It takes a brave soul to educate others by revealing your own shortcomings. That is the admirable approach taken by creativity expert Douglas Eby in his new book Developing Multiple Talents, a comprehensive overview of many perspectives on creativity, from scientists to creatives themselves. The book’s title is an area of fascination with me, and I was flattered that in the book Eby cited one of my blog posts on the subject, “Creatives with Multiple Talents.”
Anyone who has spent much time researching creativity online has likely come across Eby’s writings. He’s the man behind a site filled with information and profiles of creatives, Talent Development Resources, and he shares resources on Twitter and Facebook. I’ve been reading Eby’s works for some time now, as my fascination with creativity is surpassed perhaps only by him, and a few others we both like to cite, including Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi and Eric Maisel.
I find Eby’s writing style to be direct and informative, but I’m not used to him sharing himself in his writings. The insertion of a personal narrative is a pretty common approach for a lot of writers on creativity, however. The iconic works of Julia Cameron (The Artist’s Way) and Anne Lamott (bird by bird) are as much memoirs as instruction manuals. Interestingly enough, Eby in his introduction insists his book “is not designed as a how-to or self-help book, so much as an overview of some of the key aspects of our personality and inner life that can affect how we understand, access and express our different creative talents — and be able to do much more than one thing.” But in fact there is plenty in his book that one could make use of in living a more creative life.
Eby is subtle in his inclusion of his own story. Cameron, for example, devotes pages on telling the story of her struggles with her marriage and her career. Eby, by contrast, teases us with brief insights. We learn he began Talent Development Resources after asking himself some pretty significant questions, such as “Why haven’t I ever ‘settled down’ into a specific career?” and “Why have I been so self-critical?” As for the former question, I too have held an odd assortment of jobs, but perhaps none as unusual as his stint as a glue tester. As for the latter question, I think Eby is sharing a question all of us who strive to live creatively ask ourselves.
If I am honest with myself, I must admit that my passion for the study of creativity stems from my own insecurities about my own creativity. Eby’s passion comes from the same source. Where I am not like Eby (yet) is my ability to share my own weaknesses. Eby shares that he is “vulnerable to dark moods like depression and anxiety.” When quoting actor Edward Norton on creativity as a compulsion, Eby shares “[f]or all too many years, I have been self-critical about focusing on creative interests instead of, for example, socializing.” When explaining how we often assume only geniuses can be truly creative, he says “I have often felt held back in writing, such as this book, by self-limiting ideas related to how I identify myself and my writing talents.”
Longtime readers of this blog know that I am on a newly dedicated path to an art-committed life. They also know one of my biggest challenges on that path is learning how to share my vulnerabilities and my struggles. I’m a journalist by training,and keep myself out of the stories I tell. If you watch the video interviews I’ve conducted with artists, I am never seen nor heard.
Eby’s book was written to inspire other creatives, but he inspired me by helping me see my own study of creativity can help me with my challenge. He writes this: “For most of my life I have struggled with unhealthy self-esteem and high self-criticism–but reading many books on giftedness and creativity, and interviews with talented and accomplished actors, directors, writers and other artists, I have come to realize that I am far from alone.”
I see that now too. Thank you, Douglas.
Do you wrestle with “dark moods” and “high self-criticism”? I invite you to share as well.