Way back in the prehistoric land of the late 1980s, I entered a pumpkin carving contest at our local flower shop. I was five.
The contest was open to all ages and levels of pumpkin carvers. There were basically zero parameters.
I carved a medium-sized pumpkin with a simple smile because it’s the idea that excited me and the pumpkin that I could carry. I didn’t overthink it.
There was nothing innovative or new about it. I didn’t even carve it myself. I cast the vision and then my mother carved it while I gave editorial feedback. #visionarygoals #girlboss #literally
The other pumpkins in the contest were VERY impressive, defying pumpkin-carving limits and out-doing each other in innovative miniature landscape scenes and gigantic Van Gough type portraiture.
So when my name was posted in the shop window as the first-place winner, and I found out I won $50 (5-year-old equivalent of 1 MILLION DOLLARS)- I was shocked. I ran home, changed into my best pink jellies and clip-on earrings, and came back to the shop for press photos (i.e. my Dad. Was the press). Winning is fun!
The judges said the pumpkin’s expression “spoke to them” and that they liked the honesty, heart, and simplicity of my design.
We get paralyzed in the creative process by the need to be different and innovative. In the age of one-second attention spans, we can (understandably) believe that the only way our work will be noticeable and loved is if we wow people with our never-seen-before form and revolutionary ideas.
We also get paralyzed by the need to be THE BEST. Or, if you’re an Enneagram 4 like me, you want to be THE BEST at being DIFFERENT.
It’s a kind of sneaky not-enoughness at the root of much of why we hold back our voices and contributions.
Innovation and being best in the world, of course, have their necessary and sexy place in the world. And being disruptive, when it’s really what we believe, is a powerful tool for evolution.
But trying to be innovative can suck all of the joy out of the room and freeze your process. And an over-emphasis on trying to be the best is….exactly how we will not become it.
Here’s the biggest tragedy of all—our obsession with being innovative and impressive keeps us from acting on and sharing our creative work.
We forget that our curiosity + our truth + our enthusiasm is this amazing and endlessly generative creative resource. No one else, in the history of time will have our own particular constellation of curiosity, truth and enthusiasm.
When we are leading from curiosity, truth, and enthusiasm, we will always be original.
When we are leading from a need to carve the most impressive pumpkin, we will drive ourselves crazy, and potentially, overcomplicate the work that’s trying to come through us.
I’m curious: What project are you avoiding starting, completing, or releasing because you’re afraid it’s already been done before or isn’t impressive enough? How might putting extra pressure on yourself to be innovative be blocking the flow of your work?
And, a permission slip for whoever needs it: Replace the need to be different with the need to be true. See what happens.
From there, we can take that truth, and refine it and shape it into, as Steve Martin says—something so good they can’t ignore you.
Whether you are the founder of a start-up, a multi-passionate creative, or an emerging thought leader, I predict that the next few years will see a resurgence of earnest, truthful, simple storytelling and creative offerings. As our digital landscape continues to grow in complexity, I think simplicity and heart is an increasingly valuable gift to our audience’s nervous systems. OR MAYBE THAT’S JUST ME BEING HOPEFUL—but I do think there’s a reason we all loved Ted Lasso so much.
I’ll leave you with 3 truths from a simple pumpkin:
#1 The truth is a winning strategy.
#2 Don’t overthink it—whatever it is.
#3 There is someone out there who wants what you have to offer, exactly as you are able to give it.
Alternate moral of the story: If you want to win in life—ASK FOR HELP—especially if her name is Joan Kimball.
(After writing this post I realize I may have peaked at age 5)
We don’t fall in love with things because they are disrupting form or revolutionizing an industry. We fall in love with what is beautiful and true. So I’m recommitting to our original truth. And enthusiasm. And curiosity. Are you with me?
And in case no one has told you this recently—you get to WIN. The truth you have to contribute matters, and the world needs it.