This is a personal essay on how bestselling author, speaker, photographer (and former engineer and attorney) Karen Walrond discovered that she is, indeed, a creative person and the importance of creativity to every aspect of her daily life.

About 15 years ago, my father called me into his home office and handed me a thick file folder. “Here,” he said. “This stuff is from when you were growing up. I don’t suppose I need to keep them anymore.”

I took the heavy stack from him and began leafing through it. It was a collection of all my childhood documents: medical records, school enrollment forms, even my baptismal certificate. For the most part, there was nothing out of the ordinary about any of them: I remembered that math club award, that bout with mumps. But my report card from kindergarten stopped me in my tracks. I’d always been a good student, so as I looked over my marks, I assumed I’d see comments that indicated my performance was solid. But then I read my teacher’s words under “Art.”

While it is true that Karen does well in English and math, it is art in which she falls short. Unfortunately, she is not very creative.

Ouch.

At first, I was indignant. How is it possible to judge the art of a very young child? How could Mr. S. so easily dismiss a 5 year old as “uncreative?”

But the more I thought about it, the more my heart sank with a terrible realization: All my life I believed him.

Girl playing on playground zip line

I never pursued creativity.

There were a number of reasons for it (my father’s Ph.D. in petroleum engineering chief among them), but the truth is, for my entire life, I was steered away from artistic pursuits in favor of mathematics and other analytical subjects. I’d always loved the arts, but a lifetime of well meaning guidance had me convinced that I was incapable of being creative. Accordingly, when I went to university, I studied structural engineering — all the while wistfully attending classes and earning elective credits in architecture and art history.

Importance of creativity, hands with bracelets

“It’s with this realization that I’ve finally come to believe this universal truth: There is no such thing as an uncreative person.”

Photo of a girl's face, creativity

Photography became my creative outlet.

It wasn’t until a few years after becoming an engineer, followed by law school and going into practice, that I dared buy a second-hand SLR camera. Perhaps, I thought to myself, I can handle creating something resembling art with a tool that clearly has a solid grounding in science: physics, and optics, and light. At first, I didn’t tell anyone I’d purchased the camera. I didn’t want them to laugh at my attempts at creativity, since I believed I had no aptitude for making art.

I surprised myself; I quickly discovered I had a knack for photography. I began shooting whenever I could: on weekends and on holidays, and even scheduling my business travel to ensure a few hours to myself to shoot between legal negotiations. I started sharing my work with friends and coworkers, eventually decorating my law office with framed images I’d taken.

Over time, I discovered that having photography as a strong avocation was imperative to excelling in my career as an attorney. Photography helped me to switch off, to de-stress, and return to my job with a fresh outlook.

Creative photo of dew on a garden leaf
Creative photo of condensation on a window
Creativity photo of peonies

I realized the importance of creativity.

It has been several years since I left the practice of law, and now photography, writing and public speaking have become my primary sources of income. Needless to say I love what I do. But a couple of years ago, I realized that I missed having that separate creative avocation to support my work in the way photography had supported my legal career.

So, with much trepidation because I still was struggling with what it meant to be “creative,” I purchased a journal and some markers. I write in my journal, of course, but I also enjoy sketching, practicing hand-lettering, and even doing collages.

At first, I felt a pang of guilt: Who am I to create a facsimile of art, even if only for my eyes only? Why am I wasting time doing something that I’m clearly not wired to do?

But I kept at it, and came to realize that it didn’t matter. It is simply the act of creativity — the practice of allowing my creative side to explore and experiment — that enhances the way I move through the rest of my life, both professionally and personally. Creative practice allows me to approach projects with new perspectives, work through problems, even breathe.

Journal quote on the importance of creativity

A practice in creativity, it turns out, is as necessary to my life as healthy food and exercise.

And it is with this realization that I’ve finally come to believe this universal truth: There is no such thing as an uncreative person; only people who do not exercise their creativity. A practice of creativity, it turns out, can be the wellspring of productivity, peace, even joy.

Listen to Karen’s podcast, The Make Light Show, here or find her on Instagram.

Photos by Karen Walrond

This story first appeared in the January/February 2015 issue of Click Magazine. Subscribe today and never miss a story like this one.