Creativity & Risk-Taking

Here's a recent talk I gave to graduate students at Emerson College about the need to practice courage to become more creative and take more risks.  A student's comment:

My supervisor once asked, why are you so rebellious. I didn't know how to react to such comment, and now I know I was being courageous to speak up.



Amplify Courage


Courage helps us challenge what no longer works, fight for better ways, achieve more than we thought possible and overcome all the stress and unexpected land mines that are thrown in our paths.

How do you become more courageous? These four strengths amplify our courage. The more you use and develop them, the stronger they become.

How have you used each one to overcome challenges?

How could you use them more in 2017?

(These same questions are useful to use in team planning, as well.)

1. Perseverance: finishing what you start; persevering in a course of actions despite obstacles.

2. Bravery: Not shrinking from threat, challenge, difficulty; speaking up for what's right even if there is opposition; acting on convictions even if unpopular.

3. Vitality: approaching life with excitement and energy; not doing things halfway or halfheartedly; living life as an adventure; feeling alive and activated.

4. Integrity: speaking the truth but more broadly acting in a genuine and sincere way; being without pretense; taking responsibility for your feelings and actions.

Pretend you're someone who can

There was much to love in writer Neil Gaiman's recent "Make Good Art" commencement address to the University of the Arts.  His advice about pretending to be someone else has been swirling in my mind for days.  Not to be someone else or copy someone else, but to behave like another person to do the thing that you think you cannot.

"Someone asked me recently how to do something she thought was going to be difficult, in this case recording an audio book, and I suggested she pretend that she was someone who could do it. Not pretend to do it, but pretend she was someone who could. She put up a notice to this effect on the studio wall, and she said it helped."


To find more courage to do the work you really want to do, who might you pretend to be?

As you pretend to be that person, how might your work change?

When I was  in high school I sometimes pretended to be the late actress and writer Ruth Gordon.  At 15  I felt like an outsider and misfit in my huge, urban high school. Yet I had drive, confidence and a hope that things would be different once I got out of that adolescent jail.  After performing the role of the prostitute Kitty Duval in William Saroyan's "The Time of Our Life" my sophomore English teacher Mr. Roberts suggested I read Ruth Gordon's rambling autobiography "Myself Among Others."

Gordon, also a five-foot average looking girl from Boston, wrote of her determination, her perseverance and her "screw them" kind of attitude.  The Ruth Gordon line that sang to my young self was,  "A Star is Born was the movie, but that's fiction. A star is not born, a star makes himself or herself a star." I loved that book. I loved the Ruth Gordon that I had conjured up in my mind. She was my young rebel heroine.

In my freshman year of college I entered a talent contest. Panicking that I had none, I channeled Ruth Gordon and did my Kitty Duval monologue. I won.

Years later I bought Gordon's autobiographies at a used book store.  Re-reading them I was disappointed.  Her advice and writing seemed so flippant and superficial.

But I'm going to start pretending to be Ruth Gordon again.  In my mid-50's with so many ideas and exciting projects yet to be done I sometimes sabotage myself by playing a "you're too old to do that now" narrative. What's with that?  Using ageism against myself?

Ruth Gordon worked steadily on Broadway  and in movies, and then her career took off when she was 70, becoming a star in movies like "Rosemary's Baby" and "Harold and Maude," and winning an Emmy for her guest appearance on the television show "Taxi."

Her grit, her vanity, her love of her work (and herself) kept her relevant and thriving.

When she died at 88 --  still working -- The Los Angeles Times wrote:

Gordon was unique among actresses, not only because she defied the passing of time but because she used it like a bonus, a spiritual annuity paying off...Gordon's salty, uninhibited, sexy, sharp-witted, energetic, convention-snubbing, life-celebrating and joyous assertiveness on the screen obviously reflected what we might call her own soul-set...But she was above all a woman whose whole life, the bruises and the triumphs alike, informed and enriched her performances. She was a life force who became a symbol of the vigorous and even riotous possibilities of the upper years.

So on the days that I need a little push to take on all that I dream of doing, I will be pretending to be Ruth Gordon exhibiting all of her joyous assertiveness, and trying to dress as well, too.

And you? Who will you pretend to be so that you can stretch and do the work that only you can do?