“The universe buries strange jewels deep within us all, and then stands back to see if we can find them.”
Elizabeth Gilbert, Big Magic
I have a new binge-watching obsession on Netflix. It’s called Chef’s Table—a show where some of the most renowned chefs in the world share their deeply personal stories, inspirations, and unique styles. It’s not just about cooking—it’s about art, creativity, and the way we live our lives. I just finished watching the episode which featured Massimo Bottura, head chef and founder of three-Michelin-star winner Osteria Francescana, a sixteen-seat restaurant in the small town of Modena, Italy. It was ranked first on the 2016 World’s 50 Best Restaurants list.
Of course, it wasn’t an easy road. Massimo fought an uphill battle to bring his restaurant to life. No one wanted his oddly concocted brand of culinary art. Ask someone in Italy who makes the best lasagna, and the answer is always the same—Nonna. You can call her grandma.
And then along comes Massimo with his exotic recipes, dishes such as ‘Oops! I Dropped the Lemon Tart,’ ‘A Potato Wanting to be a Truffle,’ and, of course, his signature dish, ‘The Crunchy Part of the Lasagna,’ a tiny plate of ragù and béchamel under a sheet of pasta that looks like a burnt Italian flag. Restaurant critics call it deconstructed lasagna, but for Bottura, it was simply an ode to a favorite childhood dish. When he was young, he was notorious for stealing the edges of the tasty top layer, which he considered the best part.
And out of a childhood memory, a dish was born.
Not long after that, a famous restaurant critic was driving through Modena when his car poetically broke down in the rain. The rest was culinary history. I’m happy to report that Italians have since embraced Massimo, even if 98% percent of the population can’t afford half a plate of his burnt lasagna.
As pricey as it is, a photo of his burnt lasagna hangs proudly on the wall in my office—a starchy reminder that creativity is as essential to life as air.
And, please, don’t say you’re not creative, no matter what you do for a living or how old you are. That’s a slap in the face to the stars which you come from. We all possess a creative spirit. It comes with the birth certificate.
Of course, creativity is not what we think it is. Massimo Bottura isn’t just making lasagna. He’s expressing truth and joy through inspired living, using his eyes and heart to change his view of the world. Massimo knows what all creatives know—you can’t make new lasagna until you see new lasagna. He also knows that while creativity may begin in the eyes and heart, it always ends with the courage to follow what you see.
This is the kind of creative life we’re chasing—one which only comes when we rid ourselves of the outdated idea that creativity is all about pulling rabbits out of hats, or chiseling genitalia out of stone or the uncanny way we can paint a sunset. That’s part of it. A big part, too.
But, real creativity is about self-expression. And while you can do this with pen, brush, and voice, the most authentic way to express yourself is through the way you live your life. That’s where the real artist lives.
Yes, my friends, it’s time to roll out the pasta and smother our life with creative sauce. And in case you need a refresher on what that looks like, here is a checklist to get you started (or better yet, to show you just how creative you already are).
How to Know You’re Living a Creative Life
You’re living a creative life every time you make someone laugh, feel better, more valued, listened to, and respected. Every moment you become more empathetic and connected with those around you, you’re a creative genius.
You’re living a creative life every time you carve out an extra hour a day from a busy schedule to pursue a buried passion, or when you work two jobs and still make time to read to your children, meditate, do yoga, or call an old friend.
You’re living a creative life when you give up perfection for authenticity— when you pivot your world so that it aligns with your true self, even if that means switching careers, reinventing the one you have, or moving to another country.
You’re living a creative life every time you question what you want to do with your life, and then make a move to find the answer. It’s not the new life that makes you creative, but the steps you take to get there.
You’re living a creative life when you master cosmic mathematics—living with less, discovering more, seeing value and meaning where none existed, and joy where there was none.
You’re living a creative life when you see magic everywhere, from the gemstones on your desk to your underwear to the music you’re listening to. You’re living a creative life when you realize that your entire day is synchronistically talking to you, guiding you, and steering you toward the experiences you need for your journey, as well as to help with the journey of those around you.
You’re living a creative life when you can be quiet, still, and alone, allowing serenity into a world filled with chaos. Extra credit when you realize that the stillness you found holds the source to all your creativity.
You’re living a creative life every time you transform “your burdens” into purpose and a pathway to growth and transformation. More extra credit when you lose the word “burden.”
You’re living a creative life when you’re sick and still a find a way to be whole, or when you’re well and then honor that health with gratitude and a deeper respect for your body.
You’re living a creative life when you allow nature to be your creative muse, leading you to wander where your heart wants to be—to the desert in your van, surfing in the ocean, a hike up in the mountains, or a long walk with your dog.
You’re living a creative life when you become an everyday alchemist: turning boring meetings into an opportunity to practice mindfulness, or ill-tempered family into mentors who teach unconditional love, or rush hour traffic into a chance to learn Mandarin; when you can sweep the floor or run a company with an equal sense of love and service.
You’re living a creative life when you see your life beyond what you do for a living, the roles you’ve played, and titles you have—life beyond what you can see, touch, hear and feel.
You’re living a creative life every time you start over, keep going, make better, uplift, brighten, become, turn into, and transform. And like that beautiful piece of crunchy lasagna, you’re living a creative life every time you allow yourself to tear down and rearrange what’s already there—unafraid to go places where others have never been, or more importantly, to places you’ve never been.
You're living a creative life when you are brave and vulnerable enough to start working on the truest piece of art there is—you.
And, quite frankly, that's the only piece of art the universe needs.