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Smell the Coffee: In search of lively eyes

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- I'm drawn to people with lively eyes and a curious spirit. Those who are willing to step out of their comfort zone and take risks.

They aren't so easy to find.

Last weekend, one of the workshops I attended at a writers conference was on creativity, how to force more of it into your everyday life. Most of us aren't lucky enough to have jobs that require creative thinking on a regular basis. We push papers or process patients or simply produce, with the most creative part of our day being how to mentally entertain ourselves till we're through.

Although some of that particular workshop's techniques for how to force more creativity would be hard to explain in this space, the nut of it is simple. Something most 4-year-olds know.

You keep asking why.

Ask it enough and you're forced to explore, to step beyond what you already know.

More of the same begets more of the same. It's when you shake things up a little that they get interesting.

The workshop, taught by singer-songwriters Doug and Telisha Williams, stressed the importance of challenging yourself.

"Put yourself in places where you can fail," Doug Williams said. "Failing isn't a bad thing -- it forces you to come up with new ideas, to strategize."

It's not possible to steal second base while keeping one foot on first. You have to make a crazy run for it once in a while or you'll be stuck forever on first.

Risk-taking seemed to be the theme of the conference, as it was the subject of the banquet's keynote speech, given by author Lee Maynard. Maynard has about the liveliest eyes I've ever encountered, perhaps the result of having taken so many risks in his life. Likely more than anyone I've ever known. I suspect he's loved the hell out of them all.

They've polished him so much he shines.

He talked about the importance of pushing ourselves and our writing. Of not taking the easy way out. Of putting ourselves in places that make us uncomfortable. The difference between fear and afraid.

And not making excuses.

I suspect all this hits home with me because I'm such a creature of habit. I'm not a risk-taker. In fact, I'm probably one of the most conservative people I know. But I'm also bursting at my conventional seams, so desperately tired of being the responsible one, of letting my 9-to-5 shtick drain me dry. Life has more to offer than that. I wanna shake my tree a little. I'm just not sure how.

I want lively eyes.

For many years, my biggest excuse for not stepping out of my comfort zone has been my lack of a formal education beyond high school. I've always thought it marks me as stupid or indicates to others that I'm not ambitious. Yet I know I'm a hard worker. I know I give it my all. Still, I've let that niggling fear of being viewed as dumb or unqualified hinder me from pursuing more than what's been within arm's reach.

Einstein once said, "If you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid."

I've been that fish for far too long.

I wonder at what age I stopped chasing down whys. How I managed to become this combination of complacent and resigned. I'll be damned if I'm going to let it be too late to change.

On my wall at work is a poster that says, "Do one thing every day that scares you." That's the person I want to be.

I'm searching for ways to step outside my comfort zone.

To let my eyes be lively.

I've heard curiosity can make them shine.

And a bit of risk can make them shine even more.

Reach Karin Fuller via email at karinfuller@gmail.com.


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