I was the kind of kid that colored inside the lines and made sure that my art work closely resembled what I saw in real life. When I made a “mistake”, the paper was immediately crumpled up and tossed into the garbage.
I have a vivid memory of a conversation between me and my two best friends at 9 years old. We were all sitting around the living room table, admiring my friend’s free-hand drawing, sketched with both purpose and ease. I remember thinking to myself, “I wish I had a special gift”. Because both my friends seemed to have “natural” talent, I secretly felt inadequate around them. To make myself sound worthy of their praise at that moment, I proudly said, “we are all good at something. Olga, you are good at drawing, Sofiya, you are good at math, and I am good at staying inside the lines when coloring”.
It’s no surprise then, that I was also that kind of kid that had a plan. I knew the path to follow to get to college and what I wanted to be when I grew up (an interior decorator, at the time). Although my career plan changed a few times, my compulsive need to stay on course and inside the lines has stayed with me over the years.
These memories recently came up when my Pilates mentor encouraged me to come up with a list of my core commitments. Does it seem simple? It was actually harder than I thought.
In figuring out core commitments, we ask, what kind of person do I strive to be? What are the values that are important to me no matter what career I pursue? These qualities will be the underlying layers of our career direction or decisions. They will help guide us in our choices when we are lost or overwhelmed. For me, that would be now. I was reassured to know that these commitments don’t have to be things I am good at already – they can be things I want to work on but are important to me.
You should try to make a list, too!
One of my commitments is creativity. It’s important for me to be my own individual — to bring my own ideas to life and teach from my experience. I realized that recently, I have not been living this core value as much as I would like.
I asked myself, have I been creative lately at all? Sometimes. I have been too preoccupied with doing things the “right way”, especially when it comes to teaching. I notice that when I’m too self-critical, I feel like I have nothing new or interesting to offer. I know it’s not true, but it often seems that way. This self-doubt creeps in when I look too hard for unique ideas, original thoughts, and perfect ways to teach. I realize that this search is actually stopping me from being creative. Whether it’s using “perfect” terminology, or organizing my classes to flow seamlessly with perfect choreography, the search for perfection is unrealistic and way too much pressure!
The irony is that I was looking so hard for “right” and “unique” that I did not notice that I already had what I was looking for.
I just finished a great book, Improv Wisdom, by Patricia Ryan Madson. She has been teaching improv for over four decades, eventually becoming the head of the undergraduate acting program at Stanford.
What does improv or acting have to do with anything?
Life is an improvisation and we are improvisers by nature. While life is all about creating your own masterpiece, it seems easier to fill in someone else’s painting. But when I have the courage to trust myself to just be, things happen. They may not seem like masterpieces to me, but they feel natural, deeply personal, and are often helpful to others.
Patricia discusses the simple concept of having a flexible mind. For me, that means not having a plan for every minute and allowing myself to just be more often. Over-planning impedes our ability to actually see what is in front of us.
When I focus too much on the plan for my class session, or when I preoccupy myself with finding a correct word, it’s difficult to draw upon my own experience.
As Patricia says, “a mind that is occupied is missing the present. Discover the freedom that comes when you trust that you have what you need”.
A simple improv idea led me to a new mantra – be ordinary!
Does that seem boring or uninspiring?
Actually, no. It’s very freeing.
Do what feels natural and don’t stress about to how be creative, how to come up with an original idea, or the perfect class session. Your ordinary is already unique.