Mike Brennan challenges people of all ages to awaken their creativity

A native of New York, Mike Brennan attended art school before getting a job as a graphic design illustrator on prestigious Madison Avenue working for very large brands.

“I quickly found I didn’t thrive in that type of environment,” Mike explained. “From there, I bounced around to various companies until I either hit a ceiling or the staff changed.”

After a while, he left corporate America to pursue full-time ministry for 10 years before returning to his first love. Today, he is in business for himself creating logos and marketing materials as well as custom illustrations for a variety of companies.

“A lot of my clients are small business owners or entrepreneurs who are looking to create a unique visual identity,” he explained. “I advise them how to develop a cohesive look around their brand identity.”

Before turning 50, Mike was focused on people-oriented activities which involved serving others, even if it was as simple as helping someone feel seen and heard.

“Somehow, I was able to make an impact on their lives, even it was to bring a smile,” said Mike. “My earliest memories were about creating greeting cards for family members. I enjoyed involving my creativity to make something special, then watching their faces light up when they received it. I realized I could impact someone’s life with what I created.

“My life has evolved through various seasons, but that type of thing remains at the core of how I want to connect with others and impact their lives for good,” said Mike.

Capable of doing more

Being a business owner means much of Mike’s time is taken up with creating the next product or service for his clients, and then refining it until they are happy. It may pay the bills, but Mike knew he was capable of doing more.

“Having navigated the pandemic, a divorce and a lot of changes socially and relationally, I still look for ways to connect with people and build community,” he explained. “I’m thankful for the ability to do that online. But, sometimes, it’s more of a challenge to find local groups which share common interests and really understand what I do.”

Mike undertook personal development to focus on everyday habits for himself that would help him grow, learn and evolve while facing new challenges in different seasons of his life. When Mike turned 50, it was as though a switched was flipped and he started noticing pains he didn’t have before.

“Age is just a number. So I try to keep my mind in a place where it is not inhibited by feelings of being older,” he said. “Life becomes more about your spirit and how you show up in the world that makes a difference.”

As he gets older, Mike understands he needs to tap into more than just skillsets and techniques. He must follow his curiosity to create things that didn’t exist before.

“That could be a drawing or graphic design, or it could be a song. There are so many different ways people can execute on a creative idea,” he said. “The process I follow often leads me to places I wouldn’t normally go, but I learned to lean into that every day.

“I would think, ‘Okay, it’s a new day. What do I want to create today? Is it building on something I did yesterday, or do I want to go someplace else and experiment?” Mike explained. “I gave myself permission to experiment, play and maybe break things because, in that place, I’ll have breakthroughs. I’ll be able to achieve things I wouldn’t otherwise be able to do by staying within what I know. I learned to dream a little and see what’s possible.”

Hitting rock bottom

As he was nearing the end of his ministry years, Mike found himself doing a lot of things that weren’t involved in areas where he was uniquely gifted.

“My first ministry position was what I called a ‘slash job.’ I was told to do children’s ministry/college ministry/lead worship/// – all the things nobody wanted to do,” he explained. “I was often at the bottom of the totem pole and there wasn’t anyone else to do it.”

Later, Mike and his best friend planted their own church and he stepped into an associate pastor role. He enjoyed creating something new, in terms of structure and teams, but the work wasn’t really inspiring in the way he hoped.

“No experience is ever wasted. Those years set me up to be a better communicator, and I learned how to come up with systems and structures,” he explained. “I wasn’t doing a lot of creative things at all, just going through the motions of doing things again and again that weren’t really aligned to my interests.

“Ultimately, I suffered from depression. That, combined with a lot of other elements, clouded my life to the point I couldn’t figure out how to get out of that place,” he said.

The situation eventually got to a point Mike knew he had to step away. But, that meant leaving his faith community, friends, family and even his financial security.

“On top of that, my dad was diagnosed with cancer and passed away very quickly. So I found myself at rock bottom wondering how did I get here, or can I even get out of here?” said Mike. “I started asking a lot of questions and seeking help. Therapy and journaling helped, but there was a voice inside me beckoning me to come back to my creativity.

“I felt drawn to it because it brought me such joy as a kid. I felt I needed to forget about business stuff as well as all the pressures and responsibilities attached to it,” he added. “I sensed creating was necessary because it made me smile and feel like I did as a kid.”

A new creation

Mike was introduced to the idea of starting a 365-day art-making journey during which he would create something new every day.

“It scared me because I didn’t know if I could show up every single day and create something. I hadn’t done anything like that for the past 10 years, so I didn’t know if I could remain consistent,” he explained.

But, Mike figured he had nothing to lose by trying. So he blew the dust off his sketchbook, grabbed some pens and went down to a local coffee shop.

“I ended up drawing a Starbucks coffee cup, and it was horrible,” said Mike. “It was so awful that I felt embarrassed because I knew, at one time, I had such great artistic capacity. I felt very diminished.

“Instead of giving into the shame and embarrassment, I wrote the words ‘Day 1’ on top of the sketchbook. I told myself, ‘This is what I can do right now. I’m depressed, but trying to figure my way out of it. This isn’t the whole journey. I’ll come back tomorrow, forget about what’s on Page 1 and do something different.’”

Mike challenged himself to lean into the process. Eventually, he came to the end of the year without missing a single day. He posted some of his work on social media, even if he considered it bad.

“I had to get through a lot of bad work in order to come up with some good work,” he said. “I just showed up and did the work.”

At the end of that first year, Mike felt the need to keep going by continuing to play and experiment. It worked.

“Eventually, I found my voice and illustration style, and I found things I was passionate about,” Mike explained. “There was a lot of self-discovery that took place which I didn’t anticipate on that journey. After a few years, I realized this journey just wasn’t for me; it was actually for other people, too.”

In examining his path, Mike realized there were certain principles at work that could be applied to help others establish a framework to pursue their own creativity, whether as a hobby or professionally.

“All they needed to do was develop some consistency in showing up and allow that process to take over,” he said. “I knew that couldn’t happen if people just approached creativity in fits and spurts.”

Daily Creative Habit

Mike formed an online platform to help other people tap into their creativity energy, and do so on a daily basis. Called Daily Creative Habit, he inspires creators and entrepreneurs to show up consistently on their quest for creativity and innovation. He helps them turn their creative aspirations into daily actions by setting goals, monitoring progress and staying accountable.

Mike packaged some principles that worked for him and made them available to others. He developed a daily creative habit journal, and launched a free newsletter offering prompts and inspiration.

“Basically, I developed as many resources as I could to help other people show up and create. When people just show up to create, we all win,” he explained.

Mike formed the Daily Creative Habit Facebook group where like-minded people support each other while working on their own creative expressions. Some are visual artists, some are writers, others are podcasters, and some are creative entrepreneurs.

“They express their goals and I encourage them to engage in a process to apply it to their own creative endeavors,” he explained. “I show up to share some of my work, but also to help people get unstuck. I make connections to help group members collaborate with each other or to hold themselves accountable to being consistent.

“I let people know I am there for them, and reassure them I was in the same situation at some point. But, I share ways that I dealt with it or continue to deal with the problem,” he said. “I am interacting and encouraging people to show up to post their own work and remain engaged.”

Creativity coaching

People who want extra help in advancing their work to the next level, can hire Mike to be a creativity coach.

“Perhaps they are looking for ways to be consistent. Or, they may have a certain creative project, like writing a book or painting a series, but they can’t seem to get traction on it,” he explained.

“I know from personal experience that if they don’t show up and do the work, that idea or project will never see the light of day,” Mike added. “They will never build a business around the idea and they’ll never make money from it. Nor will they feel like the work they do is fulfilling and impactful.

“So there is a lot at stake. Sometimes people just need others to come around and coach them based on their own experiences,” he said.

Coaching clients is a challenge for Mike because, when dealing with creative people, there is no cookie-cutter, one-size-fits-all approach. Everyone has different needs for a specific, actionable path forward.

“I meet with people on Zoom so I can provide a transcript of the coaching session or a video which they can rewatch,” said Mike. “It’s all about making sure they have action items to follow-up with after the session so they get traction to put in the work.”

Pursuing YOUR dream

Some of Mike’s clients admitted there were things they loved to do years earlier, but they put it on a shelf for so long they don’t know if they could get back to it.

“That was partially my story. I tell people you can absolutely come back to that, if it’s something you want to do,” he explained. “We just need to put some steps around that so you begin to take action. That way it goes from just being a desire or thought into something the person is actually doing.”

One of the greatest misconceptions creative people have is feeling there is no immediate value in what they create. Consequently, they don’t think it’s worth the effort to even try.

“Then, when they sit down to create something, there is such a disconnect with what they see on paper to what they envision in their head that they just want to stop doing it all together, Mike explained.

“I try to reorder that conversation into developing processes that will work in making it better,” he added. “Sometimes the product will be lacking, but the process will always be doing something for you. By leaning into that process, you’ll grow and start to see results.

“Maybe the result isn’t feeling good about what you created, but experiencing personal joy just because you are creating again,” said Mike. “There is a lot of benefit to just showing up, asking what’s possible, and breaking through those barriers.”

Creating a habit

Because there are always different variables at play, it can take anywhere from 30 days to two years to develop a habit of creativity, Mike explained.

“You have to include the act of doing the thing, tracking it, measuring it and celebrating milestones. It’s all part of the process,” he said.

“Somewhere along the way, you’re going to feel like quitting and want to give up, even though you have developed a good habit,” he added. “You will have off days. We all do. What makes a difference is having a system that supports you and works like a catalyst to get you going and keep you going.”

A habit is developed from whatever system was put in place. For example, it may be saying you will show up at a specific time, to do a specific task with certain materials.

“Put yourself in that container and, from inside it, be creative to do whatever you want to do, whether it is to play or experiment,” said Mike. “Then track your daily progress so you know what you did. That way, whenever you doubt whether you’re making any progress, you can look back to see what progress you made, even if it’s tiny.

“Be sure to celebrate small wins along the way. Tell yourself, ‘I did this thing seven days in a row. It’s small, but significant,’“ Mike explained. “Perhaps you have never been consistent for seven days in a row. So, stop, acknowledge the effort and give yourself a little reward, like visiting a museum or watching a movie.

“All those steps work together to form a habit. Once you get momentum, then ride it,” he added. “You will get to a point where it’s not hard to show up and do those things anymore because it’s just part of your daily routine.”

Journal your progress

One way to track progress is by journaling. It’s also a great way to clear your mind of clutter and confusion.

“Journaling gives you the ability to pluck things out of your head and put them down on paper where you can examine it and yourself at the same time,” said Mike. “Then you will be able to go back to see patterns and themes emerging.

“It helps me see something happening in my life that I wasn’t aware was taking place. But, as I look on the pages, I can see an area of my life that I need to address. Perhaps I need help, greater focus, or to just try a new approach to see different results,” he added.

One of the best aspects of journaling is that it gives you an outlet to unload thoughts and feelings without worrying about being judged.

“If you’re angry or sad, just put it on the page and leave it there,” he said. “Many people don’t have a place to do that, so it gets trapped and comes out in other ways.

“I’ve had people say, ‘I’m not happy, but I don’t really know why. I’m living my life with a low-grade frustration,’“ said Mike. “By looking at their journal, they can pinpoint specific issues that need to be addressed. Journaling becomes a great tool to help you know, express and examine yourself.”

No regrets

Mike has tried to live in such a way that he doesn’t dwell on regrets.

“In a big sense, the past is the past. There is nothing I can do about that and I don’t want to be weighed down with my past when trying to move into the future,” he explained.

“I would rather look at things through a redemptive viewpoint of knowing there were dark and painful times in my life. But I wouldn’t go back and change them because they made me who I am today,” he said. “They gave me an experience that taught me lessons I wouldn’t have learned otherwise.

“My experiences also make me more empathetic toward people who are going through those same things,” he explained. “I would rather hold a redemptive view and say, yes, that was horrible and it was dark, but how can I turn it around and use this experience for the good of myself and others?”

People who have regrets or may be wondering what direction to take their lives after they’ve passed the 50-year milestone, should evaluate where they are right now.

“As silly as it may seem, write it down along with any roadblocks you may see,” Mike explained. “If you don’t assess some of those things early on, then you could wind up diving into something without knowing why you’re doing it. Then, your desire may not have enough pull so the work feels significant, impactful or purpose-filled.

“Staring from a place of honesty in writing about your fears and concerns, and acknowledging it, will help you determine what’s the next right step to take today,” he added. “That first step will be different for everybody. Some people will have more financial means to be able to do things that cost money, while others are going to need to get more creative.

“Either way, they will develop a clear path toward what it is they want to pursue,” said Mike. “Maybe they did something once before and now it’s time to pick up where they left off. By just figuring out what that next best step is, and taking it, you will start getting traction. Then do the next right step after that.”

That type of analysis is not often done in one sitting. Yet, the key point is to begin taking action toward your dream.

“If you don’t act, you won’t get clarity. But, if you wait for clarity, you’ll never get started. Clarity comes from action. The sooner you start acting, the quicker you’ll get traction,” said Mike. “It’s like trying to steer a car. It’s easier to do when the vehicle is moving than when it is parked. You want to be moving and then correct your course as needed.”

To connect with Mike, visit www.mikebrennan.me. From there you can find examples of his creative work, links to social media accounts as well as his Creative Daily Habit website and coaching services.