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The seduction of Doubt

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(2017 Graduation Speech by Jonathan Milne)


Graduation is a big deal, a completion and a turning point at the same time. It means that you’ve completed something. Hooray, hooray, hooray!!!!! Awesome. Big applause. Hugs, maybe euphoria and possibly doubt.

I love the experience of graduations. One of the most emotional was when seven of our students graduated at Arohata Women’s Prison. For many of them, it was their first experience of being at an official event where they were being celebrated for achieving something of value. There were plenty of tears that night.

I see our prison work as a metaphor for something that we see again and again. Far too many potentially amazing people keep their creativity locked in. The jailer is Doubt.

Am I up to it? Is my work any good (or even a tiny bit good)? Where is all this leading? Wouldn’t I be better getting an ordinary job and putting my creativity aside for a while?

Let’s turn this inside-out and consider whether Doubt is a friend or an ally, even though it has peculiar table manners. Nobody ever died of doubt. It’s possible to die by inaction, (not getting out of the way of the bus), but doubt, by itself, isn’t life threatening.


ALL creativity involves uncertainty. Uncertainty is married to Doubt and mostly they turn up at the same time. Count it as a privilege when you meet them.

If you want to stay reasonably safe there are some simple rules (like a guide for meeting weird in-laws). Creativity is never 100% safe and so the rules aren’t foolproof.


Step 1: It doesn’t matter what has happened in the past – consider what you are able to do NOW.

Step 2: Own the story (NOW and OWN have the same letters). In other places on planet Earth there will be tough things that are beyond your influence, but in your own world, you are the one who can take action. Maybe a smile is enough to get started. Who knows, if a loving smile is contagious, it could change the world. Keep in mind that the ways are endless and the means are often in plain sight.

Step 3: Too many options? Look into your mental tool-kit and find out how to make a choice. You can toss a coin, spend a couple of days researching the problem, ask a friend…Trust your intuition and do whatever draws you to action.

Step 4: Look up quotes by artist Alice Neel. Her words connect with anyone on a creative journey: “You should keep on painting no matter how difficult it is, because this is all part of experience, and the more experience you have, the better it is…unless it kills you, and then you know you have gone too far.”

Step 5: Consider a TLC rubric: The practice IS the theory.

Step 6: Try something that is OK for you, other people and our planet.

Step 7: Repeat what you are doing and keep making adjustments until it works. Then thank whoever or whatever you give thanks to.

Step 8: Start again. Creativity is always new. It takes practice. The way to successful graduations in the school of life comes through learning how to trust yourself and this allows you to fall in love with Doubt.


Take the next step and unlock your creative mind by studying creativity & art at The Learning Connexion. To find out more about our NZQA approved programmes call us on 0800 278 769 or request a prospectus.



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