The value in leaving your creative comfort zone

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It all started with a badly made hand-tied bouquet

My husband and children had clubbed together over Christmas and signed me up to do a workshop at our local florist, which just so happens to be not only one of the best in the county, but the same florist that did our own wedding flowers 10 years ago.

To say I was emotionally invested was an understatement.

After months of being cooped up in doors, too pregnant to move and generally feeling isolated, I was champing at the bit and desperate to get back into the real world, stretch my creative muscles and maybe even talk to some adults, for once.

Floristry seemed like an easy way to tick all those boxes and either way, I got to twirl amongst roses and lilies all evening and take home a beautiful bouquet at the end of it. Win. Win.

What I hadn't considered though, despite being a complete and utter beginner, was how much I wanted to be good at it. It wasn't enough to just appreciate the experience and learn, I wanted to be good at it. Really good at it. After years of low confidence I felt like I NEEDED to be good at it. And what was worse was that at no point did my intellect or experience kick in and say 'Hmmm, Lianne, you know things don't work like this. This is gonna hurt you if you keep thinking this way!'

I was blind. I did not see it coming.

So the day comes and I am stood there, struggling with mess of stems, my cheeks burning with shame, as the other students chatted away having a lovely time, feeling completely useless... The instructor has to come over and completely dismantle my attempt and make it for me.

I went home and cried, completely and utterly defeated.

It didn't matter that hand-ties are considered one of the hardest skills to master. That it was my first time ever. I was consumed by a very deep sadness. I hardly slept. I had never felt this way in my life. So the next morning I did the most logical thing:

I emailed my teacher and said, 'I quit'.

I'd like to think I know how my brain works when it came to creativity. I'd like to think I know all my weaknesses, strengths and requirements. That I was predictable and consistent. Brave. That I knew exactly what I needed to do to overcome any obstacle including the fear of being a beginner. But what I took for granted was I knew how to do all that with something I WAS ALREADY GOOD AT. Something I'd already had experience battling with. Something I wasn't afraid of. To confront all these problems in a completely new territory knocked me sideways and kicked me when I was down for good measure.

Of course my instructor wasn't going to listen to my whining though, and after a bit of much needed tough love she convinced me to return and try again.

This was when my true gift, the real magic of creativity, began to kick in.

Reader, I am not a creative person... My gift is that I am persistent. Every single time I make a mistake or get knocked down I WILL pick myself up and keep running at that target. I might kick and scream and sulk and throw all my toys out the pram but once I'm ready, you better get the hell out of my way, because I'm coming for you. 

The following week I march back into the florist and I. Am. Ready. Flowers will not defeat me!

With a new level of determination, and of course everything I learnt from the previous lesson I stand there, focused and waiting to confront my demons.

I choose my stems, some pink roses, a gorgeous green orchid and my foliage and get to work. 

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This time things feel different.

I'm focused but open minded. If I can't do this, then it's okay. I'm a beginner and I am learning. My teacher gives me a tiny bit more support and checks my progress incrementally, with very little correction. I let my muscle memory guide me, feeling the bouquet and carefully, thoughtfully putting it together in a way that pleased me.

It is all new. I am completely out of my creative comfort zone but I am doing okay. I am managing.

Last week was my final workshop and after several weeks exploring country-style jug arrangements, oasis, tropical flowers and fragile peonies I can happily say I feel rewarded.

By leaving my comfort zone and attempting something creative that was completely new for me I was able to examine all the weak points and strengths of my learning process and grow as an artist and person.

It exposed a lot of toxic learning patterns that I'd established as a child- the feeling that if I wasn't perfect at my first attempt, then I was useless and it was not worth reattempting. High pressure, aggressive Grammar school education wrecked my self confidence and during this workshop it all came unravelling. I felt weak. I felt destroyed at times. But finally, as an adult, I was able to pick myself up and go 'No one is judging you anymore. Let's have fun with this'.

I healed a deep, paralysing trauma with a few flowers

I loved my arrangements. I LOVED going to my classes and choosing my flowers and making mistakes and asking for help. I never felt that shame from my first class again. Driven by my curiosity I even visited the shop during the week to buy more flowers and foliage and practised in my own time. I started to find it deeply relaxing.

What a contrast to the previous month.

The value in leaving your comfort zone is that it's the only way you can deepen and heal your existing creative process.

It's like an MOT for your soul. It tests everything you think you know about yourself and your creativity and if you persist, if you forgive yourself, you will be rewarded with extraordinary gifts- confidence, resilience, pride. All those things the books tell you will happen and you continue to say 'yeah, yeah, I know, i'll be fine' but really, you haven't a clue until you do it. Action is more important then words. You've really got to throw yourself in the deep end. You can't learn to swim by reading a book on it. It only takes you so far. You have to live it.

You have to struggle to find a reason to fight back and know you're strength. To believe it.