Growing up, I had never considered myself fun, adventurous or “creative.” Why would I want to be creative anyway? In Eastern Europe where I grew up, the ability to write a beautiful poem, draw a Paysage or perform an elaborate set of dance moves was deemed useless and for the “lazy.” If you really wanted to be something of value some day, you had to study really hard, while teachers and parents constantly repeated: “go sweep the streets with that creativity.”
My grandfather, a retired teacher, taught me how to read when I was 5. My parents, another teacher and a speech therapist whose dream of being a journalist had been thwarted by the rigorous grasp of Communism in 1980’s Bulgaria, had accumulated an incomprehensible, to me, amount of books which I was to learn from. The established notion at home was that I, “the child,” would take on a serious profession – most likely as a lawyer or perhaps a notary. “You’d look so elegant in an office, wearing a nice designer suit and charging people a ludicrous amount of money just to breathe in your presence,” my mother would say only half-jokingly. What my parents didn’t know was that amid the intimidatingly-large pile of books lying on my floor, I carried out elaborate story lines acted out with the toys I collected from the Kinder Surprise eggs and miscellaneous action figures.
My characters were everything I wanted to be but wasn’t – they hiked and swam across deep ponds; they were movie stars and writers; they had lots of friends and weren’t afraid of talking to anyone. My role as an almighty puppeteer lasted for quite a few years. When I wasn’t building careers or ruining lives in my amphitheater of spontaneity, I was in the kitchen cutting up and stapling together blank pieces of paper, which would later become a newspaper, tattling about all the neighborhood gossip from an eight-years-old’s point of view, accompanied by expressive illustrations. Years later, my mom showed me some of those rare editions, boasting bold headlines such as “Uncle Taro and aunt Vessa caught in another brawl at home. Downstairs neighbor claims she saw him holding hands with that blonde lady from down the street, who’s not his wife.” That story was of course followed by a picture I drew of this alleged hand-holding, palms very disproportionate to the their round torsos, but it managed to get the point across. I never played anything serious or lawyer-y, except that time I decided to pursue a personal physician career, running around with a plastic stethoscope around my neck. Years went by. At age 24, I finally begin to understand what my childhood games meant and where it has taken me.
Soon after getting an office job in college, I realized that clerical jobs reeked of boredom, yet, still went on to study politics instead of acting or writing. I made a deal with myself – if I completed a politics major, I could then let myself take art history, philosophy and dance. So, four years of contemplating the purpose of life plus extensive travel abroad ultimately lead to my stumbling on the graduation stage still hungover from the dizzying experience that college had been and from one too many glasses of whiskey the night before, ready to accept a diploma which read “Dayana Aleksandrova, bachelors of art in political science and Hispanic studies with a minor in classical tradition.” Don’t even ask me how that last one came about. I went to see my favorite philosophy professor one day and upon reviewing my records he noticed that I had unintentionally accumulated this minor by taking random classes that had caught my eye.
By the time I stepped into the “real” world, every illusion of pursuing law had utterly evaporated. I went into sales instead. If you’ve ever done sales you know what a grimy business it is. I must admit, as much as I hated money, commissions and bothering people at their homes, learning to manipulate others like a pro was definitely enjoyable. I quit sales because I couldn’t make ends meet on commission. No, wait. To be completely honest, my boss fired me because I wasn’t making him any money. He only kept me for as long as he did because I “brought great energy to the office, especially on game day.” The job I took after that was banking. Kind of close to being a notary, right?
I absolutely despised that job, nay – LOATHED it. Being trapped behind the thick, jail-like glass of the teller line, I doodled inside a notebook in the free moments between customers demanding this and that, writing short meditations that I would ponder later. I had started contributing to a popular travel publication a month before college graduation, so by the time I was 3 months into banking, I was ready to sell my soul for a chance to be a full-time writer and run free, chasing and taming my ideas, finally being recognized and criticized by someone who understood me, instead of having the bulky corporate jerk of a manager lean against the window and tell me that “my heart wasn’t into it.” No shit. I ended up quitting that job to accept a role in an indie film and then head over to Southeast Asia, just to see what would happen.
Reflecting on the past years now, one thing is clear: I am creative. The introverted child grew up to be a huge extrovert, striking conversations with strangers, blogging and telling stories, turning vacations into expeditions, the photos from which would end up in marketing campaigns.I’m not a legal mind, I’m an open mind. It took me a long time to come to terms with my creativity and face the fear of not having a “secure” 9 to 5 venture, but I finally admitted the facts.
If you ever feel even the slightest spark of creativity in you, be it wanting to paint, finding excuses to skip work and go take photos in the park or putting together blog posts on neighborhood gossip (remember to change the names!), ignite that spark into a fire. And feed that fire voraciously. Creative people are not found as commonly as conventional,”office” personalities, and even fewer of those who own a potent imagination would dare to propel themselves into the direction of their craft. This is why you must appreciate how rare you are and allow yourself to create. If you do that, everything else will come into place.
This piece was originally published on The Odyssey Online