Working with the young women in my ward is one of the best callings I’ve had. I love being with them, soaking in their enthusiasm for life and for the gospel. They’re at an amazing stage of life, when anything seems possible.
Sometimes I miss that stage. When I was that age, I was convinced I would do something amazing, that I would be someone amazing. Teachers fed this belief—for example, my seventh grade teacher said she wanted me to autograph my first novel for her. Twenty plus years later, I’m pretty sure she’s no longer around (she was old even then) and that novel has yet to materialize.
Now in my mid-thirties, I struggle to reconcile what I imagined my creative life would look like and the life I actually live. It’s not that I don’t enjoy my life—I have three kids, a great husband, and a degree that lets me teach occasional classes at a local university when I crave more adult interaction. But the ghost of those childhood creative ambitions frequently comes back to haunt me.
I try to write, wrangling words and plotlines in the spare minutes I have between mothering, my calling, and other responsibilities. This effort does help—but these crumbs of creative time leave me hungry for more.
Part of my problem is, I’m pretty sure, a societal problem. We live in a society that venerates youth and venerates genius—and it prefers to do both at the same time. The older I get, the more obvious it becomes that I’m never going to be a youthful genius. (Let’s be realistic: I’ll probably never be a genius either, but somehow losing the youthful part seems to hurt the most). In a fascinating essay on the difference between precocity and “late bloomers,” Malcolm Gladwell writes:
Genius, in the popular conception, is inextricably tied up with precocity—doing something truly creative, we’re inclined to think, requires the freshness and exuberance and energy of youth.
In our culture, it’s easy to feel like our creative efforts aren’t worth it—if we’re not going to accomplish something important before thirty (or at a stretch, forty), then why bother?
I can think of a couple of reasons.
For one thing, there’s no real evidence that genius that flares young is any better (or even more common) than creative genius that takes a lifetime to develop. Gladwell, drawing on the work of David Galenson, describes the difference between artists like Picasso, whose talent is evident early on, and Cézanne, who didn’t really come into his own as an artist until his late fifties:
The Cézannes of the world bloom late not as a result of some defect in character, or distraction, or lack of ambition, but because the kind of creativity that proceeds through trial and error necessarily takes a long time to come to fruition.
The idea of creativity as a work-in-progress is even more important for women, I think. Although society has come a long way in terms of providing equal opportunities for women, many of us still find ourselves (often by choice, sometimes by necessity) prioritizing family life over creative life. This is not necessarily a bad thing—but it is a choice that means developing our talents may take longer. In my case, I stopped writing creatively for ten years while I finished my degree and started my family.
My second, and perhaps most important, reason why we shouldn’t abandon our creative efforts is simply that creativity is an essential aspect of divinity. Becoming more like God means becoming more, not less, creative. Most of you probably remember Elder Uchtdorf’s wonderful talk at the General Relief Society meeting in 2008:
The desire to create is one of the deepest yearnings of the human soul. No matter our talents, education, backgrounds, or abilities, we each have an inherent wish to create something that did not exist before.
Everyone can create. You don’t need money, position, or influence in order to create something of substance or beauty. . . .
What you create doesn’t have to be perfect. . . . Don’t let fear of failure discourage you. Don’t let the voice of critics paralyze you—whether that voice comes from the outside or the inside. . . .
The more you trust and rely upon the Spirit, the greater your capacity to create. That is your opportunity in this life and your destiny in the life to come.
Here’s what I forget. Creativity isn’t about being famous or being recognized as a genius (although that might be nice). It’s not a set of attributes that you might or might not have (for the record, I recently failed this creativity test).
Creativity isn’t an event. It’s a process.
What is your relationship to creativity? Do you think of yourself as a creative person? What are your goals for your creative life? How do you balance creativity with the other demands in your life?