Creativity is fragile.

As much as people want to throw as many ideas out there as possible during brainstorming sessions and see which ones “stick” or meet under the banner of “Share everything! There are no bad ideas!” Unfortunately, there are. In meetings ideas get axed, plans get crumpled up, and hard work gets thrown away.

While this is a natural and necessary part of the process, as a creative, it’s never fun.

I’m not sure if there are any other creatives out there like me, but when I work on something it becomes more than just a project. It becomes a part of you. Sure you can try and distance yourself as much as possible from the client or work but regardless of what you are doing it takes a little part of you. You pour a little part of you, your soul, your heart into it, and you want it to survive. You want to nurture your little idea into a full-grown campaign, project, or design but it’s an intimidating process.

As someone who wants to lead a creative team one day, I’ve been thinking a lot lately about how to best handle the ideation and creation processes. Having been on the positive and negative end of both processes, I’ve noticed a three essential traits leaders of creative teams should possess in order to get the most out of their people.

Protect Your Team from Outsiders – This includes anyone outside of your immediate creative team. I’ll say it again: creativity is fragile. When you start having more hands in the process more voices tend to make themselves heard. It can be intimidating to present the idea or project you’ve been working on in front of people who don’t understand why you’ve done what you’ve done. As a creative lead, in those moments, you have to go to bat for your team. You have to be their biggest advocate in those situations. Even if you don’t agree 100% with what they did or how they did, they must know you are standing in their corner, otherwise they will walk in and out defeated.

Protect Individuals from Themselves – A creative individual is always their own worst critic. Ask a Hollywood video editor if they liked the award-winning film they worked on and they’ll be quick to point out everything they should have done differently. Sure, they’ll accept the accolades and praise, but there’s something within creatives that is never quite satisfied no matter how hard they try. Whatever they do is never “good enough.” As a creative lead, you have to protect individuals from themselves otherwise they will sap their creative imagination. There is a time for critiquing but there is also a time for stepping back and being satisfied with the effort you put forth. The leader’s job is to make sure that satisfaction outweighs the critical.

Don’t Protect the Team from the Team – The team knows. The team understands. The team “gets it.” Or at least they should. Therefore, the team should be the safest place to risk creativity. That doesn’t it’s an incubator for any and every idea. It actually means it is a safe place to fail. The team should not hold back in their critiques, suggestions, “what ifs,” and feedback. This is the only way the best ideas actually make it into execution. You have to be ruthless, not for the sake of being ruthless, but for the sake of producing the best idea as a team. As a creative lead, you have to encourage your team to not settle for the lesser idea without first poking, prodding, dismantling, blowing up, rebuilding and examining the alternatives. If you don’t, half-baked and partially-formulated ideas will continually be presented without going through a thorough vetting process to make sure they are the best they can be before the outside world tries to rip them apart.

I know there is so much more to learn as a creative lead, but as I sit in meetings, hear ideas presented, and present ideas of my own I am consistently reminded of how much we have to protect creativity. Because creativity is this unpredictable, elusive creature that has to be carefully nurtured from the beginning in the right environment so that it can defend itself against the outside world and withstand the critical thoughts of its creator.

Without the right team, the right dynamic, and the right boundaries, creativity will die on the cutting room floor with a mess of other ideas of what could have been.

You have to protect creativity… along with your creatives.

I love rejection.

Those are words no one says or at least no one voluntarily says in the middle of it.

Because rejection is horrible feeling. It makes you feel defeated, abandoned, and alone. You feel like you’ve been kicked in the gut. Maybe it’s not the physical taste of bile in your mouth, but you can’t help but have a sick feeling in your stomach. Unfortunately, it doesn’t disappear as quickly as spitting it out of your mouth. It lingers. It haunts. It creeps back in at the most inopportune times no matter how hard you try and fight it. No matter how many times you psych yourself up to get out of the funk, have people say “You’re better off without him or her,” or how far you stuff the hurt down, rejection can loom as an ominous cloud overhead for days on end.

I know this because I’ve lived it. I know this because it’s been an all too familiar refrain for the past 12 months. The same song, different verse.

And it hurts. It cuts to core of who I am. The words “You’re just not good enough” echo in the back of my head hidden amongst words of flattery and apology. It’s those words that hang over my head not the good ones. They are the ones I carry with me not the encouraging ones. They are the ones that occupy my thoughts not the true ones.

And I hate it.

Because you can say all the right words, you can use all the right clichés, you can do all the “right things” and you can smile and say “I’m okay,” but the truth is… you’re not. No matter how hard you try to “grin-and-bear-it” you heart is aching inside. And sometimes, no matter how many hugs, crying fests, or self pep-talks it just doesn’t help.

Now I know, as a Christian, you are supposed to lean on Jesus. I know He says He will be your strength. I know He is always there for you. I know He suffered more than I’ll ever suffer. I know He has felt the pain of rejection, humiliation, and abandonment 100 times over what I’ll ever experience. I know He understands what I’m feeling. I know He wants to use the situation to shape me into being more like Him.

I know all these things.

But, if I’m honest, I don’t always want to hear those answers. Because in moments of of hurt and pain I don’t want to hear the “right” answers. I don’t want to hear a pep-talk about how “There’s someone out there better for you.” I don’t want to hear “It’s all in God’s hands.” While they’re all true words and often meant to encourage and help pull you out of a rut, I don’t want to hear them.

All I want to hear is someone to say “Me too.”

Because it’s in those moments our loneliness finds a companion. It’s in those moments Jesus somehow takes on skin. It’s in those moments we see the Church embodying Christ. It’s in those moments we realize we’re not abandoned.

And what’s beautiful about those moments is that once we finally come out of the rut, once we’ve climbed out of the hole, once we’ve forgiven and begun to move on, we become the person who can comfort those who are in the place we were. We can offer words of encouragement not based on tired (albeit true) phrases but out of a deep empathy because we were there too. Because our hearts understand that pain, our souls understand that ache our spirit understands that groaning and we’re able to step in the midst of that situation and help someone else pick up the pieces and begin rebuilding. We begin to look like the hands and feet of Jesus rather than just parroting His words.

Sure, it’s horrible to be in the valley. Yes, it’s terrible to have to fight every day against the negative lies that hover in your head. Of course it hurts when someone tells you you’re not good enough. But on the other side of that pain, hurt, and abandonment, we find comfort. Not only from God, but from others. Not only for ourselves but for others.

And I wouldn’t wish the rejection I’ve walked through on anyone, but, in the meantime, I’ll choose to love it for the way it will one day be used.

Over the past few months I’ve done a lot of thinking about love. Maybe it’s the predisposition I have because of being born on Valentine’s Day, maybe it’s the amount of wedding’s I’ve been to this summer, or maybe it’s the relational roller coaster life had me on over the past few months—who knows.

But I remember sitting at the rehearsal dinner for one of my best friends and his dad got up to give the final words of advice and toast. After thoroughly embarrassing his son he switched gears and really spoke some wise words that you could tell had been learned over his many years of marriage. I don’t remember everything he said but there was one phrase that I held onto that I will never forget:

Love is a choice.

I had heard that statement before somewhere I’m sure. I probably believed it intellectually and understood it conceptually, but I don’t think it ever really landed in my heart the way it did that night. It could’ve been I was more primed to it because of the situations I had walked through in the previous months. It could have been he explained it in a very simple yet powerful way. I don’t think I can really put my finger on why it hit me the way it did, but it did—and it hit me hard.

Because I’m wired as a hopeless romantic it is really easy for me to get attached emotionally and get caught up in all of the overtly romantic gestures—holding hands while walking through a park a dusk, slipping notes where she will be surprised to find it, spontaneous date night decisions, etc. Not that any of these are a bad thing. All of those things are beautiful and are extremely important for any and every stage of a relationship, from dating to marriage, but if that is what your love is based on then it’s built on a lot of trivial and superficial actions.

While that sounds harsh, that’s the reality of life: it’s not always going to be spontaneous date nights and surprise flowers at work. When life happens those “feel good” emotions are the first things to evaporate, and if that’s what your relationship is built on, then your love is going to dry up really quickly and your relationship is going to suffer because of it.

That’s why choosing love is so vitally important. Choosing love goes beyond the butterflies you get when you receive an “I’m-Praying-for-You-this-Morning” text. Choosing to love says…

Regardless of what the budget allows, I’m choosing to pursue you with all I have.
Regardless of what you hold back from me, I’m choosing to fight for you.
Regardless of how far deep in depression you get, I’m choosing to build you up.
Regardless of how alienated you feel with your family, I’m choosing to make this a safe space.
Regardless of how much hurt you cause me, I’m choosing to reconcile and forgive.
Regardless of how much suffering we endure, I’m choosing to keep persevering.
Regardless of how little I can do to fix everything, I’m choosing to care in spite of my shortcomings.
Regardless of how many times I screw up, I’m choosing to humility in my weakness.
Regardless of how many bad days outweigh the good, I’m choosing joy.
Regardless of what parts of you you show me, I’m choosing to believe the best.
Regardless of what life might throw at us, I’m choosing to stand with you the whole time.
Regardless of circumstances we face, I’m choosing you.

That is what choosing love looks like. It’s more than just choosing the emotional high you get when someone else returns the feelings you have—which is great, don’t get me wrong. But love demands a choice. And in the moments where you are getting bashed up one side and down the other with temptation, frustration, negativity, or just plain “I just don’t like this person right now,” you have to make a conscious decision to choose love.

Because, in those moments, it’s not easy, but in those moments, is where you see real love.

I want to choose love.

…and I want someone to choose to love me.

I’ve been reading through Hebrews lately and there was one idea out of all of the chapters that jumped out at me this time around: faith.

While that’s not to hard to see why since there’s a whole chapter and more devoted to the topic, I got a glimpse of a new perspective and understanding this time around.

Hebrews 11 opens with the lines:

The fundamental fact of existence is that this trust in God, this faith, is the firm foundation under everything that makes life worth living. It’s our handle on what we can’t see. The act of faith is what distinguished our ancestors, set them above the crowd. By faith, we see the world called into existence by God’s word, what we see created by what we don’t see. (Hebrews 11:1-3, MSG)

The metaphor of vision, seeing, and experiencing really grabbed me this time. I started to think about things we see and don’t see and how that affects our belief—whether in God or in every day circumstances. I turned over and over again in my mind the idea that faith is not just verbalizing belief, it’s more than that but it was hard to really put into words what was stirring.

Until this simple phrase hit me: faith is believing in what is not yet but acting as though it already is.

Faith is believing in what is not yet but acting as though it already is.

Think about that for a second. Because belief is a conscious, but passive, understanding of something. You can believe in something that is not yet. I can believe that the earth is going to rotate and the sun is going to rise in the east tomorrow to start my day. I can believe that I will one day be promoted to a higher position in my company. I can believe that I will marry a beautiful woman and love her all my days on this earth. But the reality is, none of these things are able to be seen at this time. I can believe they are true, but that’s not faith.

Faith is belief put in action.

Faith is believing in what is not yet but acting as though it already is.

Let me be clear: faith is not blind belief. Just because you act does not mean what you believe will come true—especially when it comes to Bible. The “I Can Think It; It Will Happen” mindset has no place in Christianity. Your faith is influenced by your belief. Therefore, what you are being fed (beliefs) will influence your actions (faith).

This is why it is critically important to line up your beliefs with what Scripture teaches, and it is why the author of Hebrews goes on to give examples of what faith looks like in Chapter 11. If you look at all the “By faith…” examples in the chapter, they are followed by action. It is not, “Abraham believed in God and tried to get clarity on what exactly God was trying to say.” It was, “By faith, Abraham did this, that and the other.” Faith caused action not further introspection.

Faith always leads to action otherwise it’s just a belief.

Belief is not bad. In fact, belief is the primary starting point of faith, but the purpose of belief is to lead you to action.

The scary part of faith is that we end up acting on things that haven’t come to pass yet. We don’t know how they will turn out. We don’t know what will happen. The fear of the “not yet” can paralyze our faith. Fortunately, we have a God who “already is.” He knows how everything is going to play out, turn out, and happen in every situation. So our belief in something that is not yet can be confirmed by a God who knows it already is. No longer do we have to fear what could be because we have a God who has already seen it. He stretches our beliefs causing us to act—from passive to action. Because faith proves belief.

So, instead of just believing the sun will come up tomorrow, faith sets an alarm that will wake me up so I can go to the gym and work out so I can see the sun come up. Faith works hard every day at my job to learn everything I can, be the best at what I am doing, and invest in those who work around me to make everyone better because I know that is what it takes to get better. Faith calls girls and asks them out on dates, filters what I allow in my mind, and risks relationships by putting myself out there because people are worth it.

Because faith is believing in what is not yet but acting as though it already is.

We are an over-connected generation. Everything we do is posted somewhere for someone else to see. We have to let everyone know where we ate, what we did, who we went with, and what we saw. Not any of this is inherently bad, but we end up getting addicted to tiny dopamine bursts every time our picture, status, or idea is “liked” on any of our connected platforms.

Because of this, it has created a culture that is keenly aware of what is going on in other people’s life and how we measure up. The old adage of “keeping up with the Jones’s” is no longer fueled by the white picket fence, fancy new car, or the TV of our neighbors next door. It is now fueled by the images that appear on our Instagram feeds, status updates that line our Facebook timeline, tweets that we swipe past constantly on Twitter, and pins that perfectly capture our dreams on a Pinterest board.

We have subconsciously began to compare our lives to the curated lives of those we call “friends.” Which has given rise to us always feeling like have to be part the “next big thing.” We look at all the fun things people do, the latest gadgets people buy, and the newest fashion lines and we don’t want to miss out on any of it.

So we begin to fill our plates with more and more. We sign up for more classes at school, take on more projects at work, max out another credit card, and add a new significant other into the mix. We keep adding until we feel like we have satisfied this hole in our soul.

Until life happens.

Maybe it’s a divorce. Maybe it’s a lost job. Maybe it’s death in the family. Maybe it’s a marriage. Maybe it’s a move. Maybe it’s a baby. Whatever it is, “it” happens. Something that we didn’t account for happens. The random unknown.

It’s during those moments we feel begin to feel the weight of everything we carry—our family, our job, our relationships, our faith, our future—all at once. It all seems overwhelming, because it is. We’ve built our lives like a house of cards and created a balancing act that only needs one unexpected circumstance to blow and cause it all to fall around us. We’ve meticulously crafted our life to turn out the way we envisioned that we forget to leave room for the unexpected.

In the wake of those moments, many of us have a “come-to-Jesus” meeting with ourselves, pull out the pen and paper, and begin to prioritize our lives. We rank what is most important in our lives based on what we think we should devote our time and energy to.

But that rarely solves any of our problems. In fact, it just makes us more keenly aware of how much we have going on that we continually juggle. Assigning an arbitrary ranking based on importance does nothing but focus us more and more that there is a problem we have.

There is too much vying for our attention; we must cut something. We must say “no.”

Unfortunately, “no” is not fun. It holds us accountable. It makes us disciplined. It makes us feel left out. It makes us want so badly.

But, if we want to break out of this toxic pace we have succumb to that sacrifices our emotional, relational, spiritual, and physical health on the altar of social comparison and micromanaged control, then we have to free up room on our plates for the things we cannot see coming. Because if we are constantly getting knocked down by the random unknown then we aren’t thriving; we’re surviving.

And you can only rebuild your house of cards so many times before you realize that surviving was not the way we were meant to live.

Unfortunately, it takes the random unknown to make me aware of that; I just hope I’m not salvaging the wrong “priorities” next time.

I’m not sure I ever went through the “Pirate Phase” as a kid. I was much more caught up in sci-fi of Star Wars and the future of space. However, I have seen all the Pirates of the Caribbean movies and recently played one of my favorite video game franchises that centered around the world of pirates. So picking up a book to read on vacation about pirates wasn’t out of the realm of possibilities, but it was definitely wasn’t what you would normally guess I’d be reading while on the beach for a week.

To be honest, I was surprised by The Republic of Pirates: Being the True and Surprising Story of the Caribbean Pirates and the Man Who Brought Them Down. I had no idea what I was getting into when I started reading it, and I had stumbled upon the author, Colin Woodard, via an article he had written online based on a more recent book of his (which is also on my reading list), American Nations.

Woodard went through much painstaking research to track down and compile all the primary sources for this work. He looked through everything from ship log books to newspaper clippings to personal journals and the wildly popular A General History of the Robberies & Murders of the Most Notorious Pirates. Woodard masterfully weaves together stories from history into a full picture of what was going on in the Caribbean during the Golden Age of Piracy (1715-1725). He focuses on a handful of well-known pirates (Sam Bellamy, Benjamin Hornigold, Edward “Blackbeard” Thatch, and Charles Vane) and the one man who was initially responsible for disbanding this band of outlaws (Woodes Rogers).

The stories cover everything from pirating adventures up and down the East Coast during the early 1700s to the establishment of Nassau as the headquarters for pirate activity in the Caribbean to the socioeconomic reasons why many men chose to be pirates. I was surprised to learn that many pirates were not outlaws from the beginning but were privateers turned pirates because of peace. Many also defended piracy with political convictions as well. Pirates were complex case studies in how greed and revenge vied for dominance in an ecosystem built on freedom and democracy.

However, this book reads less like a novel and more like a history. It can be difficult to follow in some places based on geographic location or naval descriptions, but overall, it is a captivating read. Hollywood has grossly over-romanticized the idea of pirates today and perpetuated the legends of many of its heroes but not without good reason. The story Woodard tells does show that some of these pirates were larger than life characters during their lifetimes terrorizing merchant and navies alike but does not shy away from the atrocities they committed as well. A well-balanced look at the piracy of the times and eventually how they were brought to their knees.

Overall, The Republic of Pirates was an entertaining beach read especially with my view staring off into the waters of the Atlantic imagining The Queen Anne’s Revenge sailing past on the horizon.

I’ve been a fan of Pixar from the beginning. Toy Story had me hooked and since then I’ve been a raving fan. Their movies have found a special place in my heart, and their team has crafted some of my favorite stories and characters on film. I’ve learned more about their culture and process through articles, documentaries, and books. I’ve read some about John Lasseter and Steve Jobs but never heard too much about the third member of the Pixar triumvirate: Ed Catmull. That was until I was looking through Amazon and creating a wish list and stumbled upon Creativity, Inc.: Overcoming the Unseen Forces That Stand in the Way of True Inspiration written by Ed Catmull.

Creativity, Inc. reads partly like the autobiography of Ed Catmull and Pixar and partly as a creative business management challenge. Catmull explains that in order to fully understand his job as President at Pixar and Disney Animation you first have to understand a little bit of the background of how Pixar became Pixar. He shares his story, beginning before Pixar, from college to Industrial Light & Magic at Lucasfilm to Steve Jobs acquisition of Pixar and eventual sale to Disney. Through the years Catmull has realized his job has become increasingly simpler: to create a fertile environment for people to do their best work, keep it healthy, and watch for things that undermine it. With this filter, it is very easy to find the practical application for creative business management throughout the book. Catmull does so by seemingly pulling back the curtain at Pixar by sharing practices and rules that help safeguard the culture they value. He explains the emphasis they put on candor in meetings, the value they place on feedback, the importance of everyone feeling they have the authority to improve their projects, and the trust they have in each member on their team. The countless stories he shares of success and failure at Pixar and Disney Animation are the perfect vehicle to deliver fundamental ideological concepts and practical application in an easily digestible way.

I found myself highlighting more passages than normal in this book. Over 190 passages were highlighted by the time I finished, and these weren’t just sentences but whole paragraphs and sections. Catmull dropped so many nuggets and insights that I eagerly shook my head in agreement with. Because, as someone who is a creative but not an artist, I have had an increasing desire to lead creatives one day. To be able to read the thoughts and lessons from someone who has successfully done that for the better part of three decades really inspired me to lead differently when given the opportunity.

I believe Creativity, Inc. should be required reading for anyone in leadership of a creative organization or team. It will challenge the way you lead your team through failure, encourage you to value candor, and allow you permission to take risks. And if nothing else, you get a glimpse inside the mind of one of the world’s most underrated creative geniuses.

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