Find Meaning in Creative Spaces

How building a birdhouse can change the world

Original Photo by Author

I had this idea for a birdhouse that I wanted to build. There was a burst of excitement at the birth of this idea, as I envisioned the finished product and the joy that would come through the process. I began by putting the pencil to the paper, drawing out the blueprint for the project. It was drawn to scale to get an idea of how this would look and what materials I would need. Suddenly, the joy was zapped, and a feeling of embarrassment came over me.

There wasn’t anybody taunting me over my shoulder saying, “Nice craft bro,” but there was a voice challenging the value of the endeavor. This project would take some time, skill, patience, and some creative expression, and that voice continued to hold to the point that this was just a birdhouse. The dialogue went something like this:

“Is this the best use of your time?”
“I don’t know… maybe?”
“Will this birdhouse change the world?”
“Probably not.”
“You know, there are people out there who are changing the world, making an impact, taking action; yet here you are designing a birdhouse.”

We went back and forth like this for a while. This other voice had some good points, a few nice monologues, and stood high up on a pedestal. After the exchange, I had decided to shelf the birdhouse blueprint for now, because maybe there was something I could do that added more value to the world. The next couple of days were spent trying to envision my purpose, and what steps needed to be taken to pursue that purpose. This was a tough task.

I had recently realized that I was fighting a long-running battle with depression, though I didn’t want to admit that was the case. I was at an all-time low, and the vision of the future was clouded at best. It had become hard to set or accomplish goals, and the funny thing was, this stinking birdhouse was the only thing that I could see clearly. Perhaps this birdhouse was the key to unlocking the door behind which clarity of goals, dreams, and purpose reside.

In other words: build it and they will come.

Building this birdhouse represented a pillar of my life that was weak and needed to be reinforced. The simple act of building something with my hands makes something in me come alive, and I was reminded of a quote that I had referred to throughout my life as I tried to understand what strikes change in the world:

“Don’t ask yourself what the world needs. Ask yourself what makes you come alive, and go do that, because what the world needs is people who have come alive.” 

– Howard Thurman

They say that beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and I believe that the same is true for finding value in a moment. If you are like me, there is this obsessive desire to evaluate the value in everything we do. There is this tendency to retract myself from a space of creativity because I feel that I should be doing something more dutiful, because oftentimes, creating art does not equate to monetary gain, glory, or recognition. The impact lies in the process, the finished product makes its impact on those that connect with it, and it makes an impact on the artist.

This habit of abandoning the moments where creativity beckons me to stay has is some ways inhibited my ability to find purpose. Therefore, there is value in the seemingly unimportant undertakings. Whether it is writing, playing guitar, applying paint to canvas, or even building a birdhouse; if these ventures spark something inside of us that makes us feel alive, then perhaps building a birdhouse can change the world.

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