Melissa Dinwiddie spent much of her life thinking she wasn’t an artist. Even though she loved doing creative things, and her parents encouraged her to become an artist, she still chose to take a different path. She was intimidated by all the people who drew better than her, so she stopped making art for 15 years.

Even a stint as a dance student at Julliard, a prestigious performing arts school, didn’t convince her to stick with her creative inclinations. Instead, she went to school for cultural studies and even attempted to get her PhD.

While trying to fill out her PhD application, she was filled with fear. Her body was telling her something wasn’t right. It was telling her to be more creative.

This integral moment in her life brought her back to creativity. It led her to create a business around designing ketubahs, and eventually led her to creating her blog Living a Creative Life.

In this episode Melissa talks about being happy with your self and your work, making time for your goals and creativity, and sharing your work without expectations, among many other things.

Here are three things you can learn from Melissa:

Be Happy With Who You Are

One of the misconceptions we develop early in life is believing that people can create great things with little to no effort. We wonder why we struggle so much while those around us create amazing things.

The truth is, most people don’t have an innate talent. Most people go through the same struggles we do. We just don’t see it. So we just assume everyone else is great and we aren’t.

Making this discovery changed the way Melissa viewed her art.

“Part of me still believed… that if it were truly possible, if I were truly talented, if I were a genius, than I would instantaneously be able to do all this stuff. I used to looked at people’s finished pieces and, without realizing it, I would assume that they just picked up a pen, picked up a brush, and went to town, and booms there’s this incredible finished piece that in fact, in reality… was planned out and designed, and took them fifty-two hours or something… so I think that I knew that I must be getting better and there must be hope for improvement.”

That doesn’t mean she wasn’t envious of people who created great work. She decided that her self-worth shouldn’t be tied to whether or not she was a genius. She realized that it was okay to be a normal person.

“I used to flip through the pages of the premier lettering arts journal, Letter Arts Review, and I would cry because I knew my work was never going to be that good. And God, my ego was so tied up in , I think I believed on some level… that in order to be okay, in order to be worthy and a loveable person, I needed to be a genius. You know, out of this world amazing, out of this world outstanding, remarkable, and one of the really wonderful things about getting older is that… I have let myself off the hook and essentially forgiving myself for being a regular person, and life is a lot better on this side.”

After years of worrying about being the best, Melissa realized that happiness is more important than the constant need to feel validated.

“The younger me might look at the older me and think, ‘My God, you just let yourself go, you’ve given up,’ and on this side of it, I see it really differently. I see it as, ‘Yeah, but my life is so much happier.’ Back then I didn’t care about happiness. I wanted to be great. Why did I want to be great? I guess I thought it would give me happiness.”

Make Time for Your Creativity

One of the most overused phrases we all use as creatives is I don’t have enough time. We blame our lack of time for our lack of progress or success. But the truth is, time is just a convenient excuse. “If you can’t put fifteen minutes a day into your art, you’re making an excuse.”

Melissa used time as an excuse for ten years. She said she didn’t have the time, but in actuality, she was paralyzed by fear.

“I’ve been making an excuse for ten years, saying ‘I don’t have time, I don’t have time, I don’t have time…’ It wasn’t about the time. It was about fear. It was about perfectionism. It was about comparison trap. It was self-doubt. It was all those things getting in my way, but time was this really convenient excuse.”

If you are having trouble making room for your creative work, just dedicate a little bit of time to it every day. By spending fifteen minutes a day on her creativity, Melissa was able to keep her creative juices flowing.

“When I spend just a little bit of time every day, it keeps my toe in the creative stream. So I constantly feel like I am immersed in my creativity. Whereas, imagine if I were to spend two hours once a week, which is actually more than fifteen minutes a day for seven days. But two hours once a week would not have that sense of keeping my toe in the creative stream, but just a little bit every day, does. Plus the hardest part is starting, and when the commitment is tiny… it gets you past the starting friction.”

If there’s anything we can learn from Melissa it’s that we need to stop using time as an excuse. If you really want to get something done, you have to find the time for it. You have to prioritize your time and make room for it on your schedule.

“It’s really not a matter of finding the time. It’s a matter of making the time. You have to schedule it in. And like I said, I’m a big believer in scheduling it earlier in the day, because then you have less time for monkey wrenches to get thrown into the works… that tiny little bit of time. It’s amazing baby steps will get you anywhere if you do enough of them.”

Don’t be Afraid to Share Your Work

More often than not, there is one critic in particular that prevents us from achieving our goals. This critic knows exactly what to say to keep us down. That critic is ourselves.

We are so afraid that others will see the flaws in our work that we become paralyzed by it. But others don’t see the flaws we see. And realizing that was one of the most empowering lessons Melissa has learned.

“We’re all so afraid to share our work because we’re afraid people are going to see what we see. They’re going to see what’s not living up, where it’s lacking, and they don’t see that. But we’re afraid they’re going to and we’re afraid to be humiliated, and we’re afraid to be so horrified and embarrassed… My experience has been, when I just put my work out there… no comment, no apologies… just put it out there and then watch and see what happens… that has been so empowering.”

Even when we don’t think our work is good or worthy, we can never predict how others will react to it. The work Melissa feels the least comfortable with is often the work that people appreciate the most.

“I can’t tell you how many times I put something out there and think ‘Ugh, that wasn’t my best effort… I’m embarrassed to share this but I’m going to because I’m doing this practice. I’m practicing putting things out there and that’s the thing that I’m embarrassed by.’ I’m cringing because I’m pushing the publish button or whatever. But that’s the thing that gets a bazillion likes, that gets somebody emailing me and saying, ‘Oh my god, I needed to hear that today.”

That’s not to say you should seek validation from others. What we really need to do is publish our work and see what comes from it.

“We definitely don’t want to get caught up in seeking validation from other people. That’s never useful… but when I can put my work out there and let go of the outcome, and just observe… it’s very liberating and it’s very empowering.”

  • about Melissa
    • loved doing creative things and parents thought she would be an artist
    • she was intimidated by people who drew better than her and quit
      • same thing happened with music
    • 15 year hiatus not making any art/music
    • was a dancer, got injured while dancing at Julliard
      • was the end of her dance career
    • went back to school and got Masters degree in England
      • couldn’t fill out PhD applications because of her fear
      • her body was smarter than she was
      • her reaction told her something wasn’t right
      • body told her to be more creative
    • got engaged and spent seven months planning the wedding to delay her decision
      • brought her back to creative expression
      • interviewed artists to commission ketubah
        • one of the artists used paper cutting, but they went with less expensive one
      • felt a lack in her life
    • decided to go into writing, but her gremlins prevented her from success
      • spent more time reading about writing than she did writing
      • didn’t realize practice would make her better
    • spent half a day doing paper cutting and didn’t realize so much time had passed by
      • was challenging but also compelling
      • writing was challenging, but making things was fun and easy in comparison
      • decided to start making things
      • wanted to turn it into some type of business
    • took on calligraphy and paper cutting
      • signed up for every art class she could find
      • started hobby business taking any job
      • spent dozen years building up ketubah business
      • business tanked in 2008, and she sunk more money into her business
    • spent years trying to build business back up, and in 2010 she had a bunch of crises
      • realized she didn’t have to do the same thing or settle
      • ketubah wasn’t feeding her creativity anymore
    • started her blog Living a Creative Life
      • charted her journey to the life she wanted in hopes it would help others too
    • realized her pillars were: relationships, creative expression,  making a difference

8:50 “It didn’t occur to me that, I have this skill that I have now and the way to get better is to do it. What I now say is ‘Nobody wants to make crap, but we need the crap, because it’s the crap that fertilizes the good stuff. But I didn’t know that at the time, so I procrastinated on my writing.”

14:28 “I really started it (her blog) as a way to chart my journey towards the life I really wanted in the hopes that some day it might be useful to other people as well.”

13:37 “I had this epiphany moment when I realized ‘I don’t have to keep doing the same thing. I can do something different. I don’t have to settle for what at the time seemed like a full colored life. I didn’t have that language. But being a ketubah artist was this big dream and this big goal, but… fifteen years down the road, that wasn’t the thing that was feeding me anymore. I had completely lost track of my own creative joy because I was only making art to please other people, to please my clients… not to explore, to play. I had forgotten how to play. And so I made the decision to go after the life I really really wanted, which I would now call full-color life, and I had to figure out what that meant.”

  • childhood creativity
    • after school art program after school and being exposed to art
    • comparison started in kindergarten
      • in first grade, felt intimidated by a boy who drew better than her
    • fourth grade – Sholastic book club
      • saw rabbit painting in photorealistic style and was awestruck by the realism
      • had a sense of impossibility “I could never do that.”
    • grandmas bought her oil painting set
      • was frustrated because she couldn’t achieve realistic style
      • didn’t realize she could learn to do it
      • had a fixed mindset
    • learning in fourth grade school orchestra
      • picked violin
      • in seventh grade, she switched to viola
    • high school – remembered girls being much better than her
      • was stuck in fixed mindset
      • quit playing in 10th grade
  • having a vivid recollection of events
    • felt she wasn’t creative
    • one of her friends sent her drawings in the mail
      • she was blown away by the doodles/creativity
      • friend told her she could doodle too
    • self-identified as non-creative person
    • friend’s three ring binder gift
      • believed she didn’t have that creative ability

23:50 “Now it’s really funny because people who know me tell me all the time ‘You’re the most creative person I know.’ But I so did not believe that about myself. And what I remember about that time period was that it just felt very grey.”

24:22 “Existence felt very grey compared to what it is now, because I wasn’t feeding that part of me that really… needed to be fed. So that part of me was just constantly malnourished.”

  • living a colorful life with creativity
    • affecting the lives of people and making a big difference

25:10  “I believe that in order to live the richest, most engaged life, fullest life where you’re feeling the most fulfilled, I believe that human beings need to feed their creative side. And that’s going to look different in different people. So for some people, drawing and painting and making music may have not interest to them, but maybe it’s solving math problems or something, or maybe it’s cooking or gardening. I mean there are so many ways that human beings express ourselves. And I think that without that, I think what happens is that we kind of shrink and we become kinda tight.”

26:07 “My hypothesis is, I really really believe that if creativity, if creative expression and creative play was valued to the same degree that reading, writing, and arithmetic are valued, and if it were treated as normal as and daily as brushing your teeth, that everyone would be encouraged from birth to express themselves creatively, I believe that we would not have nearly as much violence and conflict and war and negativity in the world.”

  • realizing she could get better by practicing
    • probably discovered this in her late 20’s while making calligraphy
    • wanted her calligraphy to look like she had been doing it for 10 years
    • felt like she had a Mozart complex
    • Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell
      • putting in 10k hours
    • wanting to be a genius and being let down by not being one
    • losing yourself when trying to be great
    • changing her identity after losing ability to dance

28:00 “Part of me still believed… that if it were truly possible, if I were truly talented, if I were a genius, than I would instantaneously be able to do all this stuff. I used to looked at people’s finished pieces and, without realizing it, I would assume that they just picked up a pen, picked up a brush, and went to town, and booms there’s this incredible finished piece that in fact, in reality… was planned out and designed, and took them fifty-two hours or something… so I think that I knew that I must be getting better and there must be hope for improvement.”

30:00 “I used to flip through the pages of the premier lettering arts journal, Letter Arts Review, and I would cry because I knew my work was never going to be that good. And God, my ego was so tied up in , I think I believed on some level… that in order to be okay, in order to be worthy and a loveable person, I needed to be a genius. You know, out of this world amazing, out of this world outstanding, remarkable, and one of the really wonderful things about getting older is that… I have let myself off the hook and essentially forgiving myself for being a regular person, and life is a lot better on this side.”

31:04 “The younger me might look at the older me and think, ‘My God, you just let yourself go, you’ve given up,’ and on this side of it, I see it really differently. I see it as, ‘Yeah, but my life is so much happier.’ Back then I didn’t care about happiness. I wanted to be great. Why did I want to be great? I guess I thought it would give me happiness.”

  • auditioning for Julliard
    • didn’t plan on going there
    • went to UC Berkley for a year to prepare
    • friends auditioned for Julliard and all got in
    • auditioned because her teacher pushed her to
    • dropped out of Berkley to audition week before school started
    • music test for theory and an audition class/piece
    • expected everyone who applied to be professional dancer, but realized afterwards that they were all training to be professional dancers
    • Fame – movie about students in the performing arts which set Melissa’s standards
    • coming in with strengths/weaknesses
  • not liking Julliard
    • went from school with ten’s of thousands of students
      • you could just go to class and enroll
    • Julliard felt restrictive
      • no electives and told you exactly what to take
    • placement audition class with three levels
      • she was placed in level 2 of modern class
    •  had a keyboard class requirement
    • wanted to take an art history class in her schedule opening
      • was chewed out because she enrolled in it
      • dancers weren’t allowed to take more than one academic class per semester
    •  made an enemy out of the director of the dance school
    • she couldn’t dance after the injury and didn’t like the teachers

40:53 “It really made me realize that I probably wouldn’t ever want to go back to an institutional setting for a creative pursuit because you’re stuck with the teachers that they have, who might not be good teachers for you, but you’re stuck with them, and you’re stuck with the curriculum they have, which may not be the right curriculum for you.”

  • the influence of your environment and the people around you
    • feeling alone and isolated
  • getting a Masters degree
    • cultural studies
    • went to honors thesis adviser at Cal, who told her to go to Birmingham, England
    • Masters thesis -women readers of science fiction and how they use it in their lives
  • having so many interests
    • calls herself a passion pluralite
    • stove top metaphor
      • working on different things at different times
      • allowing projects to sit and simmer
      • giving herself permission to change focus

44:43 “I finally realized in my early thirties that this is how I’m wired. I am not somebody who can be happy sticking with one thing and one thing only. So when I finally accepted that about myself, that enabled me to start to look at that as ‘Okay this is basically the hand I’ve been dealt. Now let’s figure out how to make it work for me.’ Because what I was doing up until then was kind of trying to do everything that interested me all the time.”

45:29 “You can’t do everything all the time at the same time and I remember having this actual epiphany in my kitchen, in my apartment… realizing, ‘Oh I do get to do everything, just not all at the same time, and I thought ‘I know I can’t stick with one because I won’t be happy… and I was in my kitchen, and I realized… my life is like a stove.’ If I just allow myself four different things at a time, I think that will make me feel pretty happy. And I can rotate the pots on the stove top however I want.”

  • Melissa’s main pot and simmering pots
    • main pot – figuring out business side
      • has spent most of her time not knowing how business works
      • wants to learn how to make a business that’s nourishing and brings in money
    • side pots
      • the thing she does first in the day is the thing that gets done
      • doing things that feeds her creatively
      • it’s okay to have things sitting on a shelf
      • get out to do more public speaking and corporate training
    • doing improv
    • being drawn to things that are challenging
      • being drawn to things with an improvisational element (music, dancing, acting)
      • being in a space of discovery
      • being attracted to the unknown
    • balancing perfectionism and improvisation
      • when she got back into art, she lost interest in non-improvisational art
      • was avoiding her art table during this time
      • felt like work/working for a client
      • didn’t like work that didn’t feel like play
    • Feb 2011 – interviewing artists
      • learning from what other artists have done
      • friend Michelle helping people who struggle with Resistance
      • being called out for making excuses
    • Melissa was convinced for a month to take 15 minutes a day making art
      • discovered 15 minutes was enough to get her into flow
      • lost track of time and ego
      • bigger tasks feel harder to overcome
      • bodies in motion stay in motion
      • made more than 150 pieces in 11 months, which is more art than she made in the previous decade
      • believes in tiny and daily
      • making excuses and giving into fear
      • seeing something valuable in your own work
    • looking at your work through other people’s eyes
      • Golden Formula – Self Awareness + Self Compassion = The Key to Everything good

59:08 “So when I wanted to get back to creating for me, not for clients, I realized, ‘Okay, I need to figure out how to play.’ And I thought about my little nephew playing in a sandbox… and I thought ‘That’s what I need. I need to be like that. I need to be in that space of making messes, and exploring, and asking myself, what would happen if I did this? Wow that’s cool. Now what would happen if I did this other thing…” That’s the place that I wanted to be. So understanding that about myself helped me come up with a way of working that would work with that.”

1:01:02 “If you can’t put fifteen minutes a day into your art, you’re making an excuse.”

1:01:24 “I’ve been making an excuse for ten years, saying ‘I don’t have time, I don’t have time, I don’t have time…’  It wasn’t about the time. It was about fear. It was about perfectionism. It was about comparison trap. It was self-doubt. It was all those things getting in my way, but time was this really convenient excuse.”

1:02:59 “When I spend just a little bit of time every day, it keeps my toe in the creative stream. So I constantly feel like I am immersed in my creativity. Whereas, imagine if I were to spend two hours once a week, which is actually more than fifteen minutes a day for seven days. But two hours once a week would not have that sense of keeping my toe in the creative stream, but just a little bit every day, does. Plus the hardest part is starting, and when the commitment is tiny… it gets you past the starting friction.”

1:06:21 “It’s really not a matter of finding the time. It’s a matter of making the time. You have to schedule it in. And like I said, I’m a big believer in scheduling it earlier in the day, because then you have less time for monkey wrenches to get thrown into the works… that tiny little bit of time. It’s amazing baby steps will get you anywhere if you do enough of them.”

1:08:08 “The reality is, it’s the things that we want the most that we resist. The more important something is to you, the more Resistance you’re going to feel, not the less, and people often don’t understand that. I certainly didn’t. I didn’t understand why I was so resistant to do the things I wanted more than anything.”

10:8:38 “What really helped me is getting into the mindset of a four year old and practicing imperfectionism, allowing myself to be imperfect, allowing myself to make crap… Just because you allow yourself to make crap doesn’t mean you will. Plus the stuff that I think is crap, other people see your work for what it is. You see your work for what it isn’t. You see your work for what it’s lacking, where it’s not meeting up to your idea in your head, right? And other people don’t see that. They don’t see the idea in your head. They just see what’s presented in front of them.”

1:10:26 “Everything comes down to my Golden Formula… If you can notice and have awareness for how you’re feeling, what’s going on with you, what’s working, what’s not working, what you like, what you don’t like, all of that stuff… awareness of yourself in the world, and then respond to that awareness, with compassion, acknowledging that you’re human and that’s okay. There are several billion people out there who have experienced similar things and they’re not invalid people. They’re lovable and good, and so are you, and then treat yourself kindly and gently. That has been the hugest, hardest lesson for me, and I’m so grateful that I finally figured that part out. It took me long enough.”

  • two books related to Melissa’s Golden Formula
    • The War of Art by Steven Pressfield
      • talks about Resistance
    • Still Writing by Dani Shapiro
      • looking at things through other peoples’ eyes
    • get creating and share your work
      • you can’t see your own work yourself
    • people wanting to buy paintings she thinks are imperfect
      • validation of people wanting to buy your work
    • Creative Courage Lab
      • creating and putting work out there
      • opening yourself up to shifts
      • stop anticipating the perfect

1:13:00 “We’re all so afraid to share our work because we’re afraid people are going to see what we see. They’re going to see what’s not living up, where it’s lacking, and they don’t see that. But we’re afraid they’re going to and we’re afraid to be humiliated, and we’re afraid to be so horrified and embarrassed… My experience has been, when I just put my work out there… no comment, no apologies… just put it out there and then watch and see what happens… that has been so empowering.”

1:13:56 “I can’t tell you how many times I put something out there and think ‘Ugh, that wasn’t my best effort… I’m embarrassed to share this but I’m going to because I’m doing this practice. I’m practicing putting things out there and that’s the thing that I’m embarrassed by.’ I’m cringing because I’m pushing the publish button or whatever. But that’s the thing that gets a bazillion likes, that gets somebody emailing me and saying, ‘Oh my god, I needed to hear that today.”

1:15:42 “We definitely don’t want to get caught up in seeking validation from other people. That’s never useful… but when I can put my work out there and let go of the outcome, and just observe… it’s very liberating and it’s very empowering.”

  • The Gap by Ira Glass
    • distance between the work you create and the work you envisioned
    • Melissa believes The Gap will always be there
      • she gets bored and seeks things more challenging
    • get comfortable with the gap and seek to expand it
    • being a beginner in Jazz
    • she was better equipped to be in that position at 38 as opposed to 28
      • she already felt accomplished and had carved out a place in the world
      • becoming more relaxed and mature and owning your identity
      • being okay as a beginner and enjoying the journey

1:19:48 “Hopefully when we get older, we get a little more relaxed, a little more mature, and I was able at that age to be in this place of being a beginner and to want really really badly to be really good. I was here and I really badly wanted to be way over there, but I was going to enjoy being here. I was going to enjoy the journey of going from here to there instead of creating this miserable cage for myself, which is where I had been ten years before.”

  • having self-awareness and self-compassion

1:20:40 “Self-awareness and self-compassion, that’s what it comes down to. Or as I like to say, ‘Don’t beat yourself up, love yourself up.’… When you catch yourself beating yourself up, don’t beat yourself up for beating yourself up.”

1:21:17 “Notice it. Step outside of it, and remind yourself ‘Oh yeah, I’m human. I get to forgive myself for being a human being.’ and how can I treat myself really lovingly and kindly like I would my most precious, most most beloved friend or person in my life. How would I treat them?… We would never treat somebody like that… the way we treat ourselves. So the practice… is to treat yourself kindly, and it’s a practice. It’s an ongoing practice because we’re not perfect. We have to let ourselves be crappy at it.”

  • favorite quote
    • likes mantras rather than favorites
    • “Don’t beat yourself up, love yourself up.”
    • “Other people see your work for what it is. You see your work for what it isn’t.”
      • calligraphy teacher Peter Thornton
    • the most creative practice is just getting back on the wagon because you’re going to stumble
      • the problem is when we never get back on
  • morning routine
    • journal/draw in morning for 20-30 min each
    • meditate/stretching for 15 min each
    • playing with workout routines in morning/afternoon
    • in constant state of evaluation
    • self-awareness of what’s working/not working
  • recommendations
  • creative people
    • husband sees and experiences the world differently
      • when he hears music, he sees a scene happening in his head
    • Elizabeth Gilbert and Brene Brown 
    • Rising Strong by Brene Brown
      • told group of friends stories and took their notes and typed them up
      • tapped into her creative power
  • definition of creativity
    • jump into the creative sandbox

1:36 :23 “Creativity is generating something new, that didn’t exist before… is how I would define it at its most basic level. And that includes finding a solution to a problem because that creates something new that didn’t exist before. And creativity doesn’t necessarily mean making art or making music or writing… any of those traditional art forms that we think of when we tend to think about creativity. And one of the biggest things that gets in the way of people feeling that they’re creative and expressing themselves creatively, is this idea that some people are creative… but really the only difference between artists and everybody else… is not talent. It’s entitlement. It’s permission.”

  • being more creative

1:37:36 “So the way to be more creative is to get past the self-doubt and the fear that comes up as this form of resistance and gets in the way. And what’s worked for me and my students is to really get yourself in the mind space of a four year. Of somebody before all that stuff got laid into us. Before the self-doubt and fear and comparison started… You really have to allow yourself to make crap. We need the crap because it fertilizes the good stuff.”

  • challenge
    • take on a fifteen minute a day challenge
    • tiny/daily creative practice for a limited time period
    • try it and see how your life changes
    • 15 minutes a day challenge

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