Don’t Be Afraid of the Wall

People often talk about creativity as fun, invigorating, winsome and exciting. But, there’s a dark side to creativity that often goes unmentioned, and it usually stops people and projects in their tracks. Brian and I affectionately call it “The Wall.” You know that feeling when you’re happily frolicking through the meadows and fields of creation, the possibilities seem endless and the world feels small, and then suddenly the sky grows dark and you slam face-first into a gigantic brick mass that extends eternally in every direction? Yeah, that feeling. Yucky.

Since we are in the creativity business, we are used to our old friend, the wall. In fact, we can pretty much count on him showing up in every project we do. We also see him show up in our friends’ lives, in the organizations we work in and in our clients’ businesses. Just this week, I was on a strategy call with our clients, a husband and wife, who are running their business together. We had sent their logo concepts to them and the wife found one she loved, but the husband suddenly thought that the creative direction of the logos was too narrow and would pigeon-hole their business. You could feel the tension over the phone as they realized they saw their business differently and struggled to find an answer that worked for both of them. The feelings that come along with the wall are frustration, anger, and impatience. I told them not to worry, that everything would work out. And it did. She texted me a few hours later with the perfect solution. So what is this wall and how did I know it would work out?

Because I know the creative process.

The process of creation is hard work. It takes all of our faculties. If it weren’t so hard, it wouldn’t be so vastly satisfying. All of us yearn to leave our mark on the world—to create something that is uniquely ours. To many of us, the creative work we do inside our businesses is part of that mission. And, you’ll probably realize, if you haven’t already, that the more you create, the more that pesky wall will show up and make your life stressful and difficult. The sad part is when people reach the wall and give up. They take it as some kind of sign that they aren’t supposed to do it. We are fooling ourselves if we think that the “right” way forward will be obstacle-free and effortless. This is not the case. Creators are workers. They are over-comers. They are brave. Creators realize that the way forward must be made.

I think it helps to see the wall for what it really is. The wall is not evil. It’s not something to fight against. The wall is simply a sign that you are creating something new. It’s something that has never existed before, and it takes time for your brain to put all the pieces together, establish a new vision and forge a way ahead. The wall is our time to be still and allow ideas to come through us into the world. It is an exercise in patience and faith. So, don’t be afraid of the wall. Treat the wall as a companion along your creative journeys, because without it, we would never know the exhilaration that comes with finding the answer that we’ve been waiting for and bringing into being something that no one else could have created.