Putting Yourself Out There: Lessons learned from blood and glue fumes

super something2Sharing your creative work can be scary. Real scary. But wobbly knees or no wobbly knees, putting yourself out there can also be extremely rewarding.

With the never-ending stream of superhero movies flooding theatres these days, you may be growing tired of the trope. Then again, maybe you’re just waiting for something to blow your socks off. Something truly awesome. Something super. A “Super Something,” mayhaps? Resembling E.T. with a beak and cape, Super Something is a superhero my seven-year-old self created and the titular character of the award-winning short story I wrote in Grade 1.

That’s right. Award-winning. This impressive piece of literature picked up a first place trophy at the 1987 Dungannon Fall Fair, alongside prized pigs and blue ribbon jams. And why wouldn’t it? It’s a tale of epic proportions where Super Something and his teammates Super Monster and Super Noodle square off against alligators, giants and a castle wall armed with a million guns. That’s right: a million. The gang even ends up in space for some reason… I dunno. It’s a bit of a hot mess by the end.

Super Something was an early indication that I was a fan of the creative arts. While other kids my age were getting into hockey, baseball and dirt bikes, I was writing stories in my bed. Over time, my interests evolved into making board games, which became my obsession in life. It was a great creative outlet for me, and I’m sure all the glue I inhaled while constructing my elaborate games only served to enhance the experience.

glue

And while my family was always supportive, something happened. More precisely, puberty happened, and with it came a whack of self-consciousness and insecurities. I convinced myself that making board games was a weird hobby best kept to myself. More and more, my game making took place behind closed doors (which in hindsight probably made the glue fumes worse).

In Grade 8, in my awkward pubescent prime, an evaluator from the school board visited to do an assessment on me. Mom told me it was for the “gifted program.” However, considering my penchant for sticking my head in pits of clay and launching fireballs into houses, I have to wonder if I wasn’t being assessed because they thought I was “special” for other reasons.

Either way, during the interview, I let it slip that I liked to make board games in my spare time. Intrigued, the evaluator pressed me for more information. What kind of games did I make? What did I like about the hobby? Could I show him one of my games? I felt exposed, vulnerable, embarrassed.

I started fidgeting, picking at a hangnail as he peppered me with questions. My heart was racing as I mumbled sheepish answers. Before long, I ripped the dangling nail off completely and blood started pouring out of my finger. Best. Interview. Ever.

“Looks like you’ve got a bit of blood there,” the interviewer said.

“Ha, ha,” I stammered, blood running down my hand. “Yeah.” At least we had changed the subject.

bloody finger

Looking back , I’m sure the man was genuinely interested in my hobbies and was there to encourage and see how the school could support my extracurricular passions. At the time though, sharing my creative work was terrifying, the very prospect of which caused me to bleed all over my Giant Tiger blue jeans.

Despite my insecurities, I kept making board games. Usually my creations didn’t go further than my official game tester/baby brother Nicholas. But every now and then I’d swallow my fear and force myself to share my work more broadly. The biggest and scariest milestone happened in 1996. I was 16 years old and mailed a letter to the now-defunct Canada Games telling them about my love for designing board games.

A few weeks later, I returned home from school to find an envelope waiting for me on my dinner plate. It was a letter from Canada Games, inviting me to come to Toronto to pitch one of my ideas. I didn’t eat much supper that night due to equal parts excitement and terror.

On July 17th, Mom drove me to Toronto for my meeting. “Oh no,” I remember saying as the Canada Games sign came into view and a fresh wave of fear washed over me. Sharing my inventions  with Nicholas was one thing. This was quite another. I kicked myself for not bringing a spare pair of gotchies.

In the waiting room, I did my best to look calm, cool and professional. Mom didn’t make that easy. “Do you have to go pee?” She’d ask. Two minutes would pass. “Are you sure you don’t want to go pee before your meeting?” Another two, tense minutes. “I really think you’d feel better if you went pee.”

“I’m fine,” I hissed between clenched teeth as the secretary tried her best not to laugh.

The meeting itself was terrible. I hadn’t prepared anything by way of a sales pitch. Hell, I didn’t even know what a sales pitch was. But it didn’t matter. I faced my fear and put myself out there. For the moment, that was enough. I was on cloud nine the entire ride home to Port Albert.

Move over, glue fumes, there’s a new high in town.

illustartion of person shaking a man's hand while thinking he should have gone pee

Sharing your creative work

I’ve been blogging for years now, and I still get butterflies whenever I click that big, blue Publish button. Same goes for whenever I step on stage to give a talk. Whether you’re a writer, artist, videographer, photographer, actor or any other type of creative, sharing your work makes you feel exposed. It opens you up to criticism and judgement. Putting yourself out there is poop-in-you-pants scary. Period.

But coming out of the creative closet has a slew of benefits as well. For starters, it’s the only way you get better. I cringe when I look back at my earlier writing (except for Super Something, of course. An army of Popsicle stick warriors that can assemble into a buzz saw? That’s pure gold), and I know I have a lot more growing to do as a writer. The old adage practice makes perfect is true. And sharing your work is an opportunity to hone your craft, gather valuable feedback and learn from your mistakes.

Simple(ton) Living by Josh MartinSecondly, it gives others permission to embrace their creative side. How many other kids my age were secretly sketching or hiding short stories under their beds?  Sharing your work inspires others to do the same. And now thanks to the Internet, no matter what you’re into, there’s a community of like-minded folks out there who are into it too.

Finally, creative expression is an awesome outlet. Research shows that art therapy can be an incredibly effective stress reliever, while crocheting a scarf or snapping some photos can get you out of your head and into the moment.

Yes, putting yourself out there is scary. But in my experience, the pros outweigh the cons. So start a blog. Sign up for those guitar lessons. Join that creative writing group. Audition for that play. Get the gang together for a Paint Nite event in your area. Bust through that wall with a million guns, and let your creative side shine.

Like these stories? You’ll find a whole whack of them — more than 50 in fact — in my book Simple(ton) Living: Lessons in balance from life’s absurd moments.

Josh Martin
Josh Martin is the founder and chief blogger at Badge of Awesome. He lives in southwestern Ontario, Canada and is the author of "Misadventure Musings: Lessons learned from life's awesome and absurd moments" and "Going on a Bear Hunt: Five things cancer taught me about overcoming obstacles."