I was probably eight or nine years old the last season I played baseball. I mostly played the outfield. More accurately, I mostly played in the outfield. Meaning, I’d stand in the outfield and dig holes in the sandy soil between the weeds or daydream about being somewhere else doing something else.
One hot, Florida Saturday afternoon, there came a moment when I knew I was done with baseball. A kid hit a pop fly toward my domain in right field. I took off running in the direction of the ball. When I set out running, I completely planned to catch the ball. I had no intention other than that. But somehow, that’s not what happened.
There was yelling from the stands. From my right, parents and coaches shouted at the batter, “Run! Run!” And from my left, parents and coaches yelled at me, “Run! Catch the ball.” Something in my head or my heart or maybe a little of both told my feet to stop running.
So I stood there—motionless. In a matter of milliseconds, my eyes went from the ball to the people yelling wildly from the dugout, the metal bleachers, and the folding lawn chairs. Their faces were red, their veins bulging from their necks. They seemed possessed by some uncontrollable rage—the same way I had suddenly been overcome by the inability to continue moving toward the ball.
Time slowed, and I was able to take in everything around me. I was awakened from the moment by the thud of the ball hitting the dirt six feet in front of me. The soft, grey sand parted beneath the mass of the ball and brought it to an immediate stop. I looked down, and there was the ball, motionless in the crater of dirt. I walked over, picked it up and threw it into the infield.
The sun didn’t get in my eyes. I wasn’t confused. I wasn’t afraid to catch the ball. I’m not opposed to competition. In fact, I think it was my competitive spirit that made me stop in my tracks and let the ball fall to the ground. But the competition had switched. It wasn’t my team against the other team. It was me against the world. It was me against all those people yelling, telling me what to do and how to live my life. I felt like a pawn in the hands of people who were using me to accomplish what they wanted me to accomplish. Not caring much about who I was but, rather, what I could accomplish for them. So, I rebelled.
In the years since baseball, I’ve learned a lot about that thing down inside me that made me stare those people down and spite them with my rebellion.
Maybe you sense a rebellious streak in yourself. I believe that feeling in your gut—that thing you feel in those moments of rebellion—can actually be a force for good when we learn what it is and how to use it.
Risk and Role
Business people are beholden to share holders, so they are necessarily conservative. Politicians answer to their constituents, so they are necessarily safe. But creative people are society’s risk takers. We have been given permission to be progressive. Society has ascribed to us adjectives like weird, eccentric, and bohemian. But all these words only point to the real root—risky. And deep down, there is a societal need for risky, creative people.[quote]Creative people are society’s risk takers.[/quote]
Innovation and progress are hallmarks of the creative realm, and without creative risk takers, society is stagnant. Creativity gives us the ability to imagine the future, and in conjunction with hard work and determination bring that future into existence.[quote]Rebellion is frustrated creative energy.[/quote]
Rebellion is frustrated creative energy. It’s the picture of a little boy trying to place a peg in a hole, and when it just doesn’t work, he throws the toy across the room in a fit. He wants to do the job right, but he’s been frustrated.
There seems to be many sources of that frustration: not having the right tools, feeling boxed in by those around you, not caring anymore, or being bored. But the true root of creative frustration is not knowing the immense role and opportunity you have as a creative person. Or, if you know your role, perhaps your frustration stems from not knowing how to live it out.
For a long time, I didn’t know I had been given permission to take risks and innovate. I operated under the belief that I had to fight, because the things I saw in my mind hadn’t yet come to exist around me. And there is certainly a fight in bringing creative ideas to life. But that fight isn’t usually against the people around me. It’s against some unseen force—laziness, fear, insecurity, and selfishness.
Those people at the baseball field weren’t against me. They wanted me to win. They saw the role I had to play. But my perspective was wrong. I didn’t recognize my own role on the team, so I rebelled against the people I was supposed to be playing with. Instead of playing with them, I turned against them. They didn’t deserve it. I didn’t understand my role.
But when you and I understand our role, we can approach others with gratitude and grace. We don’t have to fight for position or power. We don’t have to rebel. We have confidence in who God says we are and who we’ve been created to be. When we aren’t finding our identity in the approval of others, we have nothing to rebel against. We don’t operate in reaction to. Rather we operate effectively in the midst of.[quote]When we aren’t finding our identity in the approval of others, we have nothing to rebel against.[/quote]
Rebel With Relationship
As you and I step into our God given identity, it allows us to enter into healthy relationships with others. Our success in our creative endeavors is largely contingent on our ability to work well with those people.
In my rebellion, I sabotaged a baseball team of people who were counting on me. But in order for us to accomplish the tasks we set out on together, it requires a willingness to be a team player. That means we embody:
People have to know they can count on me. I need to show up on time, consistently. And when I show up I need to be present. There’s no better way to lose trust than being flighty and self-centered.
Creative people have the freedom and expectation to push the boundaries, but a successful creative career involves knowing when to push the boundaries and when not to. For example, challenging your boss might go over much better in the privacy of his office than in the conference room in front of other co-workers. Being wise about when to challenge the process will lead to greater levels of success.[quote]A successful creative career involves knowing when to push the boundaries and when not to.[/quote]
When people perceive you’re against them, they will be less likely to listen and respond well. Honoring people is the beginning of gaining influence. Perhaps you’re in an environment or on a team that you find to be full of difficult people. Maybe you don’t respect them much. But the level of respect you show the people you work with will often parallel the level of respect they give to your voice and ideas.[quote]The level of respect you show the people you work with will often parallel the level of respect they give to your voice and ideas.[/quote]
It’s easy for us to put ourselves in opposition to our teammates—regardless of what the team is like. But we must remain focused on the real goal. If we see a problem, we can put ourselves against our teammates and blame them. Or, we can invite them to join us in tackling the problem head on—together.
Lots of creative people find it easy to find flaws in environments, projects, works of art, people… you name it. When we address the problems we see, are we addressing them from a perspective of defeat or a perspective of hope? Both of these are contagious attitudes. So choose hope, and see others approach a problem with cooperation and hope alongside you. True creativity applies—not only to the creation of a work—but to the ability to convey it in a way that meets people where they are and invites them to a new, deeper place.
Artists have a huge calling ahead of them. Taking risk is no easy job. Moving society forward and being agents of change can be frustrating and painful. But we’re able to engage in this commission more fully and honestly when we know ourselves. As we catch a glimpse of God’s heart for us, we’re able to step into risk with authority and humility.[quote]As we catch a glimpse of God’s heart for us, we’re able to step into risk with authority and humility.[/quote]
And stepping into that calling is almost always more fulfilling when we don’t do it alone. Learn to lead the charge for change with grace and gentleness. Love people along the way and discover how changing the world is much better when we’re not changing it alone.
Learn to harness your rebellion. Reclaim your life from being reactionary to the people and things around you, and redirect that energy as a creative force for good.