaxed and focused states
  • expressing strong feelings in a safe space
  • visioning and imagining preferred futures
  • identifying symbols to remind us of what we would like to focus on
  • exploring issues of trust and boundaries, listening and turn taking
  • working with myth, symbol and story to find our strengths
  • releasing tension and accessing a state of deep relaxation
  • regaining a sense of control within our own lives
  • helping with accepting change or decision making
  • marking, grieving and celebrating transitions into new stages
  • making sense or connecting with spiritual experiences
  • finding a feeling of playfulness and creative fun
  • going ‘deeper’ to hear and learn from your wisest creative self

You don’t need to ‘know how’

You don’t need to know ‘how to make art’ to make art.

If you can hold a pencil, if you can write your name, you can make art.
Make marks, choose colours, create shapes, doodle, explore, express.
Rather than needing oodles of technique, sometimes what is needed is to just open up the flow of expression.
How do we do that?
By feeling safe.
By giving ours selves permission to play.
By having some structure and purpose.
By reorienting our relationship to art as something from our deepest places rather than something to do with pleasing others.
The more we allow creative expression to unfold without harsh judgement the more confident we are in letting it out.
The more we let it out the more our range of expression grows.

The more we let it out the more our skills and knowledge of techniques develop.
But first we need to give ourselves permission, create space, meet whatever comes out with curiosity and respect.

Start where you are

Yes! You are gloriously imperfect and your to-do list is several feet long.

Yes, there are cat hairs on your jumper and the washing needs putting away.

This is it. This is where it all starts.

This is the you that will take the next step.

Let your dream happen here, down here on earth where the wild things are. Here in the ordinary, here right now while the kettle boils.

This is the messy imperfect you that might send that email, pick up the phone, open that blogging account, enroll in a new course, write that first paragraph that later grows into a book.

Don’t wait for some fairy version of you with perfect hair and a clean desk, she might not come. Let gloriously grubby, disorganised, unsure, scaredy-cat you take the first unglamorous step, the ordinariness of it will shock you.

Dreams are made real with rubber bands and chewing gum; they are built up like some haphazard sculpture from assignments, bus rides, awkward phone calls, admin and little gestures.

Yes! This is it. You are doing it right.