It started with my parents’ antique wooden desk and the crayons I used to draw on it. My love of art got me in deep trouble for that one, but I had other creative outlets, too.
Growing up, I had a dog named Eyelash. I named her myself and no one encouraged me to stick to something mainstream like Spot or Lassie. Eyelash was an amazing dog and I loved her. I was nearly four years old when I named my precious dog Eyelash. I was blessed with parents who let me explore my creativity and uniqueness, and thus, no one stopped me from bestowing such a ridiculous name on my unsuspecting pet. Eyelash never seemed to mind.
Having the honor of naming our family dog was a responsibility I did not take lightly. This might actually be my earliest memory. I spent hours outside on my swing set pondering names for my new friend. In all fairness, my cousin Jennifer deserves some of the credit for this nomenclature. I recall very seriously telling her at a family gathering that I was considering names for my dog and that “Eyeball” was a front runner. My dog had very pretty eyes, I explained to her. I don’t know if Jennifer thought I was serious, but she said, “You should name her Eyelash. It’s much prettier than Eyeball.” And so after careful consideration and many deep four-year-old thoughts, I named our family dog Eyelash. She lived a happy life. My whole family, including my parents, called her by her given name of Eyelash. No one ever made fun of me.
My parents deserve a lot of credit for letting me be creative. For years, their old TV Guides became the scrap paper content for my homemade “magazines.” I’d spend hours cutting our pictures of celebrities or words that I thought were fun, and pasting them onto paper. I called my little works of art “my magazines” and I was very proud of them. Years later, I realized that what I do for a living is not all that different from my early magazine creations.
When I was 13 my parents bought a computer and simultaneously got the internet. This was a serious turning point. It was the 90’s and parents did not yet quite realize the seriousness of the stranger danger that lurked in the shadows of the world wide web. I was fascinated with web pages and started learning to build my own. I had no idea I could make a living doing this.
I am so grateful that my mom and dad let me be myself. We are all born with originality and the ability to think creatively. As we grow into adulthood, the last part of our brain to form is the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex, which is the part of our brain that acts as a censor. It keeps us from stealing or from saying something inappropriate, but it’s also the part of the brain that makes us timid, embarrassed, and afraid to make mistakes. It’s the home of our inhibitions. As a result, our own brain restricts our creativity and many of us become less imaginative. This is why so many adults will reflect on how much more creative they were as a child. Children are not afraid to name their dog something silly, but the more negative feedback they receive, the more it will trigger their ever-developing sense of inhibition.
As an adult, I try not to stand in the way of my own creative thought process. I’m generally not afraid to come up with alternative ideas or make suggestions in meetings. I just have less creative inhibitions than a lot of people. I am not afraid to present my ideas and be shot down. I love coming up with solutions to difficult problems. Looking at a situation from multiple angles is second nature for me. I don’t mind offering dissent in a positive manner in order to find the best answer or the most efficient solution.
The key to creative thinking is accessing the part of our brain censored by the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex. Doing so is as simple as relaxing and overcoming inhibitions. The fact that creativity and relaxation are tied so closely should come as no surprise to anyone who has ever had their best ideas while on a peaceful walk or while taking a shower. At Second City, an improv group famous for John Candy, Chris Farley, Steve Carell, Amy Poehler, John Belushi and Tina Fey, the first thing students are taught is to let go of what other people think. They relax their dorsolateral prefrontal cortex and say the first thing that pops into their head, without worrying that they might sound foolish.
Essentially, my entire life and career are like a giant improv skit. I’m constantly speaking up and offering a solid mix of good ideas and ridiculous anecdotes, and trying my best to be as creative as possible. And it all started with a dog named Eyelash.