8 years ago my husband took his first overseas trip for The Sportsman Channel. Prior to, he had never traveled outside of the United States.
He has now filmed in more than a dozen different countries across five continents (see slideshow).
When he first started traveling, he’d return from abroad always with a new energy. We would sit in the makeshift office of our little townhouse in Peoria and recap his photos and videos. He’d talk about the food, the culture, the people, the landscape with a unique kind of intensity.
I grew accustom to this “welcome back” ritual, and as time went on, I finally recognized the change happening in him.
These life experiences were amplifying his creative eye.
What he shot, how he shot it, why he used a certain lens or chose to film at a specific time; his adventures abroad were impacting his artistry in a profound way.
Over the years, I’ve come to see how life experiences can help your creative genes evolve, and I’m not distilling this down to Eat, Pray, Love type experiences. Traveling to different regions, eating exotic cuisine, and meditating with a guru are all great things, and I’m sure leave behind a creative imprint, but what I’m referring to are the basic up’s and down’s that come with living life.
The joyous moments and the tragedies alike: births, deaths, graduations, marriages, divorce, career change and so on.
Our daughter’s life has had an obvious impact on both my husband and I. Raising a child with significant special needs has made us more empathetic and compassionate people. The tragedy of almost losing our child early on followed by the near constant uncertainty that comes with her atypical development has changed how we see the world.
And that includes our creative work.
Kendall has taught me to slow down and think more deeply before I publish any written creative material. I find myself more interested in the quiet struggles of other people, and I want to capture that in my creative whenever I can.
I watched Matt grow in his portrait work. I noticed him coming back with more faces than landscapes, and I think that’s a direct result of Kendall’s impact on him. He really sees people perhaps more than he did before she was born.
And, I’d say we both can tap into the emotional center of any project with greater ease.
An Exercise for Creative Inspiration
Life experiences (if you let them) have the ability to open you up emotionally, and I find creativity is born out of vulnerability.
The problem with that is (and maybe you’ve noticed this) people are not super excited about being vulnerable.
If that’s you, my recommendation then is to reflect. If you are working on any type of creative project, take time to reflect and recall experiences in your life when you felt vulnerable. Put yourself back in that moment as much as you can. What did it look like, how did you feel, who was there, what were the sights, sounds, tastes, smells?
Let it open you up. I bet you’ll recall certain things you didn’t notice the first time. If you don’t consider yourself inherently creative, this is a great exercise for you.
I’ll give you an example.
When I’m composing content that requires a measure of joy or anticipation, I find myself thinking back to the day our son was born or the day our daughter took her first unassisted steps.
I put myself in that moment of vulnerability, and let it wash over me before I begin working.
If I’m writing or creating content that needs a feeling of anxiety or fear, I think about my first time live on-air as a reporter. That moment for me is great, because there are layers to that type of fear and anxiety. I was scared but also excited and intensely focused. I think about how bright the lights seemed, and how I had this faint ringing in my ears (probably because I needed to breathe).
Empathy is such a critical piece to meaningful storytelling (really all manners of creative content), and it is cultivated through our lived-experiences. The more you can tap into and reflect on those experiences; the easier it becomes to extract the right emotional tone and texture of your next creative project.
Alright, alright now because I took a crack at Eat, Pray, Love, I’ll end with a thought from the author, Elizabeth Gilbert.
“Some days are meant to be counted, others are meant to be weighed.”
The days in your life that have carried the most weight house the experiences you need to help develop your creative eye. Hold onto these days, reflect on them regularly, and don’t discount the emotional value these moments can bring to the work that you do.