What your dreams reveal about your reality

what are your dreams telling you

I had a nightmare the other night. The kind that sticks with you for a while.

I dreamed my classmates and I had to give presentations—singing presentations in which every single person basically stood up on a stage and sang karaoke. (Your typical journalism school assignment, clearly.) I watched the others stand up one by one and sing their hearts out on the fluorescently lit stage, and with each final note, the group would applaud.

Then it was my turn.

I’d forgotten all about presentation day. I hadn’t practiced my song in weeks. (Isn’t that always how school anxiety dreams go?) But the music started and I began mumbling along with what was supposed to be a Kelly Clarkson song. (Not exactly my go-to karaoke singer in real life, but again, we’re dreaming here.) I’d forgotten some of the words, but I belted out the notes as best I could. I even started to get into it, though I couldn’t hear myself very well—for all I knew, I was out of tune. But the worst part was when the song ended and no one clapped. No one even looked up from their computers. It was dead silent.

My stomach quivered with the kind of humiliation I hadn’t felt in years. Several painful seconds went by as I placed the microphone back on the stand. Part of me felt shamefully invisible while the other part of me couldn’t be invisible enough. I almost let it go and walked off stage without acknowledging the awkward moment, but instead, I delivered a little hostile sarcasm to the crowd: “Really? Not even a courtesy clap? Real nice.” Some people offered a couple of half-hearted claps. It only made me feel worse.

This dream haunted me all the next day. I’ve had plenty of awful school-related dreams, but this one felt particularly significant. Why? Because the only thing unrealistic about it was that I was singing Kelly Clarkson karaoke for a grade. Everything else—the nerves, the fumbling over words, the vulnerability of exposing my heart to an audience and the feeling that no one cares? That’s all within the scope of reality.

It doesn’t take a professional dream analyst to decipher that my dream-self’s inability to confidently sing a power anthem might be linked to real-life feelings of uncertainty and self-doubt.

Most of the time, I feel like I have my shit together and know that I’m more than capable of achieving anything I take on. But sometimes, it can feel a bit like I’m Kermit-flailing behind a microphone wondering if I’m coherent or just plain crazy.

You could say grad school has instilled a proper sense of urgency with an unfortunate side effect of second-guessing everything, including my own abilities and whether I’m on the right path. If you are, ever have been or intend to be a grad student, this article about imposter syndrome—the feeling that there must’ve been some sort of mistake when you were accepted into school and that everyone will find out you’re a fraud any day now—is a worthy read.

But these feelings are hardly limited to school anxieties. Anyone brave enough to put their work out there for people to see, read respond and react to has likely been there—it’s how they deal with the criticism, the negative thoughts and the bad dreams that makes them a success or a could’ve-been. 

That means if you’re a blogger who, like me, has poured your heart and time into a blog post and obsessively refreshed the stats and comments and worried no one gives a shit—I get it. I’ve been there. I’m still there sometimes (see above dream). But as long as you love doing it, keep doing it. And if your dreams give you any indication that something’s not right, analyze the hell out of those dreams and write a blog post/diary entry/song about it. Then get back to work. Because the only thing worse than creating something that’s a failure is failing to create.

And the next time I have to give a karaoke presentation? I’ll be prepared with a flawless rendition of “Stronger.”

 

Where to look for inspiration

When I’m at a loss for something to write about, there’s usually a very simple explanation.

It usually means I’ve been stuck in a routine for too long, hunched over a computer for too long, overworked, under-exercised and/or lacking in sleep. (Conversely, being bored can have that effect too, though since grad school took over my life, I haven’t had that problem once.)

Despite my best efforts to fill out some semblance of an editorial calendar every month, I sometimes come up short on blogging ideas—or, the ideas I jotted down before no longer interest me. Luckily, it doesn’t last too long, because I know where to look for inspiration.

where to look for inspiration

Whether you’re a blogger or not, if you sometimes suffer from a lack of inspiration, these ideas will spark your creativity:

Go through your old photos. I’m always browsing through my photos to find something to go along with a blog post, but sometimes I go through my library before writing to see if I get any new ideas. Plus, it’s always fun to reminisce on a special day or trip. (Does anyone print out photos anymore? That’s something I’d like to start doing again.)

Find quotes by your favorite authors/artists/musicians. When a quote really resonates with you, it inspires an inner dialogue, either reaffirming something you believe in a more eloquent way or challenging you to think about something differently. Write down your thoughts and don’t edit yourself.

Talk to people who are much younger or much older than you are. Nothing like a kid’s innocent honesty or a grandparent’s wise insight to completely change your perspective, right? Whether it’s an eight-year-old or an 80-year-old, there’s always something to learn from them. (That obviously goes for different races, religions and gender identities, as well.) Expand your social circle and expand your horizons.

Make a list. A bucket list. A reverse bucket list. Places you’d like to visit. Things you’re really good at. People you admire. Books you really should read. People you should really call.

Play tourist in your own city. Think you’ve seen everything there is to see? Challenge yourself to find something new. If you drive everywhere you go, commit to an afternoon of walking around—even if it’s just in one area of a spread-out town—and you’ll likely notice things you’ve never noticed before.

Get off the Internet. File this under “advice to self.”  You can only aimlessly click through the black hole that is The Web for so long before you absorb exactly nothing you’ve read, and let’s face it—you’re checking Facebook more often than is healthy or normal. Pry your claw-shaped hands off the keyboard, close the laptop and stretch your limbs in the big, open space known as “outside.”

 Have you found yourself in an inspiration rut lately? How do you pull yourself out of it?

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What kind of creative are you?

What kind of creative type are you?

Chances are, you’ve taken the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator test to see which of the fun acronyms best describes your personality.

Are you a quiet, serious ISTJ? An outspoken, fast-paced ENTP? Or maybe an ambitious, idealist INFP? (That’s me!) Your personality type has a lot to do with your creativity—how it’s inspired, fostered, carried out and even suppressed. Some people think they’re not creative because they’re terrible drawers or don’t like writing, but each of the 16 personalities has qualities that are linked to creativity.

That said, I’m a writer, and to harness my creativity to be more productive, efficient and, ultimately, satisfied, it’s important to understand just what kind of a creative I am—what motivates, inspires and helps me to get the creative juices flowing.

Why? As an INFP, I tend to get a little… distracted. I occasionally suffer from what’s known as Shiny Object Syndrome (“S.O.S.” for short, appropriately), often getting excited about multiple ideas with the best of intentions and never seeing them through.

Maybe you have the same problem, or another problem that’s holding your creativity back. In any case, here are some questions to ask yourself to help narrow down what makes you tick and what gets you off track (and if you haven’t already taken the Myers-Briggs personality test, you can take it here):

  • What is the intention behind your creativity? Doing good in the world? Living an authentic and purposeful life? Expressing yourself in a way others will appreciate and relate to?
  • What motivates you? Money? Recognition and acknowledgement? Achievement (whether it involves money and recognition or not)?
  • What kind of environment inspires you? Do you prefer to be home surrounded by familiar and comfortable things? Or out exploring nature? Or surrounded by people in a social environment?

 

The answers to these questions might seem simple, but they’re key to setting the foundation for understanding your purpose and needs for being creative. Thinking about what energizes you and what you see in the big picture can help you get clear on how you best operate. (It often helps me to write these things down on paper—something I turn to when I’m losing creative steam on the computer.) And it’s not a crime if money is a motivating factor—creative types need to make money too, and working on a rewards system is one of many effective ways to get things done.

When you’ve answered these questions, look to your personality type for more clues about your strengths and weaknesses. If you’re anything like me, you might struggle with time management, being decisive and avoiding burnout. Or maybe you have a hard time being flexible, taking criticism or are over-analytical. Rather than beating yourself up for your downfalls, get into problem-solving mode and cater to your strengths. An app I recently discovered called Commit is great for keeping you accountable for goals you set. And as I begin my second semester of grad school, I’ve begun mapping out a routine and schedule for work and play (this blog falls somewhere in between!) to keep me on track.

So I’d like to know: What kind of creative are you? What are your strengths and weaknesses, and how do you embrace them?

On momentum

momentum

If you get even the slightest bit of forward momentum, run with it. Don’t question it. Don’t hesitate.

Don’t let yourself go to that place in your mind where all of the worst-case scenarios lie. The worst-case scenario is that you leave your momentum hanging there, left unused. It’ll go stale quickly once it’s been opened, whether you use it or not. Yep—even when you run with it, you’ll still run out of it. But if you used what momentum you had, it wasn’t a waste. You’ll still hit a wall, but at least there will be something to show for it. When you’re at that wall, out of momentum, don’t walk away—tempting as it is. This will be the true test of your will. Of your desire. Now that the adrenaline has been tapped out, all that’s left is you. That can be a freaking scary thing to face. You? Alone with your thoughts? Terrifying. Or exhilarating. A little bit of both. That’s when you’ll produce either your greatest masterpiece or a pile of shit. You might prefer one over the other, but both are a success. Because even a pile of shit is something. It can always be cleaned up later. Don’t let others’ masterpieces distract or intimidate you. Chances are, they left a lot of piles of shit behind them, too. (Tired of the pile of shit analogy? Okay, sorry—moving on.) Those people have only chosen to show you the best of themselves, and you can’t blame them for that. It might be what you’re striving for, too, but don’t be afraid to get your very worst creation out first. That is what you call courage. Creation. Creation is courage. Vice versa. You’re not doing this for the comments, the “likes,” the praise. Don’t think about your audience before you’ve even started. You’ll just be paranoid that they’ll see right through you, and you’ll be right. This is yours. This momentum is yours. The stagnancy that follows is also yours. Use both to your advantage. Run with it. Slow down when you’re short of breath, but keep running. Run through, around, or over that wall. Something is there, waiting for you, on the other side.

And the only person it belongs to is you.

 

On an entirely unrelated note, I’m now a monthly contributor over at Pooping Rainbows. Intriguing, right? Check out my first blog post on kicking the bucket list.