Words are powerful. One seemingly insignificant sentence can alter your whole life. Our lives are shaped by perception. It is not the hard facts of life that form our reality, but the lens through which we view them that does. We construct a personal context and all life’s events occur inside it.
It is this self-created context that defines our reality. This context is the flesh of our lives, filling out the bones of bare existence. It contains our sense of identity. Take two people who survive the same trauma; one emerges with a sense of themselves as a survivor, the other forever feels like a victim. This is a result of contextual differences.
More often than not, we cannot separate the bones from the flesh. The facts in our lives become so enmeshed in our context that we lose all notion of perspective. We don’t realize that we define ourselves; The world does not define us. Changing who we are requires nothing more than a simple contextual edit.
I experienced one of these contextual edits just the other day. I’ve been working on a series of ads for an historic pottery gallery in Santa Fe, New Mexico. A fun campaign because the client trusts my aesthetic and invests in first-rate photography. Life and work were humming along swimmingly as usual until one day the client called to approve an ad:
“The way you cropped that image was so creative.” he said.
“What? Who? Me, creative? How dare you!” These were my initial reactions. In all my years as a designer, I have never owned the label creative. I have had my identity anchored securely in strategic, targeted, driven. In fact, I have always viewed creative as pejorative. When people call me a ‘graphic artist’ I always correct them: “graphic designer.” Artists are flaky. Art is subjective. My business is strategy. Delivering a palatable message to a clearly defined audience to elicit a specific result.
It never occurred to me that you had to be creative to do that. It is the creative process, after all, right? But my personal context rejected this label. For whatever reason I had constructed a comfortable context that disallowed the notion that I was a creative person. I suspect this is rooted in a fear of some kind, most of the shitty things we unwittingly do to ourselves are results of fear.
However, I must have been ready to accept it on the day that Lyn approved that ad. A contextual edit occurred, and one simple sentence became a pivotal moment in my life, changing forever the way I view myself.
I can’t quite explain the feeling. I guess it feels like freedom— embracing a part of myself I had been unwilling to accept. I feel happier. Lighter. I am creative, damn it, and there is nothing wrong with that!
Creating an open and approving context around ourselves, our daily struggles and triumphs, allows us to see the unlimited potential of our lives and confront each day with hope and optimism.