Get Lost...Now, I don’t want you to leave-stay. I want us to zero in on the definition of lost. Lost is defined by convention as having no direction, unattainable, being gone, or out of reach. What if I were to tell you that getting lost means something entirely different in the creative mindset. But hold on...what is a creative mindset? For many it is a mental barrier but anyone can access creativity.
It is hard to feel creative when we have seen our ideas manifested by another time and time again. We say, “Oh I’ve seen it done before.” Or, “It’s been searched on google and streamed youtube millions of times in its most perfect form.”
But the truth is, anyone can have an idea, a creative voice, and a story that is beautifully unique, extraordinarily creative, and has never been told before. It is up to us to tell that story. It is up to us to express ourselves, with a creative mindset in order to sculpt impactful change in our society as youth...without a roadmap or a final destination. Now let’s get lost.
-A simple acronym unpacks the methodology of “lost” and redefines its meaning (Share slide of LOST acronym)
("L" = Listen to Criticism):
The word criticism can feel like checking your voicemail as a young professional...do you want to listen to it? No....but you listen to it because grandpa can’t text yet and you love grandpa. The truth is, who gladly wants to admit that they don’t know how to do something or that they’re lost?
Creativity begins with accepting criticism, assessing it, and then acting on it.
Once you accept the fact that you do not know where your next step is, it is time to find the right mentors. The people who care about your success will not be afraid to give you the hard truth or verbalize your idiosyncrasies. I thought it was a brilliant plan to quit my stable, tenured job as an art teacher and accept a fraction of what I was being paid in order to go after my dream career.
My husband, who was the first person I thought would encourage me, criticised me. He asked me questions like, How would you file your taxes? What market of consumers are you targeting? How would sell your work? He wondered if I knew about steps it would take to be a freelance illustrator. I admittedly had no answers to these questions. I was lost but had an awareness of these questions that I needed answers to in order to move forward with clarity.
According to a 2019 article by the Harvard Business Review on Innovation, an author and psychologist, Charlan Nemeth, states that in order "to create breakthroughs, it is necessary to leverage the contrasts that come from critique instead of escaping them. Debate and criticism do not inhibit ideas; rather, they stimulate them."
Breakthroughs can occur not only with the proper support but with the power of a creative outlet.
("O"= Own your Outlet): Getting lost in your outlet will yield itself to brand new discoveries, allowing you to blaze uncharted territories of your creative mindset. But how do we get here? It is easier than you think. 2020 alone has re-routed our lives in countless ways, whether it is because of job loss or different demands in our consumer culture.
For me, pen and ink illustration has provided me with an outlet, patience, resilience, and has allowed me to express pieces of life that would have surfaced in unhealthy ways otherwise. Let me draw a scene for you... It is the hot summer of 2018 and I am planning a fall wedding, an event my mother is helping to plan but will be too weak to attend.
Let me tell you about mom. We never had the ideal mother, daughter relationship. This was a person who would rather binge watch TLC while cleaning the floor than go on an exotic vacation or a fancy dinner...even if I invited the entire cast of 90 day fiance. After years of convincing myself that I was not related to this woman, we started to mend a very broken relationship.
It took me my whole life to truly appreciate my mother and then I come to find that she is dying of a blood cancer called Multiple Myeloma. As her sickness steadily worsens, with hair falling down her face, aches and pains insatiably feasting on her body, she begins to reject treatment and I dive into one of the darkest moments of my life. At this point, we know that she has less than a year to live and all I can think about is how her pain is consuming my heart....and how utterly lost I feel.
In the heat of feeling lost, I pick up my pen and instead of depicting something just to make me smile, I draw a story. This girl is walking through a dark forest with a rusty lantern... she encounters a whimsical treehouse by following the warmth of a vibrant light. Her back is facing the viewer and her feelings are subjective. Is she sad to be lost or is she optimistically embarking on a new journey? Would she ever have stumbled upon this mysterious treasure of a landscape if she just followed a road map? She is me.
When this artwork was featured in a gallery, I got a call from a viewer who wanted to meet me in person. As I sat down next to her at a crowded coffee shop in Baltimore City, her smile widened with her eyes. She was excited to see me so she could tell me about the impact my work had on her and how she couldn’t unsee my design. As she unraveled her feelings about my illustration, she wondered if her theory about the story I depicted was correct.
I stated that it did not matter if she was correct. If this artwork made enough of a difference for her to want to track down a stranger, I did not want to confirm or deny her feelings about the story. I wanted the impact of my work to sustain itself in mystery and inspiration by not being tainted by the truth. Then I suddenly had a change of heart...I told her that my artwork was inspired by my mother’s passing and then she opened up about losing her mom at the same age as me.
Because of this instance, I had an epiphany. It is not enough to make something in the trenches of feeling lost, one must marry the concept of making with sharing. Creating is your opportunity to share a story and form meaningful connections in society. I would not have made an impact on any person if not for displaying my work while grappling with the emotions of being lost. The connection I created was made by embracing a vulnerable moment with creativity and it allowed me to grow and learn more about myself than ever before.
As Physiologist Alan Castel once stated, "Being lost can lead to deeper learning about yourself, your goals and your interests."
I would have never been able to find myself again if not for getting lost in my outlet. My creative potential and confidence would have never been reached if not for illustrating and sharing my story.
("S" = Story-tell):
One can make an unforgettable impact by sharing a personal story through an art form.
When humility and vulnerability is exposed to the masses with an artistic voice, it can create a ripple effect so influential and infectious that people can start to feel comfortable enough to access a creative outlet on their own.
According to a professor of Psychology and Neuroscience Uri Hasson states that “In a study involving the brain activity in two people as one person told a story and the other listened, they found that the greater the listener's comprehension, the more closely the brain wave patterns mirrored those of the storyteller.”
If this is true, how does one tell a good story? If your work allows one to envision the senses of touch, smell, taste, sight, and hearing with then you can truly captivate someone’s attention and transport them to an unforgettable place in time...maybe even a dark and mysterious forest.
Sharing a good story with a creative mindset does not come without its risks. Moments of vulnerability can surface and that means exposing a layer of yourself that you might not be ready to share. Being vulnerable takes work and sometimes when our lights go out and our hope is lost, we must take leaps of faith in order to reach our desired destination and escape from the dark.
("T" = Take Creative Risks): Getting lost is a risk but we must get lost in creativity in order to be found in the eyes of confidence. What does that mean?
Shouldn't we always have a plan? A set of directions? Google maps? How about Waze? As far as problem solving, our minds are habituated and drawn to it. If we are getting lost physically, it allows us to have a heightened sense of awareness in regards to our environment and actions. But how does this link to creativity? Creatives notice the unnoticed. Creatives take risks.
As soon as my mom took her last breath in the palm of my hand, it was as if someone took a match and burned out my life map. Every course of action taken after that point was unplanned, spontaneous, bold, and raw. My exquisite risks led me to the core of my creative potential and helped me inspire and impact society.
Right before my mom passed away, I asked her what to look for in nature as a sign of her presence. She said “I’ll be a purple butterfly.” At first I was upset because I have never seen a purple butterfly. Then it dawned on me... beautiful things are not always obvious, which makes them more precious when they are found....just like your creative voice.
So the next time your light goes out, and you are unable to see your roadmap, allow yourself the chance to embrace that feeling because it may surface the most brilliant layer of your creative mindset...your purple butterfly.
As the extraordinary and unpredictable artist, Colson Baker once said, “How do you give a legendary performance if you can’t get lost in it?...There are no rules in art.”
There are no rules with creativity and there is always a way to access it-with your story.
We all have a story that has yet to be told. So how are you going to tell it? We cannot make impactful change without vulnerable marks, words, and performances. Our world needs your artistry in order to see life with a fresh and inspired lens.
So what will you do when the light burns out? You’ll just have to ...get lost.