Spotlight: Cléa Hernandez

By Cléa Hernandez

I started work a few weeks ago, and I'm still blinded by the creative intensity of my new colleagues.

Clea Hernandez Fun Photo

What's more, it's catching, and I feel the edges of my own imagination kindling. I should be terrified. Let me explain.

Setting out to create requires deep trust in yourself. You have to believe you can, at some point in your process, discover you have something new and important to say. To keep moving forward, you need to continue believing. It's always harder for me than I think it should be.

Most days, my writing desk is a roller coaster car. On that coaster, I thump across mediocrity, climb towards clarity, abruptly pitch forward and hurtle into self-doubt or panic. For something so essential to my personal fulfillment, there can be a fat load of cringing and whining.

But if a detour leads somewhere I’ve never been, my wordsmith's forge shoots mighty sparks across my little universe. That’s why I torture myself. I'm consoled by almost every book or article I read about the creative act, which assures me that art is life and life is suffering.

My coaster is bumpy, but predictable. It's mine. It's how I loop around my insecurities to grasp excellence.

Being at Focus Lab reminds me of the first time I remember doing something brave. When I was 11, I spent my summer vacation on a Spanish island in the Mediterranean with my dad and cousin (this is not the brave part—I'm getting there). Pop managed a nightclub during the summers. My teenage cousin, Marina, watched out for me in the evenings, often at the all-night amusement park next to the club. Many of the employees' kids played there too. We formed a little gang. During the days we all went to different beaches with our parents, each more beautiful than the next. It was the coolest summer of my life.

One day, Pop took us to a cove hemmed with sheer rock walls. We noodled around in the clear water, sticking our faces under to watch the fishy laser show. We touched the corals; played tag. By noon our fingers were pruny, and one by one, the gang started clambering up a rock wall to dive off. I happily followed along to the top, but my pulse went berserk when I looked down.

The others filed in behind me, waiting patiently for their second or third turns. I just stood there, frozen with fear, volcanic rock grating my bare soles as I hedged nervously from side to side. I could have gone from zero to hero in the blink of an eye. This should be easy, I'd tell myself. Why am I afraid? What's wrong with me?

The fear ran deeper, and everything I'd heard or thought about myself up to this point was shoving in. I'm not strong enough. I'm not quick enough. I'm not brave enough. I’m not prepared. I'm just a girl.

But there was no going back. My father was standing a few paces behind me, blocking my escape and edging me forward with loving threats. I worried the other kids wouldn't be interested in playing with me anymore. Worse, I'd never forgive myself if I wussed out. What if I never did anything awesome because I was afraid of failing or making a fool of myself?

So I closed my eyes and jumped.

I can't tell you how high that bluff actually was. At the time, it seemed Olympian. It doesn't really matter now. Your first leap into the abyss is only a beginning. Being creative is as simple and as difficult as trusting, and moving forward.

I said I should be terrified by the creative machine at Focus Lab. This team is different. I haven’t heard anyone whine. No one behaves as though they are torturing themselves for their work or their art.

I'm starting to discover that the constant, honest communication is what makes the difference here. It leads teammates to trust each other's intentions, skills, and professionalism. The encouragement is genuine. It makes me trust myself enough to keep my creative forge sparking. The ideas are rapid-fire but they are also judgement-free, and the enthusiasm is like a warm towel around your shoulders.

My coaster track isn't conducive to the pace, but I'm adjusting. Working out the kinks in my self-confidence. I'm not worried. I'm just learning to enjoy the entire creative process in an open, collaborative environment. It's a great challenge to have.