By: Teresa Peterson

When doing your creative-thing the fear of crafting something mediocre can be daunting. Oddly enough though, doing something great can be equally distressing. For many artists, from writers to rappers to photographers and beyond, producing the best track or taking that sweet shot leaves them feeling euphoric until the creeping anxiety that they may never be able to top it swallows them whole.

This is an especially unhealthy part of success and the creative process. In a TED Talk on “Your Elusive Creative Genius” author Elizabeth Gilbert shares a little history about the internalization of creativity, better known as the “creative genius”. She explains that there are some inherent emotional risks to being creative. Namely self-doubt and self-deprecation, which come in times of creative blockage but also post creative flow. That’s pretty much any time. Gilbert attributes this problem to the transition of our perception of the creative genius. She explains how in ancient Rome people believed that instead of creativity emanating from an individual it was instead a divine spirit that came to the human. These divine spirits of inspiration and creativity were called you guessed it, geniuses. This placed the creativity outside of the creator. Instead of being a genius you just happened to have a genius.

It was right around the Renaissance that we eliminated the natural distance between our work and ourselves. We put the individual human at the center of the universe and deemed the successful artist “a genius”. At this point one could no longer place the blame of a crappy painting on their lackluster divine spirit of inspiration (genius) nor could they avoid epic narcissism during great success by having the obligation to attribute some of their awesomeness to that sweet little creative fairy that brought the inspiration to flow through them.

This reframing of the genius as something we have versus something that defines who we are is important because it allows us to practice being present and grateful. It offers us the option to be present in a current success instead of looking ahead with urgent fear that the next thing we make won’t be as good. And it provides a moment to feel gratitude that a creative spirit chose to perch upon your shoulder so you may share those fruits with the world.

Elizabeth Gilbert’s TED Talk presents more detail on this concept and she’s actually pretty funny, so if you have 19 minutes give it a listen. If not, I hope that the next time you make something great you can sit with it and smile for while. Oh, and don’t forget to tell your genius thanks.

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