You Are Unique. Your Skills Are Necessary.
Be Confident Being You

Creativity has something to do with everything. Imagine the difference it would make in your life if you could be 10, 20 or even 50% more creative. Flip the script and feel more confident and capable of facing the challenges in your life.

In Times Like These

You and I are not destined to be beautifully equipped to deal with a world that has passed us by. We’re not old dogs. We don’t have to take all the new tricks off the table. We are capable of learning and adapting and rising to face the challenges today and every day for the rest of our life. But to do that, we need to be creative. We have to learn to be lifelong learners. To recognize the value of our creative talents and abilities and discover the unique contributions they allow us to make. From my experience over the last 20 years, the creative process is the ideal environment to learn these lessons.

This is a guidebook to creative excellence that can open the door the world of possibilities and opportunity. You are unique. Your skills are necessary. Be confident being you.

Problem #1 – The Lack of Perception & Awareness

One of the biggest problems many people have with change, is that it challenges the way we’ve always done things. The way we think about things, and most importantly, the way we think about ourselves. This is particularly true for someone who has been successful within the existing structures and systems. If that describes you, then you know that change can often feel like an attack. If you’re a taxi driver, Uber feels like an attack. If you’re a lawyer, IBM Watson feels like an attack.

Because suddenly, the way you’ve always done something is being critiqued and criticized. And you might really the way things have been going. And in that situation, it’s pretty hard not to take it personally. But it’s not. It’s a system. A structure. A formula. It was probably the best answer anyone could come up with to a problem. Don’t take it personally. And for goodness sake, don’t let yourself become beautifully equipped to inherit a world that no longer exists. We are able to change and adapt much faster than the systems and structures we create. As the problems change…so do the solutions.

On the flip side, when you realize your success does not depend on keeping everything exactly the way it’s always been and doing ‘business as usual’ then change offers the possibility of flipping the script. Either way…becoming a ‘learner who will inherit the earth in times of change’ comes down to a mindset. Creativity is a mindset, and an openness to learning through all the stages of life.

I’ve worked professionally in the cultural industry for 20 years, and it’s been in a constant state of disruption that entire time. I started my career as a recording artist in the 90s. In the 1970s and 80s it used to cost hundreds of thousands of dollars to record, manufacture and distribute an album. But by the early 90s technology had advanced to the point where people could set up a home studio and suddenly artists could record an album for 20K.

These days, every laptop comes with free recording and editing software that makes it possible for anyone to produce an album in their bedroom. For thousands of musicians and songwriters (myself included) this industry disruption opened up doors to career opportunities and revenue streams that would never have existed. But the change also meant that most of those established recording studios went out of business and the engineers and producers were scrambling to find ways to broker their experience and education into new emerging markets.

The Solution to your success (and possibly survival) is to train your eyes to see yourself and the world differently. So when the foundation of your industry drops out from under you, you don’t do down with the ship. I want to share an exercise our organization uses to help our team members see their creative skill set with new eyes. We’ve found it to be a really helpful first step to connecting ourselves to the solution, rather than just seeing the situation as a problem that ‘someone’ should do something about.

I want you to sit down right now and start a list. This is an exercise in self-assessment. So often we compartmentalize ourselves. We view certain abilities as relating to work, and others to hobbies and others to family, etc. Corporate culture can further embed this ‘department-centric’ way of thinking. So this exercise is an opportunity to approach yourself and your creative capital with new eyes.

List your Gifts. Talents. Abilities. Education. Experience. Strengths/Weaknesses. What are you naturally gifted at? The gift of gab? Multitasking? Are you great at starting things? Are you great at completing tasks? Are you a visionary and love talking about the Big Picture? Or are you a details person? Administrative, organized, maybe even a bit neurotic?

Get everything down. From driving heavy machinery to riding a motorbike, knitting, being a strong swimmer or someone with a natural sense of rhythm and a great dancer. Do you remember trivia? Are you good a puzzles? Put down everything. Don’t worry about where or how it fits.

I grew up on a farm in the Canadian prairies driving huge trucks and tractors and lots of heavy machinery. It’s a world away from the world I live in and didn’t seem like any of those experiences would be relevant to my career as a multimedia producer. Until the day we booked our first national tour but couldn’t afford a driver for the gigantic motorhome. Suddenly, all those hours driving grain trucks was a super relevant skill I was able to provide.

So write down anything and everything that comes to your mind. Get it out of your head and onto a piece of paper or a screen where you can see it. You can add to this list over the coming weeks as more things come to mind.

The benefit to compiling this list is that it allows you to see the wealth of resources you bring to the table. Blurring the lines you use to compartmentalize yourself will also help you see that you are capable in ways you never recognized. This is the first step in the journey of discovering that you are more powerful than you’ve ever given yourself credit for.

Problem 2# Distorted View Of Ourselves & Others

“It’s all me, me, me, me, ME. Can’t you get over yourself long enough to write about someone or something else!”

The Wyrd Sisters

This was the conclusion of an epic rant that I was on the receiving end of years ago when I was touring Western Canada with a famous folk group called, The Wyrd Sisters. I’d been hired to play guitar for the tour and in the back of the tour bus somewhere between one festival and the next we’d gotten into a big conversation about songwriting. The Wyrd Sisters were famous for writing about social and environmental issues, and this rant was how one of the Sisters felt about navel-gazing solo artists who only wrote about themselves. (she was staring at me as she made this point!)

Everyone laughed, (inwardly I cringed) because there was more than a kernel of truth in what she’d said. To be completely honest…that flippant, sarcastic, funnily-biting comment changed my life. Because it changed how I looked at the world. I realized my gifts and abilities as a songwriter, storyteller and media producer could be used to help other people tell their stories. It lead to producing projects with organizations, corporations and training thousands of individuals over the last 12 years.

When we have a distorted view of ourselves we can’t help but have a distorted view of others. If we feel insecure and inadequate, then everyone else’s success will seem to come at our expense and we’ll never be able to be generous or celebrate and support them. This breeds resentment. Competition. Backbiting. It hamstrings creative thinking, problem solving, conflict resolution and keeps teams locked in agonizing feedback loops.

The Solution to this problem is gaining a new perspective. Making that list of our creative capital was the first step. The second step is learning to see the challenges we’re facing with new eyes. These challenges could be professional caused by technology disrupting our industry, or they could be personal challenges because of our age or stage of life.

This is another exercise our organization uses because it is a powerful experience to discover how other people view the same thing. It’s like that story about a group of people who are blindfolded and asked to describe an elephant. The part of the elephant they are touching is all they can describe and it doesn’t seem to have anything to do with the perceptions of those around them. Until everyone takes the blindfold off and realizes that the different views and opinions are unique and depend on where we are in relation to the problem. If you have an organization with different departments, it’s easy for people to feel like problems belong to someone else. This exercise was inspired by that sarcastic Wyrd Sister who said, “can’t you get over yourself long enough to think about someone else!”

I want you to start another list and write the challenges you are facing right now. Personally. Professionally. As an organization. As an industry. Don’t try to keep personal and professional challenges separate. Let the process of identifying the challenges in your LIFE mix together. Often we want to keep them separate, and even imagine that they don’t have anything to do with each other. But they have everything to do with each other, because they are connected through you. You are the key that’s going to unlock this. The solutions you’re going to discover are unique to you. This isn’t about learning the latest formula to lose weight or get rock hard abs. This is a creative process that is unique and will change as you do.

The Benefit that comes from completing this exercise is that you will begin to see yourself as more capable than you imagined. You move the unspoken fear and anxiety that builds under the surface in times of change and disruption, and bring it into the open where you can see what you’re really afraid of. Give it a face. Name it. This exercise helps to remove the blindfold that limits how we understand and see the problems we’re facing.

Problem 3: Disconnect Between Perception & Reality

I was hosting a TV show years ago that explored the unique characteristics of distinct neighbourhoods through the cultural life of the artists, writers, musicians, painters and performers who lived there. There was one neighbourhood in particular with a strong cultural identity. I thought it was going to be the easiest episode of the season and it turned out to be the hardest.

Hardly anyone came to the event. And those that did come were pretty subdued. When you’re producing a TV show what you really want is vibrancy and life expressed through laughter, smiling, singing, clapping, dancing…not a glum bunch with their arms folded across their chests. When I brought it up to the event coordinator, he explained it was a common problem in their neighborhood and a product of Us vs. Them thinking. He said when people feel like it’s Them Against The World, they’re always defensive, always insecure and they see resources as being very limited. This leads to them feeling that anyone else’s success comes at their expense. If you’ve ever been on a committee or worked in an organization with someone like this, you know firsthand how awful it is. This perception is a killer. It kills creative ideas and innovation and the ability to collaborate creatively with others.

The Solution is connecting our creative skill set to the roles and responsibilities necessary for success. Here’s where the lists you’ve created start to come together. Hopefully there have been a few surprising moments along the way. Maybe you’re surprised at the amount of creative capital you have. Maybe you’ve been surprised at how manageable the challenges are when you really identify them. These exercises help us recognize the abundance in our life.

Bring your lists together and see if you can connect some dots. The point of this analysis is to get some of that unused creative potential that you’ve left on the table, back into play. Identify your strengths. Identify your weaknesses. Start to identify the strengths of other team members in your organization…particularly those who are gifted differently from you.

High-performing creative teams recognize that being gifted differently is a collective strength. That our weaknesses are opportunities to collaborate with those who are strong in areas we’re not. It’s not a competition. We don’t have to be intimidated by the success of others. We can celebrate their wins, particularly when we’ve created a win-win environment for everyone.  

Identifying what you bring to the team instills confidence as you recognize the unique contribution your skill set allows you to make that no one else can. So identify what you’re good at. Identify what you’re not good at. Learn to admit the areas you’re weakest in, because that’s how you start to recognize who you need, and why you need them.

If admitting your weakness sounds counterintuitive to being successful or advancing your career, I want you to consider this. I guarantee you…everyone around you is already 100% aware of your weaknesses. And they have been for as long as they’ve known you. If you own up to an area you’re weak in, it will not come as a surprise to them. (they’ve probably had a lot of conversations about it around the watercooler without you) But being able to collaborate with you, approach you, work with you, be celebrated and encouraged by you. Yeah…that will be the best surprise ever!

The Benefit in taking this step is obvious… it changes the landscape completely. It’s what Marcel Proust describes as, ‘seeing with new eyes.’ Creativity requires risk-taking. And the thing is…when you take a creative risk you encourage others to do the same. Whether you mean to or not…you free up those around you to take creative risks as well. This is where our list of gifts and abilities gets exciting. Some people are willing to jump first. Some people are willing to put their hand up and volunteer their idea first. If that’s you, then that’s a role you need to play in your organization. Because there are others, maybe the person sitting right beside you, and they also have an idea. It might be a great idea. And they want to share it, but they’re nervous. Maybe full of doubt or whatever, and they need you to break the ice. And once you do, you give them that little bit that they needed to have the confidence to share their idea. And together you create just enough momentum that it opens the door for others.

Play to your strengths and trust in the strengths of others. This is what Aristotle was talking about when he said, “The whole is greater than the sum of its parts.”

Problem #4  – Censors & Self Defeating Habits

Censors are the bane of creativity. (I hate mine with a passion) I’m talking about the voices in our head that tell us we’re not smart enough or educated enough or capable enough to face the challenges in our life. They censor our creative intuition and make us doubt ourselves.

That’s why we write these lists out. We need to shut the censors down. Censors write a script that tells healthy, experienced people full of creative potential that they are old dogs who can’t learn new tricks. Censors lie. Censors suck. You’ve heard censors your whole life without even knowing it. When someone says, “I’m not a pessimist, I’m a realist.” or “I just don’t want you to be disappointed if it doesn’t work out,” or “Sure I had a dream when I was younger…but there comes a day when you have to grow up.”

Censors make people feel like they’re smart for not trying.

The Solution is amazingly simple. If you want what you’ve never had, you have to do something you’ve never done. You need to be a lifelong learner…so learn something. Anything. Take a course. Take a risk. Take a chance. It can be small. Ride a bike instead of drive to work. Run instead of walk. Learn to play an instrument. Write a song, a story or a poem. Build something with your hands. Learn to cook a new recipe. Go for coffee with someone instead of sitting at home watching TV.

Inject change into your life. Be the instigator. The initiator. Instead of always feeling like change is being forced on you by life and technology or some other external force, be the change agent in your life. Every action in our life creates a reaction. Movement, growth, evolution all create a momentum that begins to build and makes change more possible than before. Stagnation, shrinking and fear become a weight. A ponderous weight tied around your neck. It makes getting out of bed in the morning a chore, being cheerful (or respectful online) an impossible burden you can’t possibly bear. It becomes the elephant in the room of your life.

The Benefit is discovering the awesome truth that a) failure is just an opportunity to learn. And b) if you want to be a lifelong learner, by definition you’re going to be failing at things your entire life. This life philosophy puts you the company of people like Michael Jordan, Arnold Schwarzenegger, JK Rowling, Tolkien…and most importantly, like millions of people you’ve never heard of. People who have taken a chance, invested in hope, stepped out of their comfort zone, fallen a gazillion times and kept getting back up because they’d discovered that it’s worth it. It makes life worth living. It makes a relationship worth sacrificing for. Trying, failing, learning, changing, discovering new ways of thinking and acting are all part of the process of growing. Be patient with yourself. Be kind. You get this one chance to live this one life…make it a frigging great life!

Problem:5. No Destination. No Direction. No Plan.

A lot of people never get where they want to go because they’ve never figured out where they want to be. Don’t let this be you. Change is inevitable. The speed and scope of change is going to impact every area of our lives. In times like these it’s inescapable.

I have a confession. I’m one of those nerds who love to ‘geek-out’ on the Lord of the Rings. I’ve read the books and watched the movies so many times I should be ashamed of myself. I’m sure I could have accomplished great and mighty deeds in my life if I hadn’t spent all those hour lost in the fantasy of Middle Earth. Discussions about change always make me think of a scene from the movie. The Rohirrim had just survived the battle of Helm’s Deep and made it back to the Great Hall at Edoras. Gandalf is counselling King Theoden to ride out and fight the evil wizard Saruman. Theoden says, “I would not risk open war,” and Aragorn pipes up and says, “open war is upon you…whether you would risk it or not.”

The Exponential Age of Change is upon you whether you would risk it or not. The acceleration is like nothing we’ve seen before in our lifetime. And it’s impacting every area of our lives. When I hear people try to argue for keeping things the way they’ve always been my inner LOTR nerd wants to scream, “CHANGE IS UPON YOU WHETHER YOU’D RISK IT OR NOT!”

“A Dream written down with a date becomes a Goal. A goal broken down into steps becomes a Plan. A plan backed by action becomes reality”

Greg Reid

The Solution is to make a plan and write it down. You have to make it real so you can make it happen. Call it a vision statement, call it a mission statement. But you need to pick a destination so you can chart a course and break the journey down into measurable steps.

The Benefit is you’ll have a way to measure your progress. A way to recognize the fruits of your labour. A way to differentiate between which activities are good and which activities are best. Between what you’d like to do and what you need to do. When you know where you’re going you can figure out how to get there.

Be Confident Being You

Growing up I was a quitter. A serial quitter. I quit everything. I quit dozens of jobs and relationships. I remember this one particular moment at a track meet in high school. I’d signed up to compete in the 1500 meter, basically just so I could get the day off school. For a couple nights before the track meet I had tried half-assedly to train myself. I figured we’d trot leisurely around the track a few times before sprinting the last 100 feet.

But when the starting pistol went off so did everyone else. I mean they were all RUNNING…like super fast right from the start. I was forced to use the energy I was saving for my final kick to just keep up with the pack into the second corner. One lap into the race I’d fallen so far back, an agonizing sense of loneliness and despair filled my soul. My eyes started to sting from the salty brine as my quitter’s tears rose like a king tide. My mind started shrieking, “This is ridiculous! This is unfair! The other runners are so mean!”

There was only one thing I could do. I had to quit. But deciding to quit while you’re running past a stand full of cheering moms and dads can be complicated. But I’d already been quitting for years at that point, and instinctively knew exactly what to do. I screamed like a wild animal caught in a trap, clutched my leg and tumbled into the infield and began rolling and writhing in faux agony. I wasn’t 100% sure where the hamstring was, but it seemed like a legit injury runners could get. To cover my bases I groped and clutched at my leg from stem to stern.

In the midst of my Oscar-worthy performance I kept stealing glances at the crowd. When it seemed like they’d all forgotten about me, I slipped away, into the shadows under the bleachers…adding another successful quit to an already impressive list.

Looking back on that period of my life, I realize I quit virtually everything because the situation seemed unfair. Apparently, I assumed life was supposed to be free from conflict, struggle, pain, failure, and discouragement. I felt sorry for myself, and I quit in the hope that someone else would feel sorry for me too. Someone who would come over and tell me it was going to be OK, because they were going to make it OK for me.

But no one ever came. And I don’t remember when things changed, or how, or why. But one day I realized, I never quit any more. I try and try and try. I’ve become ridiculously tenacious and subscribe to a philosophy that persistence can be polite and will chase down leads and potential clients for weeks. Always being polite and happy and engaging. I’ve pivoted and reinvented myself, and spun my skills into new revenue streams and career paths so many times it makes my head spin.

Here’s the pearl of wisdom I offer you. No one is coming to make it better. If you want to dig deep and need to scream like a mad banshee at the top of your lungs as you refuse to throw in the towel…go for it. If you want to jump head over heels into another business venture or relationship…do it. No one is coming. No one can do it for you. No one cares how you do it. There is no formula. No guarantee that you’re going to succeed. And that’s the good news.

Because this means it’s in your hands. It’s your life. Your vision. Your dream. No one can make it happen for you…and no one can prevent you from making it happen. I’ve spent over 20 years developing my own creative skill set. I’ve used my creative capital to open doors that let me tour the world with my family for a year. Allowed me to perform on stages in front of thousands of people. Host TV shows, produce albums, become a published author and lead creative development workshops that have helped thousands of people develop strategies to make their dream real so they can make it happen. It’s also lead me to isolated communities. Small towns and schools with a few dozen students where I have the incredible experience of helping them find their voice so they can share their story with others.

You are Unique. Your Skills Are Necessary. Be Confident Being You!

Rik Leaf
Rik Leaf

Producer/Performer, Slam Poet, Recording Artist & Author I produce online creative development courses & resources for schools