Heartbreak & Creativity

anne mcgillI watched  The September Issue. It’s about Vogue magazine.  At one point, Grace Coddington talked about what it takes to stay on and make it at the magazine. She said that people come to work there and then they go.  “They can’t take the heartbreak,” she explained.


I discussed it with my husband, explaining that I can take the heartbreak.  I have my heart broken around here all the time.

“I was inoculated against this when I was a kid,” I explained. “I guess I should be more grateful for that, because if you can’t take a heartbreak, it’s going to limit you. For example, you can’t be in Special Forces if you can’t take the heartbreak. You’ve got to understand that your friend may be killed and you might be standing right next to him.”

If you want to play in the big leagues or be successful in a creative field or succeed as an entrepreneur, you’re going to have your heart broken, and you’re going to have to handle it.

Once I thought it in these terms, I realized what a disservice we do our kids by coddling them. There are good reasons to allow your children to take their knocks.  Particularly if you want them to have the chance to push themselves and really excel.

What were you taught about being knocked down?

pictured – I believe the painting is by Anne McGill, but cannot verify.

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Heartbreak & Creativity — 21 Comments

  1. I was taught to get back up and do it again. And again. And again. Until you stopped getting knocked down.

    I’m not ungrateful for the lesson but I have a hard time with the reverse: I don’t always realize when I’m slamming my head into a brick wall. It’s taken me a long time to even begin to get a small inkling that I can’t always overcome. *smiles*

  2. I don’t take it well at all. But after this last total destruction I am teaching myself to view it differently, really trying to learn to see every small death (heartbreak) as a chance at rebirth. It’s the only way I can deal with it. But it does make me anxious just thinking about it.

  3. Parents teach us to deal with heartbreak in strange ways sometimes.
    One of those ways is to ignore the pain and not let it affect you. So, on one side of the coin, you have “tenacity” and on the other you have “repression.” If we don’t have a support network, there’s no way we can deal with the nitty gritty jobs that are out there.

  4. I was taught that forgiveness is key, that you never really know about another’s lot in life, so don’t make such proud assumptions. I think when you feel rooted in the grander scheme of life, good and bad, it helps you roll with the punches. Every dog has its day!

  5. I feel strongly that setting kids up to learn emotional resiliance is a huge gift. To me that means they learn that mistakes & emotional hurts are a normal part of life and learn how to deal with the consequences, preferably without it breaking them down or stopping them in their tracks for a decade or two. My professional life brings me around people from another culture where the kids are HUGELY protected from the harshness of life – I understand the thinking, but it does them no favours out in the world, they have no tools. I see the consequences. You may as well send them out in the streets naked.

    • Yes and yes.

      We’ve gotta be wise about the way we teach this too. It isn’t to make anyone feel like crap for not being “resilient enough” but to say, hey I know this is tough… I’ve been there but you’re going to get up and get through this and learn how to get better.

  6. I was taught that getting up and trying again after being knocked down was the only way to achieve your goals. Sensible, smart advice, but my reaction more often than not was and still is: This isn’t worth the effort. Forget it. I don’t want it enough to keep going. Rarely has it changed past basic survival needs.

  7. I wan’t taught anything about getting knocked down..!
    My education was more like “don’t do this, don’t do that”, which isn’t very feisty.
    My main survival mode is avoidance, mainly when it comes to people.
    Concerning work and other mechanical things, I try to do what’s called for. As long as there are no negative personal interactions I’m OK.
    If I run onto rabid shitheads, I usually just try go my way (if possible, sometimes it isn’t).

  8. My mother always said, “Life’s not fair. It’s not supposed to be.”

    In addition, if someone got something and the others didn’t she would say, maybe next time. Things weren’t perfectly equal and that’s the way it was.

  9. I was coddled. Most of my formative years were fairy tales aND imaginings. I was way over protected. I have also done that with my childen .as a result I go into depression and shock when I see or hear some horrific news. It hurts my soul to know such cruelty exists.

  10. I went decades just walking away from heartache on all levels. Someone didn’t like me? I never fought, I walked. I made a stupid mistake? I didn’t explain, I took my lumps and walked. In the end, I fell back on my strengths and avoided my weaknesses with my head down, and that put me in the right space to capitalize on my strengths in the absence of opposition, and I did amazingly, astoundingly well. The family members that thought that they had prevailed with their negative narrative of my life were shocked and dismayed to see me succeed financially and emotionally and surpass all possible expectations. Sweet revenge.

    • Yes I relate Susan. I also didn’t know how to receive and recover from criticism for years. In response, I ran too and hid for years, until it hurt too much to continue. Everything that mattered to me required me to show up.

  11. What’s really cruel is when a child is coddled and then verbally bashed by a parent for being a not being more self-sufficient and then mocked for being defenseless. It’s the ultimate setup. Tie your child’s arms behind her back and then insult how poor she is at catching a ball.

  12. We weren’t coddled as kids. They’re 7 of us so Mom didn’t have the time, nor was it in her inclination.
    Altho I’ve never had kids I think its a disservice to them. The world isn’t going to treat them the same way as their parents coddled them. Why would they?!

  13. It’s also cruel to ignore them, to leave them to parent themselves and then ask them to take care of everyone else as well. You (the child) end up emotionally abandoned while your parents are still there, demanding that you do their job. You learn that even those you love can’t be trusted and that heartbreak is always just around the corner. I learned that try or not, heartbreak will find you. I learned to handle some of the pain and I learned to hide from life to avoid the rest. It didn’t help that the Universe decided to take my mother just as I was actually becoming an adult. Whammy! So, I learned that I can survive ultimate heartbreak… but not fully intact. I learned what it’s like to lose part of your heart/ soul. Funny you ask this this week. Saturday would have been her 74th birthday and Sunday is Father’s day.

  14. My grandmother taught me to go to Jesus and pray and I still do it. I get my heart broken, I go to Jesus, pray and then I CAN get back up and carry on. For me it’s the only way, and it works. I teach my sons the same, they have rosaries, they go to church and we pray. They get knocked down but they get back up.

  15. This post makes me think. It’s a good point.

    In school, I grew up in an environment where “if you don’t achieve something and have some kind of specialty, you are invisible and did not try hard enough”. We did things for approval, I suppose. I appreciated a lot of what teachers did for us, but we didn’t know how to deal because so much was riding on our teachers, colleges giving us the stamp of approval. I don’t think we were “coddled” in that aspect. When my grades sucked, I did get help from my mom however … Maybe it’s because so much more seemed to be at risk of I didn’t reach some kind of “bar” of acceptance. Self-worth, acting as a contributing person. Almost as if you were not good at school or stood out in anyway, then you had less value. It shouldn’t be that way. Kids need to feel like they can handle it on their own. And if they don’t get into that school or get that A, so be it.

    I’m just wondering if the education system, job/career development in business and parents are ready to absorb learning from real mistakes and failure. It’s way too authentic for how many of us are raising kids now. Because so many of us are scared of not being perfect. Yet, this is exactly what we need. The life skill of “we fucked up, sigh we are sorry. How can we fix this?” Not playing to blame game.

    The resilience aspect is coming back en vogue with (sorry trigger -y words) “gritty” “growth-mindset” education. However, it can’t be faked. It can’t be superficial to be effective. The hope is parents also see how important it is to let kids make mistakes or meet failure, early on, but also that it doesn’t mean teachers and parents treat you as lesser than. You can contribute even if you aren’t a “star”. Also how to be humble and ask how they can fix it.

    They need to understand that getting back up requires being real with yourself for whether you can give *yourself the stamp of approval. Worthiness for being loved does not depend on how many A’s you got from teachers or whether or not you got into Harvard. It’s about facing yourself and your limitations, and fessing up. Are you doing all you can, and if not how can you get better?

    I’m connecting this with my “self-directed curriculum” where it is not “if”, but *when you are kicked down, flat in your face. How do you respond? If you want to do great things, you have to enter the arena and get beat up over and over again. And believe that it’s worth it, that your hopes and dreams are worth it.

    Good topic because it makes me think. 🙂

  16. When you want to be creative, you gotta take risk, but taking risk also means making mistakes then facing them, then learning how to fix them.

    Rewards have their merit and usefulness. However… If all love and safety is reliant on other people’s approval with publicly acknowledged achievements, stickers and rewards, then who would want to take a risk? Better to keep your head down and get that sticker. Be less ambitious at all times to make sure the answer is what they want to hear.

    They forget what it feels like to like and judge their own work.

    Our fears of children not being able to survive uncertainty, economic instability and let’s be honest (internalized) terror is causing us not to believe our kids can survive without the system’s approval (and test scores). In turn, it is actually stifling creativity and resilience, which is what they need to survive. It is causing them to think that so much is riding on every grade that that is all they are. Life and true happiness is so much more than that.

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