Growing up, I never thought of myself as a creative person. I wasn't artistic or musical. And I'm still not. So, as I've gotten older, it still feels odd to hear people describe me this way or to even to be asked to share advice on the topic, as my friend Heather did earlier this month.
Her question inspired this reflection and I thought as we come to September -- a month that for me has always represented new beginnings-- I thought I would share this now. Especially since the start of the pandemic, I know so many people who have gone through big changes, losses and hard times. I've found that getting back in touch with a creative outlet you enjoy or finding a new hobby can be a great way to find new parts of yourself and to bring energy to every part of your life.
Wherever you are in your creative journey, here are a few insights that have helped me:
1) Experience - If you don’t know what kind of activities & hobbies bring you joy - start there! Try lots of things. Focus on enjoying the experiences on their own, with a goal of simply learning what you like to do. Along the way to finding hobbies I deeply enjoy, I've tried all kinds of things from improv and exercise classes to concerts and camps. Something that has helped inspire me to more regularly try new things was a tip from my friend Jeanette to make a list of fun things to do as long as my age every birthday. I also have friends now who are doing 23 new things in '23. Even as you start to find things you love to do, this is a step that is fun to repeat. Gretchen Rubin's The Happiness Project is a fun read that might provide more inspiration for how to thoughtfully incorporate more new experiences over the course of a year-- she did it in a very organized, thematic way!
2) Explore - Once you’ve found an activity or hobby you like - consider ways you can explore it more fully. For me, I've really enjoyed incorporating some kind of challenge element - # of weeks, # of states, # of parks - and I especially love when I can have some kind of visual (e.g. using a map or chart to mark my progress), etc. A mentor earlier in my career wisely told me that putting limits on yourself is one of the best ways to bring out your creativity. I've found limits especially helpful because they help me to get into a more regular practice with an activity. If you're trying to write or draw more, you could use a daily prompt that incorporates an object you see in the room, or go through the alphabet with a different letter inspiring each piece, etc. At various times, I've set a goal to make a mini-zine every day for a few weeks and Barnard Zine Library and this Zine Idea Generator have helped with TONS of ideas. The Milwaukee County Parks map helped me create about 50 new running routes over the course of a year running through its 142 parks. There's lots of inspiration for limits that you can find if you look!
3) Experiment - Start a bunch of things and see where you get personal traction - pay attention to what you are drawn to, what you find yourself wanting to do more of. Too often, I think even for hobbies, we can be driven what we feel like we should do. Or feel an obligation to continue to do them. A lot of creativity also seems to gets squashed because you want to wait to do it until you can do it perfectly. I've found it's easier when you focus on just doing it first. Start it, finish it. Trust that even if you're not happy with what you've created, you’ll go back to anything you find worthwhile to do. If you haven't seen Ira Glass's The Gap before - I strongly recommend a watch! Forgive yourself for anything and everything you abandon, know there is a lot of value and growth just in the process itself.
4) Engage & Exchange - Repeat these steps and get inspiration from where your friends are finding joy. Recognize that though you might have a totally different path - there may be something you can learn about their activity, method, practice, etc! You might also be more proactive in trying to make new friends and join/build a community about your shared interests to continue the exchange.
Hoping that September of 2023 inspires you to try something new, and love to keep in touch about how you are exploring, experimenting and engaging with new hobbies and goals!
A collection from some of my hobbies with further insights on the process: In 2021, this map and the process of checking off a set of new parks every week was a huge motivator for me to get a long run in every weekend, while also exploring more of Milwaukee. I was so excited when I made my first zine "How to Raise Money for the Amazing Causes You Care About" in 2019 - though I now can't wait to revisit it and update it with new illustrations and ideas. And my "37 Life Lessons" was the one fun mini-zine I made during a 14-day challenge that I've since copied and shared with hundreds of people. The other 13 from that challenge all found their way to the trash, but I enjoyed and learned so much from making them all!