“Unused Creativity Isn’t Benign. It Metastasizes.”

“Unused Creativity Isn’t Benign. It Metastasizes.”

“Unused creativity isn’t benign. It metastasizes.”

So said Brené Brown in her amazing interview on Oprah as she explained that wholehearted people cultivate creativity.

Brené went on to say that wholehearted people also cultivate meaningful work. This work doesn’t have to pay the bills (though if yours does, that’s awesome). It’s the work that’s satisfying, not the money it brings in. To illustrate her point, Brené referenced a CPA-by-day who makes jewelry at night, and sells it on Etsy.

When I heard these words, I couldn’t help but think about the women I’ve sat down with or chatted with or exchanged emails with–just in the past two weeks! They’ve thrown around big words like Calling. Mission. Purpose. Giftedness.

Many of these women have been stay-at-home moms, and they’ve shared different versions of the same story: I love my kids but I need something else, too. I don’t know how to make that happen. Help me figure it out.   

And so many of them feel guilty for wanting this.

Listening to Brené, I wonder if some women are gifted in such a way that they use their creativity–I mean really use it–as stay-at-home moms. Those big words–calling, mission, purpose, giftedness–find expression in that role.

And I wonder if some women just aren’t.  

I’d love to hear your thoughts on this. If wholehearted living requires cultivating creativity, then are you finding an outlet for yours? Are you using your gifts? Do you need to find a way to use them?

Thanks for making this a safe place for me to think out loud. I’m looking forward to a great discussion in comments. 

P.S. Brené dives deeper into the subject of creativity in her book The Gifts of Imperfection.

Books mentioned in this post:


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57 comments

  1. Ronni says:

    I have always thought that all people can’t be identified as only one thing and be happy … Your identity can’t ONLY be as a daughter or a son, a boyfriend or a girlfriend, a boss or an employee, a father or a mother or anything else, or you’ll be unhappy. You might be a daughter, a wife, and a mother, and also be a reader, a volunteer, and a Muslim (or many other combinations!) … it makes for a happier and more meaningful life.

    • Anne says:

      “I have always thought that all people can’t be identified as only one thing and be happy.”

      What an interesting way to put it. Thanks for that, Ronni.

  2. Mary says:

    This is so so true. And I think we get caught up in thinking our creativty as SAHM’s has to look a certain way. I think it is essential that we allow ourselves to find a way to express our creativety that matches us and not some preconcieved notion. I hope you don’t mind that I linked back to this and posted a bit about it on my blog.

    • Anne says:

      Exactly: we have to find an outlet that matches us, not someone else’s expectations.

      And of course I don’t mind! I loved the post and the personal take on it. 🙂

  3. Leanne Penny says:

    I love this, the quote and the concept. Too often I feel like my creativity is stunted and I can never get it all out and if I don’t get it out on almost a daily basis both with tangible and with words I go nuts.

    The sad thing is that right now my kids don’t seem to appreciate it, if we do a craft or activity they lose interest so quickly and don’t appreciate it and I get so discouraged and give up. Surely we can meet in the middle somehow, perhaps it’s time to reattempt.

    • Anne says:

      “If I don’t get it out on almost a daily basis both with tangible and with words I go nuts.”

      Yep.

      I’d like to think that everyone can get what they need, in the season they’re in….but golly, it’s hard sometimes. I’m hopeful for you, friend.

  4. Now I’m going to be thinking about this today. I definitely think that we all have a creative side…..and we all are much happier when we have an outlet to express that. How that comes out, I am sure, can be extremely varied. I live on a varied diet of writing, the occasional craft/diy project, and cooking. When all else fails, and life is too busy to even type out a few words or journal, I KNOW that I have to at least cook for my family, and it is those days that some of our best meals happen.

    • Anne says:

      “When all else fails, and life is too busy to even type out a few words or journal, I KNOW that I have to at least cook for my family, and it is those days that some of our best meals happen.”

      Brenna, I just love this. It shows the importance of the ordinary so clearly. I’m also impressed with your self-awareness here. Keep it up, sister.

  5. Tim says:

    Starting the blog last year is where I’ve been creative. Is it a mission or calling? I haven’t seen it that way. But I do see it as a ministry at some times, and I hope it glorifies God at all times.

    Tim

  6. Meredith says:

    Oh I am so thankful you posted this link to the Oprah Brene` interview. I set my DVR and the first episode recorded but the second one didn’t. I was ticked last night. Now I can watch it on my Kindle or laptop! 🙂 I love her interviews. I am reading I Thought It was Just Me. It is good but it can be a little deep or something. I can’t quite put my finger on it. But I think she is awesome.

    • Anne says:

      Meredith, I’m so glad you can watch it now!

      I have I Thought It Was Just Me on my to-read stack, but I haven’t started it yet. I’ve loved her other two books, though. So much food for thought; I’m definitely going to turn to them again and again.

  7. Sarah Beals says:

    I am creative by nature, and love especially to watercolor. I do it for enjoyment, but am now selling my pieces on a commissioned basis. I am working on a watercolor to go to Germany right now. 🙂 When my kids were younger, I made crafts and did a holiday craft fair peddling my homemade wares. It used to bring in about 1K around Christmas, which was such a help!

    • Anne says:

      Oh my goodness, of course there is meaning in work at home! Yes, motherhood is a calling. And people are called in many ways. Gifts are given in order to be used. And frustration results when those callings aren’t being used and aren’t finding expression.

      I completely agree with you–I think it’s so sad that so much work that’s done by women is invisible to the larger culture, and therefore isn’t valued by it. I’m hopeful–maybe naively so–that this will change.

  8. Jillian Kay says:

    What a great discussion.

    I work full time, as a programmer. In some ways this is creative, but in most ways it is not.

    It’s so true, for me at least, creativity has to come out somewhere. My youngest is 2 right now, and I’m just getting to that point where I can feel my old self coming back. She’s a bit more independent, and I can do a few things beyond survive. I can sew, I can exercise, and I can cook things that take longer than 15 minutes. And I am such a better person for it.

    • Joani says:

      I’m a full time engineer and I agree, sometimes it is an outlet and sometimes it isn’t. I really enjoy quilting in my spare time and often joke with my husband that I would be very happy if I could make as much money quilting as I do engineering. I’m just about done with a 3 month maternity leave, though, and ready to be back in the office! I’ve been surprised this time (my second daughter) how much I do miss my work and I consider that a good thing. Now I just need to wait out a year or two so I can find time for sewing & quilting again!

    • KT says:

      I work part-time as a programmer (I’m home with my daughter the other days of the week). I think of it as 100% creative! In college I was a computer science and English writing double major. People thought that was so weird but writing a short story and coding up a website exercise the same parts of my brain. Maybe it’s because I have always focused on the user interface, but I love being able to sit down and watch on the screen the instructions that I’ve just written actually happen.

      Of course the days spent doing office politic-ky type stuff are not at all creative. But the work itself – love the creativity of it.

      But I will say that I’ve always felt I was a better programmer for having other outlets besides code. Being a mom, reading fiction, running, cooking, and crafting are all helpful in sharpening my mind.

      • Anne says:

        “But I will say that I’ve always felt I was a better programmer for having other outlets besides code. Being a mom, reading fiction, running, cooking, and crafting are all helpful in sharpening my mind.”

        KT, I love this. Well, that and the computer science/writing double major.” That’s awesome.

      • Jillian Kay says:

        I know what you mean — there is great creativity in coming up with the perfect, elegant, precise code for something difficult. But it doesn’t fill my cravings creating something pretty.

        Physics major/history minor here. I get your cs/writing double major. I think the world would be a better place if there were more balanced programmers like us!

  9. Deborah says:

    I struggle with this all the time. And have finally told my husband I wanted to explore some of the talents I had as a kid, drawing and piano. He was supportive, but finding time with our three sports busy kids has been hard. But the one art class I took in February had me smiling for the whole hour. I definitely need to carve out some creative me time.

    • Anne says:

      I seriously had no idea you drew until you posted that incredible drawing of Audrey Hepburn on your fb page! I’m so glad you’re carving out some time (or thinking about it, that’s a step in the right direction!) to make room for creative pursuits.

  10. Karen says:

    Creativity~ for me it is making a pile of wet sheets waiting to be washed into an adventurous trip out to the clothesline~ LOL! But, seriously, it seems like everything around me (except my job) is an opportunity to get creative. How to relandscape so the veggies are hidden in flower beds? Where should the tent be put up out back so it’s like wildernessbut close enough to the back door for potty needs? Knitting hats to donate (what colors of yarn and what stitch pattern)? How to make homework fun? Getting a pre-teen boy to wash all the dishes (clean) and think he beat me at my own game?
    Parenting = Creativity

      • Karen says:

        Well, I do employ the TV for this. At commercials I tell him he’s only ‘allowed’ to wash 3-4 dishes and they may not be clean as it’s way more fun to eat off of rotting food! (Remember I’m dealing with a 12 year-old boy) He deliberately ‘disobeys’ me at every commercial! LOL Gotcha, Dude! Also works well for cleaning up his bedroom~ “You may only pick up 2 things and put them away/ in trash/ ect…” or “Pick up all clothing and take it quickly to the toter (garbage)!! Hurry! Whatever you do, do NOT start a load of laundry because Girls rule/ get first dibs at the washer!”

        He makes life fun and entertaining!!!

  11. Breanne says:

    Such a thought-provoking post and questions. I think that we each have our gifts and as SAHM (that is my perspective since that’s what I am!) it can be frustrating to not be able live them out as we think we should. In an ideal world. =)
    I love to cook, write and create. Sometimes creating looks like allowing my little girls to finger paint or water color and I join them. Or its introducing my favorite picture books to them, I was a librarian once upon a time.
    It’s being okay with mess and knowing that one day we can all scrapbook together.
    And it’s also about finding balance. I started blogging because I needed an outlet, something to capture our days and help me iron out the wrinkles.
    Doing something creative helps me to be a better wife/mother/home manager. It’s not a right but a privilege.

    • Anne says:

      Yes, yes, yes.

      I’ve been amazed at how many women began blogging because they needed a creative outlet. The sheer number blows me away.

  12. I have found this creative outlet to change frequently (in different forms) since becoming a mom 14 years ago. I’ve had to work full time as a nurse until the past year, so I have had an outlet aside from parenting/homemaking. Nursing hasn’t filled me creatively, but I do feel like I have been able to use my gift of mercy and compassion that I feel God has filled my heart with.
    My outlet is writing, baking, taking pictures, and creating with my hands. This past year has been tough and so I pushed all my gifts aside and it nearly paralyzed me. So I wholeheartedly agree with Brene’s opinion and I feel like I’ve been an example of what happens when you try to act as if a creative outlet isn’t necessary.

    • Anne says:

      Jenny, I love how you pointed out that using your gifts as a nurse has been valuable, but that writing, baking, photography etc have served as your outlet. We often need more than just one thing to be happy!

      “I feel like I’ve been an example of what happens when you try to act as if a creative outlet isn’t necessary.” Interesting. But ouch! Thanks for sharing.

  13. I’m having an implosion of ideas today. I’m in the middle of reading Gretchen Rubin’s The Happiness Project. I listened to Brene Brown’s TED talks over the weekend, and now this blog post. Seriously!

    I’m trying to implement the first commandment of happiness: Be Kelly. For me, that means letting go of things I think I should enjoy in order to do things I actually do enjoy. As far as parenting goes and staying at home, I’m learning to play to my strengths and calling for backup on things at which I suck. 🙂

    • Anne says:

      “I’m learning to play to my strengths and calling for backup on things at which I suck.”

      Sounds like a good plan to me. 🙂

      Wow, you do have a lot swirling around, don’t you? Wishing you luck on the processing–it sounds like you’ve got plenty to do!

  14. Love this discussion Anne. My mom was a wonderful SAHM. She did everything within the context of her home. She engaged in NO hobbies unless they directly benefited her family. But you know something? — I always wanted her to do something creative just for her! It would have thrilled me to pieces if she had!

  15. KT says:

    I work part-time outside of the home, stay home several days a week with my daughter (but I’m her mom 24/7), and am the primary housekeeper for our home. Because I’m striking a path that is different from what’s often expected of women within conservative evangelical circles (full-time SAHM and housewife or full-time WOH single woman or, in very conservative circles, the stay-at-home daughter phenomenon) I’ve examined Proverbs 31 a lot and looked at just how BIG the definition of a “woman of valor” is. I mean – there’s a ton of different options for using gifts in what she did. This personification of wisdom used so many gifts in so many ways!

    But then I have to compare the big-ness of what womanhood can be with the every-day-ness of life on earth. For me every-day-ness is in attempting to get those darned pots and pans cleaned, toilets scrubbed, and floors vacuumed. My husband has his own every-day-ness that is sometimes in the same chores as me and other times in his own. There’s really only so much creativity one can apply to scrubbing a toilet. Plus my natural giftedness is just not in cleaning. It’s just not. It’s a continual challenge to me to improve my keeping of the home. Mostly I get to use my gifts at the office and in coming up with new ways to parent and play with my baby girl.

    So I struggle – hard – with the every day and the ordinary tasks that are not my strengths. I debate outsourcing them so I can focus on my strengths versus doing them and being challenged. And I don’t know the right answers.

    • Anne says:

      “So I struggle – hard – with the every day and the ordinary tasks that are not my strengths. I debate outsourcing them so I can focus on my strengths versus doing them and being challenged. And I don’t know the right answers.”

      Sometimes I feel like the everyday and ordinary are beautiful, and sometimes they feel like drudgery. I don’t know the right answers, either, but I love talking about my lack of them with other women.

      Have you by chance read The Quotidian Mysteries by Kathleen Norris? Reading your comment makes me want to re-visit it, and it sounds like it might be up your alley.

  16. Elizabeth Kane says:

    Interesting quote! Is it just me, or does it feels like creativity is having a major moment in career and personal life discussions now? Getting the proper respect it deserves if you ask me!

    I find that on days, or weeks, when I don’t make the time to be creative, I start to dry up. It feels like I don’t have enough energy for the rational mundane stuff I need to do in my life. Btw, this reminds me of your blending idea and how important it is to cultivate a life that resonates with you and allows you to be creative. 🙂

    • Anne says:

      Is creativity having a major moment? Woohoo!

      “When I don’t make the time to be creative, I start to dry up. It feels like I don’t have enough energy for the rational mundane stuff I need to do in my life.”

      What a great way to put it! I completely relate. And that’s saying a lot because for a long time I didn’t think I was a “creative person.” It took me a long time to realize we’re all creatives. It just looks differently for different people.

  17. Catherine says:

    I think some people are more creative, intense, thoughtful, etc than others – it has absolutely nothing to do with working outside the home or not. Being at home really becomes what you make of it. The work is hard, of course, but so are many other professions, and their is a certain amount of flexibility that can’t be found with a 9 to 5 job. When I worked before having children, I had a job in administration of a wonderful non-profit. It was satisfying work, but didn’t meet my creative needs, so I was also intensely involved with music and arts would have gone nuts without that outlet. Now that I have four young kids and homeschool, I actually find a bit more time to pursue my creative outlets now than when I worked full time, although depending on the season of mothering I might not have as much energy. I can always read good, thoughtful books, and I can always work on my own stuff in the evenings and during kids’ rest times (which I require daily to give me that time). Some people might allow their brains and their creativity to waste away at home, but it by no means must happen that way. They will not stay little forever, though, and I’d rather invest my creativity and talent in them while I have the chance, even if it takes more discipline on my part to continue to cultivate my own abilities.

  18. Mandie says:

    You know, I think I am finally understanding this and learning how to implement it. I’ve been a stay at home wife for two months now, and I’ve just decided to create a position for myself at a friend’s business that’s unpaid, but will use my creativity to better the store and hopefully prepeare myself for future paid ventures. I don’t mind not getting paid now to invest in myself to later be able to do the job that sounds dreamy to me in the future. 🙂

  19. Andrea says:

    I feel like I’m going to argue the opposite side of the coin….I don’t consider myself creative in the traditional sense. I don’t enjoy crafts and I don’t find writing, cooking or painting to be outlets. My middle son in incredibly creative and I often find it difficult to “keep up” with him – he has such amazing idea about things he wants to create and I’m kind of at a loss as to how to facilitate that at times. I’ve learned some over the years so that I can encourage what is obviously a God-given talent, but it’s a challenge. That said, I’ve found in almost 8 years of being a SAHM that I do desire to have some things apart from my kids. I have a few friends who I almost never talk to about my children, despite the fact that we have children about the same ages. I love having time to read, or take a walk by myself, or to do other things that connect me to who I fundamentally am, apart from my children. Motherhood IS an amazing calling, but it simply can’t be ALL that I am.

    • Anne says:

      “I love having time to read, or take a walk by myself, or to do other things that connect me to who I fundamentally am, apart from my children. Motherhood IS an amazing calling, but it simply can’t be ALL that I am.”

      Yes! Well put. I love that you find time to do “things that connect you to who you fundamentally are.” What a great way to put it.

  20. Iris says:

    I love the thought of creativity being essential to wholehearted living and the challenge to bring it in full force in our work as SAHMs. I get in survival mode as a mother and shelve creativity, my spirit runs dry dry dry. For me, creativity comes out in crafts and art play, stories woven into the routine moments of our day, setting the stage for imaginative play, creating opportunities to encounter God or make the stories in his book come alive, and dance parties. The initial energy it takes to engage is always given back seven fold by the end. I’ve also been refreshed this season by finding a writing outlet. So good!

    • Anne says:

      “I get in survival mode as a mother and shelve creativity, my spirit runs dry dry dry.”

      Oh my goodness, do I ever relate to this!

      And I’m so happy for all the women who’ve found writing is a great outlet.

  21. Beth says:

    Hi Anne! The way I express my creativity is through sewing, and making quilts. This is something I did as a child growing up with my grandmother and great-grandmother (perk of several generations marrying young and having babies young is that you get to have relationships with several generations at once). I have carried this into adulthood, and am on the phone with my grandmother several times a month with troubleshooting questions about my projects.

    This helps me maintain a relationship with her, but I also get to help out my Christian brothers and sisters with free (or almost free if a purchase of materials is involved) alterations, clothing repairs, and the like. I am pretty constantly helping people out in this way, or sewing something for my church (pillows, curtains, live last supper robes, etc). It’s a little atypical I think (I’m a single with no children) but it works for me. And it’s definitely something God has given me to help express myself and de-stress. 🙂

  22. JeanC says:

    I know this blog post is from quite some time ago, but I just recently found this blog and have become quite an avid user. Although I may not be a mother, I do feel like the title and this article still applies to me. I recently graduated college and am starting a career in the Tax Accounting field this month. In the article, it mentioned a CPA who also sold jewelry on Etsy as a creative outlet. As a woman in the same career field, I COMPLETELY understand the need for a creative outlet away from the numbers and computers.

    I find that when you’re mind focuses solely on one task in a certain field, your mind almost becomes programmed think and act only in that role, whether it is an accountant, a lawyer, or a mother. Having an “outlet” allows one to let all of their talents to grow and expand. Which is why I, myself, have decided to learn a new language on the side, as well get involved in a non-profit organization that is heavily involved in outdoor and physical activity.

    Again, great article. Glad I came across it!

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