Do You Help Yourself?
As an eight-year-old, she had a full-out meltdown. Right in the middle of the studio, she collapsed on the floor, sobbing at her inability to execute the new move the ballet teacher had just demonstrated to the class. To her amazement, what happened next was life-changing. She found herself surrounded by all the kids in the class. The teacher and students huddled around her, consoling her.
She still remembers the teacher saying, “If we could do it right the first time, we wouldn’t need to know how to learn. You’re all learning here. You’ll get better as you go.”
That moment in ballet class has influenced Ellen ever since. She loves learning, and does it for fun. Many years later, she still wants to take courses, explore new topics, and develop new skills.
A ten-year-old in a country far from home, she took ballet class with other expat kids. The forbiddingly tall and elegant teacher, a former Bolshoi prima ballerina, clearly despaired of ever succeeding with these lumps of children she had to contend with. Tina still remembers looking in the mirror to check her form, and seeing, off in the corner, the reflection of their teacher, sighing and looking miserable while she stared at the kids, at their ineptness, at her lot in life.
That moment in ballet class has influenced Tina ever since. She can’t forget that look on her teacher’s face. Although Tina later became a dancer and choreographer herself, the teacher haunts her yet.
A nine-year-old with dreams of gracefulness, she asked for permission to take ballet at the local university’s dance program for kids. Her parents didn’t think it was a good use of their limited resources. They had more respect for piano and voice lessons, which, conveniently for them, they could provide to her free of charge, themselves.
That absence of ballet lessons has influenced Nora ever since. It led her to decide she was a non-dancer, an identity she clung to for decades thereafter. When others told her of their experiences in ballet class, she envied them their memories and the friendships they still enjoyed from those days.
Imagine that you are both the teacher and the child in those three scenarios. Instead of ballet class, the child is eager for the teacher’s creative support for something – a new writing project, say, or a scary-exciting artistic stretch into a new medium or genre. As the teacher, you have choices.
You can assist Ellen as she investigates this new creative terrain, and, when she meets with frustration and uncertainty, you can surround her with common sense and care. Her creative community will also show up for her when she needs to talk, commiserate, and celebrate. Ellen will learn an essential confidence that will energize her future pursuits, and allow her to support others in theirs.
You can make a few polite noises about being supportive of Tina’s new project, but when she first encounters difficulty, you’ll back off, stuck in your own reminiscences of past glories and what-if’s, unable to be present for Tina. She will be shy about making new friendships with writers. She will learn that she’s on her own when it counts, and, perhaps, that creative collaboration is unwise.
You can shut Nora down before she begins, diverting her toward other pursuits that you prefer for her. She will learn that her interests are unimportant. She will find it almost impossible to connect with her fellow creatives. If she ever does renew her interest in that shut-down project idea, she’s likely to approach it with timidity and a sense of isolation, which in turn will reduce her chances at success on her own terms (let alone anyone else’s).
The Rosy Scenario
When it comes to our important creative adventures, what would it be like if we emulated Ellen’s teacher and classmates? If we provided our inner Creative Me with the support we need. Built artistic communities – virtual as well as local – where we can grow with others. Gave more than lip service to our aspirations. Didn’t dismiss them before we even tried them out. Trusted ourselves to have good ideas. Tested them for their staying power and potential for meaningfulness. Employed courage, boldness, and confidence. What if we gave ourselves every chance to explore and grow?
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