© Steve Whiteford 2021
Becoming a creative professional in the arts is often prefaced with many warnings about the tough road ahead. My own decision to be an actor at eight years old was immediately scoffed at and discouraged by my parents. Little did they know that my attraction to the art was based in my strong need to express the fear and angst I experienced in my highly dysfunctional family in which boys with feelings were a clear embarrassment.
To continue to be able to use my feelings and express my sensitive view of the world, I thought maybe being an artist might be more acceptable. After all, in first grade when my father shamed me out of singing in the choir for the spring event, my submission for the program cover won.
Starting in Jr. High, I got roles in plays and continued to paint pictures. I also joined the band and chorus. Much to my parent’s chagrin, this continued into high school. I had no support for what I was doing so just kept trying to do my best despite the home-based derision. In my junior year, I was awarded a scholarship as an actor in a state program for the arts. I suddenly felt vindicated to pursue my chosen career.
With diligent effort, after graduation, I got myself into one of the ten best acting colleges in the country, then went to NYC, did off-off-Broadway Shows, got my first commercial, and then transported to Hollywood on an invitation to the Columbia Pictures Talent Program. That opportunity was kind of a bust and ended after eight weeks. But I stayed in L.A. and did a couple of commercials and several bit parts in TV and film. One of my acting teachers liked my speaking voice and knew I had taught speech as the Assistant to the Professor of Speech as part of a scholarship during my final year in college. He asked me if I could do classes for his other students. I was thrilled. I had loved teaching speech. Eventually, my love of teaching, a different kind of performance, led me to be a business communication skills trainer. Bored with bit-parts, I’d found a worthy stage, and my acting skills and all I had learned about feelings and using my intuition served me in a new career.
Of course, as part of my new career, I immediately became fascinated with Emotional Intelligence when Daniel Goleman published his groundbreaking book in 1995. He legitimized a lot of the training I’d been doing by citing scientific evidence that it was salient. What was sometimes dismissed as “Charm School” was given rightful relevance.
Feelings fuel and drive everything we do. Being Emotionally Self-Aware in a skillful manner increases all of our capabilities. Emotions are the source of creativity.
Emotional Self-Awareness is the aspect of awareness that allows us to work with, and use our emotions wisely. As a young actor, I was taught many emotional regulation techniques as part of my craft. I later used them for myself and taught others to use them as part of my business leadership and coaching curriculum. Though highly effective, they too can fail if they bypass the vital stages of emotional self-awareness, which include experiencing the feeling and accepting it with self-compassion.
The emotional skills of perceiving, using, understanding, and regulatingour feelings, thoughts, moods, and patterns, enhance both the ability to teach creative processes and the ability of creatives to navigate their range of emotional information and habit to their advantage.
Creativity is ensconced in limiting mythology. There is a strong belief that the deepest creativity is a result of deep suffering. We hold in examples Vincent Van Gogh, Virginia Wolfe, Sylvia Plath, and numerous actresses, actors, singers, dancers, and rock stars. And their deaths are often characterized by their inability to manage the strength of their emotions which may also have been determined to be a form of mental illness.
Yet emotions are our greatest motivators. It is said that “great pressure produces diamonds.” Creativity is ultimately a form of problem-solving as much as it is clearly a process of expression. Learning more perspectives on emotions and considering the science of emotions gives us more options to navigate the frustrations and misinterpretations of the feelings and thoughts that both inspire and confound us.
Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi’s studies of creativity led him to conclude that creativity comes from being in a state of flow. I consider that nature shows us that part of flow, is coming up against jams (blocks or pauses) and persisting around, over, under, or through them as a true aspect of the flow process. Knowing that stress can incubate brilliance if we can be with it as eustress (good stress) may help us stay healthy or be inspired to believe and maintain in the face of frustration or overwhelm. More emotional knowledge may also help us accept and heal in the face of defeat, to end a direction cleanly and start anew.
We can, I have tripped over negativity, devastating self-critique, indulgent dramatization, self-awareness obscured by defense and ignorance, righteous and limiting clinging to identity, and misguided fear of vulnerability while needing and wanting so badly to express and create. Awakening to these and other limiting feelings and patterns helps free us from them and brings us present to our creative abilities. By embracing our feelings and being more precise in interpreting them we clarify their products.
Beginning with emotional self-awareness we also increase the skills of recognizing emotions in others and sharpen our Theory of Mind – our interpersonal intuition. What we may feel precisely in ourselves we can more precisely identify and relate to in others. We and our work become more relative. Yet our individuality also becomes clearer and more viable. As artists we deepen our connection to our source, as teachers, we deepen our empathy for others and see them more clearly to better lead them.
The path of Emotional Intelligence, like any artistic path, is a lifelong journey. It is an emotional, experiential, and mindful journey of expanding awareness and personal growth. What I find most engaging is that its usefulness is infinite and I learn something significant about expression and being in the world each day.