Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Bunny ears are calling.

About a month ago, I received an email from an elementary school classmate who miraculously remembered me from the days when I was a real blonde. And it prompted me to go back to my old photo albums. There I was sitting among a bunch of fellow second-graders wearing paper bunny ears on their heads. I, on the other hand, had been assigned a violet-colored paper bonnet that perfectly matched my skirt outfit. It was as if my teachers knew better than to give me anything remotely silly. But I still looked concerned, scrunching my eyebrows together. I was an intense child. An adult captured in a child’s body. And only as I grew older did I begin the journey to find the child who, today, lives in a woman’s body. Who is now no more than a moment away on any given day. But too many of us forget about that child once we’re grown. And some interesting things happen when we do.

I knew I’d met my match when I met my client Max. Max had been conceptualizing a book for the past six years but, according to him, he just couldn’t start writing. We had met by mere coincidence working together on another project, and when he found out that I was a creativity coach, he took it as a sign to get started. He was excited and grateful to share his idea with someone for the first time and to begin taking himself more seriously. At 40 years old, Max had decided it was time to grow up and begin pursuing all of his goals. “The fact that I've decided to take this book seriously makes me feel ‘mature,'" he wrote to me after our first session together.

For the first two weeks, Max and I worked on breaking down his projects into tiny steps and building up his creative confidence and understanding around the writing process. But during our third session together, Max realized the major cause of his resistance. “I’ve been thinking of this book as an adult project,” he told me. “The more serious I make it, the more blocked I’m getting.” I had noticed during our sessions that Max used the word “seriously” very often and was putting a lot of pressure on himself to grow up. All of sudden, he realized that the words he’d been using were not his own. They were the voices of his parents. Max loves Lego and roller-coasters and looks at the world with a child’s sense of curiosity—spending hours researching various details for his book and jotting down notes using different colored pens. “I’m not them,” he acknowledged, “I actually love kid stuff.” That day, we extended our session. And Max began to write.

In reality, Max had started the writing process six years ago—thinking, researching and writing notebooks-full of ideas. But Max didn’t give himself credit for any of this work. And the minute he began dictating to himself that it was time to get serious, the act of writing became overwhelming. His child-self rebelled, stomped his foot and said no. Max now realized that it was actually ok to be a kid. And that he had the ability to be a gentler parent to himself moving forward.

During our last session, Max began to feel a little more comfortable in his child’s skin. He had embarked on a process of shifting his thinking. “I’m a 40 year old child. I’m actually a kid performing an adult action,” he said. Max had finally found his own voice and given himself permission to have fun. A week after that final session, I received an email from him: “Whoo hoo....I started writing my book yesterday at 3:50 am and I'm LOVING IT!!!” And I completely understood his exhilaration. The pure joy of play.

Being a child is an important part of letting our creativity flow out of us, as well as living with more joy. But there are two parts of being a child: the creative, fun-loving quality and the rebellious one. And it’s important to know which is coming up for us on any given day. We can learn to nurture the creative child by making our projects as fun as possible. Using crayons to write, making a mess on canvas, celebrating those little glitches that look like mistakes. And just like parents praising their children’s creations, we must also take the time to acknowledge all that our child has done, at whatever stage he or she is in any project. Other times, when we feel resistance come up, we may need to indulge the rebellious child just for a little while. A few minutes of good feet stomping or TV watching is sometimes enough to get her to come out and play again.

The older I get and the more I work on creative projects, the more connected I become with my own childlike spirit. It’s as if I’m aging backwards. And I feel fortunate for that. To learn to play, especially as adults, is a gift we all need to grant ourselves. Every day if possible. While I was once serious during playful activities, today I make it a point to add an element of play to my most grown-up tasks. I wear a toy tiara on my head when I file or pay bills. I keep a pack of crayons in my backpack. And if someone were to offer me the chance to wear some bunny ears, I’d definitely jump at the opportunity.