The Jack Skellington Guide to Creative Self-Discovery and Personal Challenges

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The Jack Skellington Guide to Creative Self Discovery and Personal Challenges

Image by andy z

Tim Burton’s The Nightmare Before Christmas may be a quirky tale about a skeleton and his Halloween Town friends, but its charm extends far beyond what you may expect. I’ve discovered something about the bony main character after watching the movie for the zillionth time: he’s got a lesson or two for us imaginative types.

Allow me to explain.

Jack Skellington was a creative professional who wanted a challenge.

Jack had it all – a prestigious “Pumpkin King” title, an uncanny talent for scaring the bejeezus out of people, and a town full of enthusiastic supporters who hung on his every word. He consistently delivered frightening experiences to his townspeople every Halloween and never failed to glean overwhelmingly flattering remarks from them. He was a well-respected expert of his craft.

There are few who deny,

At what I do I am the best,

For my talents are renowned far and wide

Even though Jack was a leader in the Halloween realm, he longed for more. Deep down, he resented his established (and somewhat limiting) skills and ached to try his bony hand at something new. He was desperate for a challenge.

Oh, there’s an empty place in my bones,

That calls out for something unknown

Sound familiar? You’ve probably felt that way at least once. We all have!

So, Jack decided to scratch the itch and deviate from his normal routine as Pumpkin King.

To satisfy his desire for change, Jack immersed himself in a neighboring holiday called Christmas. He tried his best to mimic the magic of that unfamiliar holiday by teaching himself the ins and outs. He essentially took a crash course on the subject, learning everything he could about jingle bells, Christmas carols, gift exchanges, and more in a little over a month’s time. Jack even had Santa Claus kidnapped so the road would be clear for him to take over the important role come Christmas.

Being from Halloween Town, Jack wasn’t familiar with how things were done in Christmas Town, and he failed. In fact, his failure put the major holiday in jeopardy and almost got him killed in the process.

Long story short, Jack didn’t falter because he acted on his desire for change; he faltered because he acted rashly and set the bar ludicrously high.

Like many creative types, Jack acted first and thought about it later. He was so desperate for a life change that he didn’t think twice about jumping the gun (or about stepping on others) to get what he wanted.

He wasn’t ready to make the commitment as a Christmas Town authority figure just yet, but his blind enthusiasm convinced him otherwise. His intentions were good but his lack of understanding prevented him from successfully carrying out his plan to be an interim Santa.

He may have succeeded if he hadn’t set such impossible goals within a narrow time frame. Don’t fall victim to the same blunder! Leave ample time to research new projects and ask for help if you need it.

You can apply this advice to any of your creative endeavors, whether you’re itching to write outside of your normal fiction genre or you can’t stop thinking about starting your own business. It’s better to carefully map your transition than it is to dive headfirst without thinking.

And when you mess up a project (as we all do), learn from your mistakes.

After all, Jack’s predicament wasn’t a total loss. The Christmas fiasco was the spark he needed to find his purpose once again and get back to doing what he did best – scaring those around him.

Well, what the heck, I went and did my best.

And by God, I really tasted something swell.

And for a moment, why,

I even touched the sky

and at least I left some stories they can tell,

I did.

And for the first time since I don’t remember when

I felt just like my old bony self again.

Jack may have screwed up, but he used his mistakes to reignite his creative persona. He found the missing piece he needed to get those juices flowing once again.

Do you know why? Because Jack felt a sense of accomplishment afterwards. He boldly treaded where no skeleton had treaded before. He met his own challenge head-on and learned a valuable lesson in the process: that he was good enough, that he was strong enough, and that – gosh darn it – people liked him.

Jack jump-started his creativity by challenging himself. You can reinvigorate your creative process, too….but without the almost-getting-killed part.

Avoid a disaster by understanding your true strengths.

Jack became so wrapped up in the glitz and glamour that his world lacked that he forgot one important thing – who he really was. He had his eye on the prize so intently that he wasn’t able to focus on the other things that mattered.

He got caught up in the moment and spread himself too thin. If he had set a more realistic goal and taken the time to analyze his strengths, then he may have succeeded in Christmas Town.

The truth is, we’ve all longed for life changes and wished we could climb out of creative ruts. We all get bored with the norms. And that’s perfectly acceptable.

Like Jack, you shouldn’t be afraid to try something new if your creativity stops in its tracks. However, make sure you’re going about it in the best way.

Let’s recap. To meet your personal challenges without suffering an epic smackdown, try this:

  • Answer all of those “what if” questions before plunging into a radically different routine.
  • Set bite-sized goals and allot enough time to complete each one without keeling over.
  • Never punish yourself for making mistakes. Instead, learn from them.

Learn from your pal, Jack Skellington, in this respect. Only you can uncover the passion that lies dormant in your mind. And at the end of the day, you’re the only one who can challenge you enough to break free of creative lethargy.

What are you waiting for?

Jill Tooley heads the content and social media department at Quality Logo Products, where she writes shiny articles and product descriptions, reaches out to customers on social networks, and moderates the company blog for ridiculous spam comments. Someday, she’ll find the inspiration to polish off her pending novel and finally conquer the world. Reach out to Jill and/or QLP on Twitter to continue the conversation!

Header image: http://www.flickr.com/photos/andyz/77053675/
Credit to andy z on Flickr

  • amy swanson

    Wonderful post, Jill! It’s been years since I’ve seen ‘Nightmare Before Christmas’, and after reading this I really want to re-watch it again. I had never thought to pull life lessons from Jack, but your comparison is spot-on. Getting stuck in a rut, while comforting and reassuring, doesn’t do much for progressing, so pulling yourself out of it and trying something new is important to future success.

    Excellent job, Jill :)

    • http://www.qualitylogoproducts.com/blog Jill Tooley

      Thanks, Amy! You can borrow one of my copies if you’re serious about watching it again. I watch it twice a year (once at Halloween and once at Christmas), and it never gets old. I always discover new things about it. :)

      Ruts aren’t all bad, because sometimes we have to climb out of them in order to move forward. But there’s a difference between making mistakes that affect you and making mistakes that drastically affect others as well!

  • http://www.qualitylogoproducts.com/blog Mandy Kilinskis

    This is an excellent post, Jill. It’s really easy to grow accustomed to what’re good at. But then, yes, we get restless. Challenging yourself (in a manageable way) is definitely a great way to kick start your creativity. Lots to think about, and I think I need to come up with some bite-sized goals for myself. :)

    • http://www.qualitylogoproducts.com/blog Jill Tooley

      I appreciate your comment despite your lack of interest in the movie. Really. It gives me warm fuzzies! Thanks for commenting, Mandy. Good luck with those bite-sized goals! Let me know how they go.

  • Bret Bonnet

    So true, though keeping your eye on the prize, and only the prize doesn’t ALWAYS end in total disaster or ruining Christmas.

    Moderation is key.

    I can’t wait for ParaNorman to come out! :)

    • http://www.qualitylogoproducts.com/blog Jill Tooley

      Thank you, Bret! And good point about moderation. Even too much of a good thing can be detrimental! I’m also looking forward to ParaNorman…it looks so good.

  • http://www.livehacked.com/ Nick Thacker

    Great post, Jill! Thanks for sharing it with me and the rest of the blog! 

    Nick

  • Millie Burns

    As a long time Jack Skellington fan, I must say I loved this article.   I sometimes jump the gun like Jack, because I get very excited when my creative juices start flowing, and sort of fly by the seat of my pants.  So far, I’ve lucked out and have not crashed and burned like my dear pumpkin king friend.  I think that some of the power of creativity though, is you are swept up by it, that’s where the magic happens.

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