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Imagination Run Wild

How Neverland and Rumplestiltskin reframed my relationship with both creativity and imagination.

Originally posted on Capriole Coaching Blog

I have to admit that I loved the ABC series Once Upon a Time.  Specifically season 3. In the premiere the main characters Captain Hook, Rumplestiltskin, the Evil Queen, Snow White, Prince Charming, and Emma Swan (Daughter of Snow White and Prince Charming) are on their way to Neverland to save Henry (Emma’s son) from the treacherous Peter Pan.  Yes, you read that correctly. Peter Pan is the bad guy.  Also Neverland is not a place you want to be.  In an earlier episode Wendy describes Neverland this way, “There’s a reason it’s called Neverland. Because once you set foot in its soil, the Shadow never lets you leave.”  I think that’s why I loved this show.  It blew apart everything I knew about fairytales.  It always kept me guessing, which is awesome!

Certain TV shows grab us because they are able to play with human dynamics really well.  I believe when these shows create dynamics that the viewer can relate to, but create them in extreme situations that the average person doesn’t face, we love them.  Breaking Bad and The Sopranos are examples of exceptional execution of extreme situations with normal, relatable human dynamics.

I love human dynamics.

Something about taking the chaos of human interaction and finding the patterns within excites and fascinates me. If these fictional interactions are done well, they awaken me to an aspect of myself I wasn’t fully aware of.  Which, in turn, adds to my personal growth in the real world.   The below interaction between Rumplestiltskin and Emma Swan is such an occasion.  In this scene Rumplestiltskin is telling Emma that she lacks imagination. And in Neverland that just doesn’t cut it.

Emma: Why are you doing this?
Rumple: Because I want to succeed.
Emma: What makes you think I’m going to fail?
Rumple: How could you not?  You don’t believe in your parents, or magic, nor even yourself.
Emma: I slayed a dragon, I think I believe.
Rumple: Only what was shown to you.  When have you ever taken a real leap of faith? You know the kind where there is absolutely no proof?  I’ve known you some time Miss Swan and sadly, despite everything you’ve been through, you’re still just that bail bonds person, looking for evidence.  Well dearie that’s not going to work in Neverland.
Emma: I’ll do whatever it takes.
Rumple: Well you just need someone to tell you what that is.  Sorry dearie our foe is too fearsome for hand-holding.  Neverland is a place where imagination runs wild.  And sadly, yours doesn’t.

I’m not sure how many people would have any reaction to that exchange.  The scene itself is just a plot device to justify Rumplestiltskin going off on his own.   However, when I watched the exchange I felt like Rumple was talking directly to me.  He was very clearly asking me, “Can you create something if no one hands you a recipe to follow? “  “Can you use your imagination to picture something wild and your creativity to make it real?”  This hits home because I’m working on the process of imagining my life and the imagination piece is a struggle.

So what’s the real difference between creativity and imagination and why are they important?

Starting with definitions

First Merriam-Webster’s dictionary definitions:

  • Creativity: The ability to make new things or think of new ideas
  • Imagination:The ability to imagine things that are not real: the ability to form a picture in your mind of something that you have not seen or experienced

In essence the difference is between real and unreal creations.

I also went out and Googled the connection between these two words and how they relate to creating change in a person’s life.  The articles I found also mention innovation, but innovation doesn’t apply to this article so I’m leaving it out.  It turns out that for life changing endeavors, creativity and imagination play pivotal roles.

So, here are the definitions I synthesized from my research:

  • Creativity: Taking perceived reality (all of the facts, evidence, arguments and proof) and coming up with original solutions.
  • Imagination:  Creating something completely wild and extraordinary without the limits of what is perceived possible in reality.

Please note that I use the word perceived in both of these definitions. I do this because reality changes for us depending on our perceptions at the time.  So what might be impossible to me one moment can become completely possible at a different point in my life.

Back to the questions Rumple asking

Can I create something if no one hands me a recipe to follow? Can I use my imagination to picture something wild and then use my creativity to make it real?  When I started this article I thought I knew what my problem was.  I thought that I had let my imagination muscle atrophy by not allowing myself to come up with the wild ideas.  I thought by not using my imagination I also wasn’t allowing myself to use my creativity to make my life what I want it to be.  As I think on it more, I realize my imagination is fully intact. I just have a tendency to misdirect it into unproductive thoughts such as how much effort something may take and all the possible ways that same something might go wrong. When I let myself imagine these wild ideas I don’t follow through and I don’t even bother to give myself a chance to be creative.    It’s not that I don’t have imagination.  It’s that I imagine great things and then imagine all the way those great ideas can be foiled.  Well done.

This was a big “aha” for me.  I now realize the true power of imagination.  It can be our greatest ally in becoming our highest most productive selves or it can be a super villain that thwarts us at every turn.  Creativity is the workhorse, the recipe creator, of our lives and it can only be cultivated and put into action when imagination is used for good, empowering endeavors.

An answer for Rumple.

Yes, I can use my imagination to create something wild and I believe I can create it in the real world if I can hold the imagination super villain at bay.   Perhaps that is what Peter Pan represents in the ABC show Once Upon a Time.  He is the form of imagination that manipulates us into inaction by stifling responsibility, maturity and personal power.  By indulging Peter Pan we leave the possibility for great achievement forever lost in Never Neverland.

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