When Life-Changing Decisions Provide The Opportunity of a Lifetime
I woke up on life support with a monstrous beast-of-a-breathing tube jammed down my throat. That meant talking was out of the question. A cast on my arm and splints on broken fingers made writing impossible, but I eventually discovered I’d been airlifted to the hospital after a car accident…the jury was still out on whether I’d ever walk again. I was 20 years old and my life as I knew it was over.
“I had no choice…
I had to reinvent myself”
Sometimes you have to make life-changing decisions, and sometimes life makes them for you. Moving forward meant I had to reinvent myself as I navigated a year in hospital and rehab. At some point, someone brought me a keyboard and I started writing songs as a way of processing the emotional journey I was on. At the time it didn’t seem like it had anything to do with the big decisions I was facing, but it ended up having a life-changing effect.
What making music in a hospital room taught me is that the true value of being creative isn’t about becoming cool, rich or famous or making it big on a reality TV show…it’s about seeing yourself and your potential in a new way. About seeing the world with new eyes when the old ways no longer work. If you are in a situation right now where you are trying to reinvent yourself, either professionally or personally, I would encourage you to invest the time and effort to explore your creative talents, gifts, and abilities. As Marcel Proust said, “The voyage of discovery is not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes.”
“Creativity provides an opportunity
to connect with other people”
Two years after my accident I moved to the west coast of Canada and became part of a community of recording artists. The first night I was invited up on stage to perform one of my songs the place went nuts. People were dancing and singing and we were all caught up in a magical moment of connection. That night I experienced firsthand how creativity can provide a powerful connection with other people.
Creativity has been the key that’s opened to door to touring war-torn countries with the United Nations and the Foreign Affairs Department of Canada. It’s allowed me to produce TV shows, CDs, tour the world with my family (and spend less doing it than if we’d just stayed home!) For over a decade I’ve had the opportunity to be part of Tribe of One, a national collective of indigenous artists fusing First Nations, Metis, settler, French & English cultures through music, dance, painting and slam poetry.
This type of life-changing experience is what I hope students will encounter when I walk into a school. This is what I hope the artists, actors, and writers will experience when I’m on set and what I hope the musicians, singers, and engineers will experience when I’m in the recording studio. Working together creatively is exhilarating. It is life changing and something I hope you have an opportunity to experience personally as well.
Last year I was finishing up a week-long residency at an elementary school in northern, B.C. At the final performance, there was a little guy seriously losing his nut, singing at the top of his lungs and dancing like he was at his first AC/DC concert. WATCH HERE. He wasn’t losing his nut because I was playing a song on an acoustic guitar…it was because he was singing the song HE wrote, along with everyone else in his school. He was experiencing the same level of connection that I did that night so many years ago where everyone started dancing and running around. This type of experience transforms school culture.
“Finding your voice is key
to sharing your story”
We all need opportunities to see ourselves with new eyes. Discovering your creative talents, gifts, and abilities provide you with the ability to face the challenges in your life with confidence. It is an experience that changes EVERYTHING. One of my most hated things in the world is hearing people write themselves off with trite, pithy sayings like, ‘you can’t teach an old dog new tricks.’ Seriously…don’t curse your potential and capacity to be greater than your experiences so far…you are capable of more than you could ever imagine.
Recently I spent a week producing a project with 350 students. We worked together to write, record and perform an original song. The teachers were hoping for a School Anthem that they could use for years to come that celebrated the values of the school…values represented through the ARTS. Accept, Respect, Together, Safety.
Over the course of five days, I worked with all the students in the school. Two classes at a time would come to the common area each day where we would write and rehearse and brainstorm for all the ways we could tell their story. Some students created visual art, others made posters, some acted out scenes. I feature as many styles and types of storytelling as possible to showcase the different skill sets of the students.
“It’s one thing to say we celebrate diversity
but do we know why it’s worth celebrating?”
It was a fantastic week. Some sessions had Big Buddies and Little Buddies working together. The younger students were able to ask their older peers, what they did when they were scared at school or didn’t know how to play on the playground.
After creating storyboards and scripts, and choosing locations, we spent Wednesday and Thursday filming as well as rehearsing the new song. On Friday afternoon we all met in the gym where we performed our song and recorded it. Every element of my creative projects reinforces the value of diversity. For example, I have three video cameras that I ask three adult volunteers to operate, along with my mobile recording studio capturing the audio.
We played the song three times, filming and recording it each time. This provides me with 9 different camera angles to choose as I edit the video, along with 3 separate audio recordings. All the post-production on the video happens after I’m done working with the students. When it’s finished, it is uploaded to YouTube and Facebook, providing a really easy way for students to share with their families.
Creative projects provide the opportunity of a lifetime…because it’s not just about discovering what we are good at individually, it’s also an opportunity to discover how we connect and fit with those around us. It’s one thing to say we celebrate diversity…but do we know why it’s worth celebrating? Experience it firsthand, and I guarantee it will change your life.
Creative collaboration also lets us recognize firsthand how our weaknesses provide opportunities to work with others who are gifted differently. It puts our unique talents and abilities into context. We’re not the best at everything and we’re not supposed to be. It’s not a competition, and when we experience that, we can truly appreciate those around us, because their success doesn’t come at our expense. We all win together!
If you’d like students in your school to have this type of opportunity, CONTACT ME, and definitely join the Creative Resources email list for ideas and inspiration.
Hi, my name is Rik Leaf. I love everything I get to do as a Recording Artist, Producer, Slam Poet, and Writer. But I particularly enjoy producing Creative Development workshops and online training courses for students that help them discover the unique opportunities their talents, interests, and abilities can provide.