Creativity can emerge in unexpected places, and no one believes this more than Kimberly Williams.
Kimberly has spent over twenty years working with vulnerable populations in urban communities. Her work provides a real-life context for her double Master’s degrees in Theology and Intercultural Studies, the first focusing on sustainability and self care for urban workers, and the later exploring the relationship between hip hop artists and Christian pastors. In fact, a picture of Kool Herc, the founder of hip hop, hangs behind her desk in her office - a perfect representation of how Kimberly strives to channel innovation and inspiration in every aspect of her life.
So it is no surprise that her New Year’s resolutions are no exception! From getting monthly massages one year to taking high-flying trapeze classes the next, Kimberly definitely has some wisdom to share about intentions and goal setting.
Over the past four years, Kimberly has been my mentor through two faith-based volunteer programs, first as Associate Director of Lasallian Volunteers and now as Executive Director of Good Shepherd Volunteers. In this time, I’ve known Kimberly as an intentional and grounded leader alongside a pun-loving and spiritual visionary. This dynamic speaks to Kimberly’s gift of bridging worlds and experiences, with creativity as her foundation.
I’m so excited to invite you to meet my friend, role-model, and fellow self-identified chocolate-snob in the interview below, and I hope you’ll find some inspiration to enter 2017 with your best resolutions yet.
Do you have a specific creative process?
My creative process is to choose an annual theme. I have a personal philosophy that I want to be my best self when I'm 80. So each year I choose one small area in my life that I want to pay attention to. I figure that by setting an intention and building on it each year I am slowly getting a little bit closer to my best self.
The process of choosing a new theme every year allows me to pause to look back and look ahead. I try to figure out a practice that will compliment what I’m trying to learn. One year my theme was to “let go” and my practice was to visit trapeze school throughout the year! Another year was food, fitness, and fashion and my practices were to cook through a cookbook, give myself $2 every time I visited the gym to buy exercise clothes, and to invest in seasonal wardrobes. After so many years of choosing themes, I now find that at the close of every year a new one starts to emerge.
Do you have a favorite theme from the last few years?
One of my favorite themes was in 2015. At the end of 2014 I kept noticing the phrase: “made in God’s image.” I was confused and captivated by this concept and I wanted to spend a year thinking about this some more. So I started thinking, “What can you learn about an artist from studying their artwork?” I decided to do a little study. I chose a tree along the waterfront, not too far from my work and I decided I would visit it every morning and take a picture of it. It felt like I was visiting a museum and pausing to visit a specific painting that had all the same elements, and yet it changed every day. I figured in this way I might learn something about the tree’s creator.
What did you learn from this theme in particular?
I wasn’t sure what I would discover from my daily walks to the waterfront, but there were many things I didn’t expect. By choosing to walk the same path every day, I started to encounter the same faces on my journey through the neighborhood. There was the man at the gas station with whom I’d exchange a wave. Then there was the grounds’ manager at one apartment complex who started asking about the progress of my tree. In fact, when I had to go out of town for a week in September he took the tree pictures for me and texted them to me!
There was so much I learned from this creative process. I live in New York City, so I was able to experience four very distinct seasons with my tree. I came to appreciate each of the unique seasons: summer’s flourishing, growing, and green, and winter’s calm and stillness. I watched leaves grow in spring and then fall in autumn. These things taught me about myself and how I grow. How I often expect myself to constantly be in summer, but it helped me recognize my winter times are important too. Or how there may be times that I look at my life and think that nothing is happening, but little do I know that spring’s creative energy is getting ready to burst.
By the end of the year I had over 300 pictures of my tree. Looking at each picture I can appreciate how each day is so unique, but looking at the whole collection tells an even bigger story. My life is like that too. Sometimes it’s so important to focus on the day I’m in, and at other times it’s helpful to step back and look at the collection of days so far.
In the process I also learned about God as artist, and how in his image means that I have permission to be creative too. It was as if I was watching God’s performance art piece unfold. As the tree shifted, so did I.
How does choosing themes for your year inspire your creativity?
I think the best kind of art moves you, changes you, and you are different because of it. With these annual creative intentions and rituals, I have to open myself up to allow myself to be changed.
One year my theme was “stop anticipating.” I was recognizing how anxious I was getting about my future, so I decided for a year I would chill out and quit worrying. I assumed what I was choosing was for nothing to change, because for one year I was deciding that I wasn’t going to make anything happen. So you can imagine my surprise when l was unexpectedly offered a job in another state and I woke up at the end of that year in a whole new life!
How has the act of choosing these annual themes impacted your life?
By choosing these themes, in a way, my life becomes like a performance art piece. I’m the one stepping onto the canvas and letting things unfold. Instead of just letting life happen, I feel like each year is new, thoughtful, and intentional in a whole new way. By giving myself permission to go deep in one topic, to learn one new thing or focus on just one area each year, I feel like I’m able to relax and discover things slowly. I don’t feel pressure to have it all together all at once, or even know what the art piece is becoming.
Isn't that challenging in a society that places so much emphasis on time? What if we don’t have the time to let it all come together later?
I work with a lot of recent college grads, and I notice an increasing amount of pressure and anxiety around feeling the need to have yourself together, and know where you are going in life. I think that is a great big lie. I don’t think there is anything that can replace cold hard day after day time on the journey. You have to put one foot front in front of the other in order to learn, grow, and figure things out. And those things only happen when you reflect and experience each part of the journey along the way. I will never forget what it was like to experience my tree in spring after taking a picture of it during every single day of winter. It was like watching an amazing week long fireworks display! It wouldn’t feel that way if season’s changed from day to day.
I also like how my creative rituals offer me time and space to pause. I think the pause is actually what allows creativity to emerge. I’m not as creative on the days that I’m running around from place to place. And if I don’t build in the space it often doesn’t happen. Each year my practices help me see the world and myself with a little more clarity. They help me tap into the wellspring of wisdom that I have inside. I think we all have that. Our soul, our gut, our head, and our heart are all trying to work together to guide us on our way. We can’t hear these whispers when our thoughts are racing, or we are running around. These rituals help me hear what I already know. They help me access the wisdom inside of me. It’s so important to pause and listen.
So for someone who is new to developing a creative process, what advice would you give to carve out space in their daily life for discovering or exploring creative rituals?
I think it’s important to recognize that we each need different practices and rhythms for different times of our lives. The rhythms that I developed in grad school are very different than the ones my stay at home mom friends can pull off. I like how each year offers a fresh start, a moment to stop and reassess. I can’t assume that the practice that I did last year, or the year before, is going to work for right now. In the same way that you can’t pick up a bridge and move it to another part of the river. Each year I try to build something new for the new moment I’m in. This is where the invitation for creativity comes in...by asking the questions, what do I need right now, and how can I build that into my life as it is right now?
A great place to start is by listening to your longings. What are you craving? Missing in your life? Wanting more of? One year one of my practices was to get a massage once a month. Of course I followed through on that practice all year long! It was addressing something I was longing for.
Another tip would be to choose a practice that falls in that Goldilocks spot of not too hard and not too easy, but just right. Often at the new year so many of us set such ambitious intentions even when we know we have limited amounts of energy. When I was searching for my tree I purposefully chose a tree that was at the end of the street. I knew that I couldn’t wander too far, because I knew there would be days that I would be late for work and if it was too far I wouldn’t go. You want to choose manageable practices that set you up for success.
I have found that carving out these intentional rhythms and spaces in my life cultivates creativity throughout my life. I’m a different kind of artist. Instead of a drawing or a painting, my calendar becomes the canvas, my footsteps the paintbrush, my schedule is the art piece.
What is your theme for 2017?
My theme for 2016 has been “vision.” I started the year asking, “What does it mean to have a vision bigger than your own life?” I wasn’t thinking about visionaries like Steve Jobs who had a vision and then made it happen. I was thinking of visionaries like Moses, Martin Luther King Jr., and the artist Gaudí who didn’t live to see their vision completed. After a year of seeking out my own big vision I came to the conclusion that I need to listen before I can have a vision. So my 2017 theme is “listen.”
I recognize that my biggest longing right now is for space. As I’ve been evaluating my commitments to see how I can make some more room for creative pause I decided to make the bold move to leave my job without having the next thing lined up. I have the sense that I’ll know which way to step after some listening and rest. I’m so curious what will develop from such a big intentional pause!
We are excited to see what comes of this year of “listening” for you too, Kimberly! Thank you for sharing your time and wisdom!
Tips for finding your own creative ritual:
Start by asking, “What am I craving? Missing in my life? Wanting more of?” Make a list of your responses.
Choose one response and ask, “What types of things could I do that would address this?”
Think through your daily routine, “What would be a reasonable time commitment that I could dedicate to this?” (i.e 5 min a day, once a week/month, every 3 months)
Pick a practice. Sometimes it’s helpful to share with others your intention so they can help keep you accountable.
About the Author
Katie is a writer, educator, and yoga + green smoothie enthusiast. After graduating from Franklin and Marshall College with a B.A. in English Literature, Katie spent four years working with aspiring first-generation college students across a number of organizations (and states!): Lasallian Volunteers in Racine, WI, F&M College Prep in Lancaster, PA, and the Y-Scholars Program in Berkeley, CA.
She graduated from Saint Mary’s College of California’s Master in Leadership program in May 2016 and decided to embark on her first international experience as a Good Shepherd Volunteer for one year in Santiago, Chile.
To hear more about Katie’s year, check out kdgsv.wordpress.org.