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Over the past few months, I’ve had some important epiphany moments about how I want to approach my own creativity. These epiphanies came from an unlikely pair of sources: Rob Bell and Taylor Swift.
Back in August, I interviewed Rob Bell for episode 335 of Raise Your Hand Say Yes. I consider Rob a profound teacher in my life. He’s a spiritual leader, a mystic, and a philosopher.
Rob frequently speaks about God—he’s a former pastor. Even if you’re not interested in religion, the way that Rob Bell speaks of truth, longing, desire, ambition, loneliness, and love is so powerful. He uses the word God sometimes, but we could just as easily put “intuition,” or “earth,” or “the universe” or “the force or life” in place of “God.”
I first heard him on the Home podcast, where he was interviewed with Holly Whitaker and Laura McKowen. In this interview, he shared that he would go down into the church basements to participate in various meetings during his training to become a pastor. He found that those were the places where people were speaking truthfully. Those basements were the places where people talked about life, challenges, love, longing, and desire.
After hearing that, I was hooked. I read his books, and I listened to his podcast episodes. In March 2020, I was supposed to go to Los Angeles for Rob’s Something to Say workshop with my friends Ashley Nickels and Nat Lue. It was canceled because of the pandemic, but thankfully Rob hosted a workshop for writers in the fall.
In the workshop, Rob walked attendees through his process for writing all of his books. It was fascinating for several reasons:
I would like to write a lot of books. I always want to know everybody’s secret.
I have this show so I can hear and share other peoples’ processes. I don’t want to replicate those processes, though. It’s just interesting to hear so many different perspectives and keep top of mind that everybody approaches things in their own unique way. When the thing I’m doing feels different or wacky or weird, it probably means that I’m on the right track.
One of the things that I took away from Rob’s workshop was the importance of finding joy in the creative process. We are so accustomed to turning our creative drive into a problem that we need to solve, which isn’t helpful!
We say things like, “I just want to paint all day.” But instead, our time is filled up with all of these things. And then the painting becomes a chore, just another thing that we have to manage. The magic and the life force gets stripped away from it.
It wasn’t until I watched Rob Bell talk about all of his books that I had that revelation.
Very slowly, I’ve made my creative process a chore, a problem to be solved, a challenge to be managed.
I’ve stopped recognizing that my creativity is my connection to spirit to the divine, to my deeper soul, to my intuition, to whatever you want to call it.
You might be thinking, “Tiffany, what are you talking about? Thinking about your creativity as a deficiency doesn’t make sense. That’s not in alignment with anything you say.”
Correct. All of this became glaringly clear once I took my podcast break. The shifts start small, but they build compound interest and have a real effect on the creative process.
A few years ago, I was doing a lot of business strategy work. I was thinking about systems, funnels, making things efficient, and all of those things we’ve been taught to do. Various experts told me that I was creating too much content. Some didn’t even say it directly, but I internalized what I was hearing from them to mean I was doing too much.
I believed that I needed to have a very clear, finalized, strategic strategy for strategizing all the things. As making too much stuff was the problem, I thought that I needed to rein myself in. I decided that hearing all of this and having that impulse to rein it in meant that I had been doing things wrong.
Even though I got all of my energy and creative drive from making stuff, I told myself it was all wrong. As I reined myself in, though, my creative drive and that energy were still there. It didn’t go away just because I decided to banish it. Creating is my way of showing up with my truth and my true soul being.
I slowly started to work on reining myself in. I came up with notebooks to capture ideas. I came up with other notebooks to capture different ideas. I came up with all of these systems to honor my creative drives, but in a way that was like, “I can’t right now.” Instead, I turned my energy towards the strategy. I worked on what other people told me to do.
On the one hand, I’m still here. I’m doing fine. The business still exists, and that’s great. But I was working my tail off to build something that I didn’t even love. I would have these whispers that said, “Do you even like this? Is this what you want to be doing?” And my answer was, “Oh, dear God, no.”
It wasn’t until I was in this class with Rob Bell and somebody asked this question: “How do you make yourself right when it’s so hard to write?” Rob responded with, “Oh my gosh, making stuff is like the
most fun part of my day.”
Y’all, the permission given in just that answer. He wasn’t giving the answer to the universe. He just pointed out that it doesn’t have to be all angst.
Maybe you’re feeling angst in some area of your life right now, whether you’re trying to let something go or get something out of you or finding space for something new.
What if you just decided that whatever you need to do would be your favorite part of your day? Everything, the pulse of your entire day, would shift and orient itself towards joy and delight and fun and creation and execution and making something real. What a gift that would be.
Taylor Swift did something incredible this year. She came out with not just one but TWO surprise albums that were all written and recorded during the pandemic.
When she came out with her first pandemic album, Folklore, it quickly became one of my favorite albums to listen to. I often turn it on when I’m writing because it’s the right kind of music for me. It’s not too upbeat, but it’s got enough rhythm. It’s a little hypnotic.
Folklore was a big deal. It was a huge secret. Shortly after that, she came out with a special on Disney plus about the process of the album. In it, you get to see behind the scenes of Taylor Swift showing up and creating only to create.
To me, the album represents Taylor honoring her creative voice instead of being “smart” about her album production. She just wrote what came to her. She told the story she wanted to tell.
The album just before Folklore, Lover, is also great. But the first two singles were released as pop hits rather than as the best songs on the album. Sometimes we do what we think we need to do to get the things that we think we need.
Folklore didn’t have hits the way that other albums do. But the story doesn’t end there! Shortly after releasing Folklore, Taylor Swift dropped a whole other album called Evermore.
She was so on fire with the writing and the producing that she was like, “you know what, we can’t contain this. You cannot box me in. I’m making a whole other album.” And she did. And it’s so good!
What I love about Taylor Swift releasing Folklore and Evermore in quick succession is that instead of trying to edit down her work to fit all these rules and restrictions, she just went big. She put it all out into the world. She refused to contain herself.
Learning that I don’t need to reign myself in and then seeing Taylor embrace her creativity was a turning point. I’ve got Rob-Bell-and-Taylor-Swift-inspired permission to show up and share what delights me without worrying about everything being perfectly “on brand.”
The vulnerable part of this realization is that I don’t know what will show up for me. There may be things that show up for me that I want to talk about that aren’t interesting for every person in my audience. You may come and go. Other people might come and go. That’s okay.
By honoring ourselves and showing up with a reverence for our ideas and our drive, we’re expanding the path for what’s available on the other side. It’s about saying yes to the possibility of magic. It’s is a faith flex. It’s about opening yourself up to something that you can’t yet see, touch, taste, feel, hear, or smell. It’s about raising your hand and saying yes.
I’ve still been creating, showing up on Instagram, teaching classes, writing newsletters, and recording this podcast. But a lot of it was strategy- and obligation-driven rather than being driven from a place of crazy faith, trust, and magic.
One of the things that I’m doing this year is trying to step into a different way of being. My hypothesis for the year is that by focusing on who I am—on my magic and soul and creative drive—everything will grow from there.
I am gingerly holding the vision for what I want and stepping into it. And I want to invite you to gingerly hold and softly step into what you want for your life, too.
Ep. 335: Rob Bell on Everything is Spiritual and Apocalyptic Hope
[04:04] Who is Rob Bell?
[06:59] What I’ve Learned From Rob
[09:41] Finding Joy in the Creative Process
[12:40] The Backstory: My Break From Podcasting
[19:34] Give Yourself Permission to Have Fun While Being Creative
[21:48] What I’ve Learned From Taylor Swift
[27:19] How Rob + Taylor Led Me to a New Epiphany
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