No Buts Allowed: Positive Self-Talk for Creatives


Do you write, or are you a writer?

Do you paint, or are you an artist?

Do you sing, or are you a musician?

And why does it matter how you describe yourself?

We tend to assume that only people who meet some arbitrary benchmark — a completed novel draft, a publishing contract, or a degree in creative writing, for instance — have the right to present themselves with a certain identity. I have to be good enough to call myself a writer, an artist, a singer; and “good enough” is defined by some external approval. Perhaps you tend to describe your hobby with a caveat: “I love to write, but I haven’t published anything.” “I love to paint, but I’m not very good.”

It\’s time to let go of that thought process, because practicing positive self-talk is actually an act of humility. Stay with me, I promise this will make sense in a few minutes.

In Romans 12:6, we hear “We have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us.” Saint Paul goes on to list the different charisms present in the early church, from prophesy to healing. His point was that not everyone has the same gifts, so flip that statement around. You may not have the same gift as someone else, but you have a gift. Graces have been given to you that allow you to give of yourself to others in some way. There are plenty of resources out there to help you identify what your gifts are, but when it comes to creativity, chances are you already know. 

Now, what does this all have to do with humility? The true definition of humility is to see oneself as God sees you, to develop an accurate self-knowledge that encompasses the good and the bad. A humble person recognizes his virtues, not only his vices; his talents and gifts, as well as his shortcomings. A humble person also recognizes that as she moves through life, if she puts a little extra work in here or there, she can improve on her talents and overcome her flaws. Pride locks us into thinking that the skills we have now are all we will ever have; humility allows us to learn and grow.

When we set aside those nebulous benchmarks we talked about earlier, we can begin to recognize the gifts we have been given and the passions that draw us to one creative act or another. If we rely on “but” phrases, not only do we undermine our God-given talents in conversation with others — we also undermine the way we value our own gifts. In other words, every time I say “I love to ____, but…” I’m less able to encourage myself, move through obstacles, learn complex skills, and achieve my goals.

Step one, no buts allowed. But — sorry! — how do we accurately assess our abilities without relying on that three letter word? Use “and” instead. “I love to paint, and I’m learning watercolors!” “I’ve written a lot of nonfiction, and I’m learning to write fiction!” Can you hear the excitement in these statements? They acknowledge that you haven’t reached your goal yet, and they’re no longer weighted down by the discouraging negativity of “but.” Not only are you communicating your passion and desire for growth, you’re encouraging yourself at the same time, and leaving your mind and heart open for continued learning. In other words, you’re becoming more humble.

Let’s go back to those arbitrary definitions of creative identities. What makes a writer or an artist? Anyone who does describe themselves as a writer will tell you their craft comes from a daily habit of writing. A musician spends hours in the practice room, and an artist has taken class after class to develop an eye for color or a new medium. Only those on the outside looking in assume that a creative identity is received, not chosen.

Here’s your reminder that your creative identity is a choice. If you are choosing to write, you are a writer. If you are singing, you are a singer. It’s a choice that only you can make, and it can’t be taken away from you.

I’ll leave you with this thought from Pope Saint John Paul II’s Letter to Artists: “All men and women are entrusted with the task of crafting their own life: in a certain sense, they are to make of it a work of art, a masterpiece.”

How are you choosing to craft your life today?