Since leaving medicine, I’ve been an entrepreneur and an independent artist. They are similar pursuits, and both have taught me about the experience of living in creative rather than reactive mode.
How do you know if you’re living in reactive mode? If you define and measure yourself based on external circumstances, and you believe you really are limited by what’s happening outside yourself, you are in reactive mode. Most of our institutions, including the education system, government, mass media, and the medical training system, are based on the reactive mode. These systems teach you to believe that your success is measured by your ability to manipulate external circumstances, so your attention and efforts should be focused on external metrics. You compare your performance to others on a so-called objective scale, and you rely on statistics to know how you are doing. There is nothing “wrong” with reactive mode. It is the way most of the systems in our society operate.
Creative mode requires a 180-degree shift in this perspective. The creative way of seeing recognizes that you are the originator of your unique perspective, which is itself a creative force. There is no such thing as a “neutral” observer because, in the very act of observing a thing, you have had an impact on the thing you have observed. In other words, you are (along with every other being in existence) in constant creative conversation with the world you are experiencing.
The good news is you matter. The bad news is, you have both the responsibility and power to create your own world. Why “bad” news? Creative mode means your claim of being a victim of anything that “happens to you” will no longer hold any credence. The creative mode implies that any time you blame outside circumstances, like “the system”, the government, the higher-ups, or the people in charge, you are creating the very circumstances you lament being a victim of. In the moment that you consent to their being in opposition to you, you create the experience of having opposition in your world.
What if you had the audacity to admit that you consented to, and at some level created, everything “outside” yourself that you now blame for your current suffering?
Some part of you is probably rebelling against this idea right now because admitting your role in creating your circumstances means you would also have to let go of claiming you are a powerless victim. There is always a silent payoff in accepting the role of victim, or you would not have accepted the role in the first place. What is the payoff for you?
In the moment you can claim your role in creating the experience you are having right now — as reflected to you by the external circumstances you find yourself in — you begin to take a creative stance. You begin to see yourself differently within the grand puzzle of your world. No longer can you point your finger and your attention outward at “them”, but now you must see the source within you that holds your power to create, choose, and act.
Every artist and every entrepreneur has had to touch this inner place in order to bring a never-before-seen vision into material reality. Whether you name it “imagination” or “vision” or “desire”, every human being has an inner source of creativity. Some of us have placed this in a box in the basement of our consciousness. Maybe we have given up on ever being able to use it in this lifetime. But as long as you are alive, you have this source within you, waiting for you to open the space for it to breathe.
Here are four creative mindsets you have within you, waiting to be awakened and remembered:
1. The audacity to love. In a world of outrageous pain, it takes audacity to love. The kind of love I am referring to is beyond the interpersonal romantic love we were sold by Hallmark greetings, and beyond even the familial fight-or-flight-based love we may have experienced growing up. The audacious love I am talking about is the very evolutionary life force that has loved you into existence and continues to emanate from you, through you, and in you. This love is the constantly available source of your creative power. You are this love, whether you choose to remember or not.
2. Creating from possibility. The artist and entrepreneur create from possibility. Often what is required to connect with possibility is space. Our daily routines, the comfort of familiarity, and our current box of “what’s possible” are rooted in past experiences. Using the metaphor of an artist’s canvas, we often confine ourselves to creating only from what we have painted before — what we have seen others do, what we were told we could do, or what we believe based on what we’ve done in the past. When we commit to creating from possibility, we turn our attention toward the blank canvas and try something new.
3. Trusting the invisible. Every creation involves taking a bold step to bring the invisible into visible form. By definition, this requires trust and courage. No one in your world can do this for you. Only you know what you hold as real in your inner vision. Trust is like a muscle, requiring courageous action (in advance of seeing external proof) in order to build strength and coordination. Waiting for external confirmation of your internal knowing will result in a lot of waiting and will be of no benefit to your trust muscle. In fact, waiting to see proof actually reinforces the reactive mindset.
4. Loving your failures. As products of the educational system that brought you through medicine, your biggest liability is your unfamiliarity with failure. You most likely have a highly developed aversion to anything that smells of vulnerability, weakness, inferiority, mistakes, and, the most dreaded word of all, failure. Every artist, entrepreneur, and person engaged in a creative process has stories to tell about facing failure. These stories have the common theme of breaking through the illusion that failure is something bad happening to you, branding you forever as a reject, undeserving of love, respect, or attention. The importance of walking through what you imagine to be “failure” is really about learning to love yourself more completely. The biggest light you can shine on the experiences you have feared and avoided comes from walking through them with love. A first step for most doctors would be to touch failure, perhaps for the first time. While medical training didn’t afford you this chance — only landing you in front of an academic review board — there is a far more vast reservoir of forgiveness, self-compassion, and personal fulfillment awaiting you beyond the reactive walls of your current reality. When you touch your ability to love yourself through your failures, you gain the opportunity to create more authentic relationships — first with yourself, and then with everyone in your world.
The future of medicine and health care, as well as your personal future, already exist within your heart. Do you choose to react or create?
Lisa Chu is a physician. She is founder, Live Your Medicine: Responding To The Evolutionary Wake-Up Call To Remember Your Love, Your Art, and Your Medicine.