I always thought creativity went hand-in-hand with artistry - and I was always the least artistic person you could meet.
Growing up, you’d never find me playing with paint, or doodling in the margins of my notebooks. Instead, I spent my time pulling things apart and putting them back together, trying to figure out ways in which they could work better. I was always inventing, improving, and making - but I never considered creativity to be a big part of my core.
So, now that I’ve gained a bit of perspective on my recent burnout, it feels strange to realize that the creative work - or, more accurately, the lack of it - was the thing that caused my problems. I spent the last decade climbing the corporate ladder, following all the rules and checking all the boxes - but I never gave myself the opportunity to think about what was truly important to me.
I never tried to push my boundaries, because I never realized the creative work needed to be a priority. It took a solid trip through burnout and depression to understand what really matters. Each article I write and website I design makes me realize how important making stuff actually is for me, and always has been.
I still don’t think of myself as a creative, but I can’t ignore the facts that are staring me in the face. I’ve been experiencing a crisis of creativity - trying to understand my own priorities and values. Am I really one of these so-called creatives? Have I always been, and I just haven’t realized it before now? What the fuck does it even mean to be a creative, anyway?
Lots of things. Whether it’s art, design, music, video, or writing, the creative spends all the time she can spare doing just that - creating.
Most of what she creates may never be seen or read by another person - but that’s OK. She makes stuff not to be noticed, or to make a buck (although that’s often a nice side effect). She creates because she must - she cannot imagine a world where her work doesn’t exist.
She doesn’t just think outside the box - she might not even be aware the box exists. She brandishes her individuality and values - even when others find it uncomfortable.
The creative is curious about everything, constantly asking “why?” Her mind is a constant whirl, seeking new ideas and new approaches to solving problems, and sharing what she learns with others like herself.
Not only for her work, but also for herself. She’s never satisfied with the status quo - even if it’s working brilliantly. She’s constantly moving, pushing the limits of her talent and developing new and different ways to express her work and reach her audience.
That said, she also knows when it’s time to ship - and that time will always come before she’s ready. She knows from experience that minor improvements will not increase the impact of her work, so she shows her work - even if she’s not satisfied.
She knows she can’t control the results of her work - there’s no guarantee her next article will go viral, or her next art piece will sell, no matter how successful or celebrated her previous work has been. Her success or failure doesn’t depend on the outcome of her work - it only depends on the constant practice and improvement of her craft.
The creative isn’t afraid to try and fail because she knows she’ll learn from the experience. She understands that fixating on the outcome can only lead to fear - fear of failure, of being seen as an impostor, or even fear of success. She embraces failure, knowing it’s a necessary part of the process.
She’s full of big ideas and even bigger plans, but she understands the need to validate her work.
She knows there's nothing better than real-world feedback to improve her work. She launches the tiniest increment she can learn from - whether it’s a single tweet, a quick sketch, or an article - as quickly as possible.
She prioritizes relentlessly, carving out time each day for side projects in between her full-time job, kids, and other personal responsibilities. She knows that saying yes to her creativity means saying no to something else.
It’s a massive shame that creative work is one of the first things that gets pushed aside when time is short. When your “real” job becomes more important. When you’d rather binge-watch Netflix instead of dusting off the guitar in the corner.
Useful things - meaningful things that help change the world, even if it’s only in a small way.
No-one’s born a creative - it’s a skill that everyone should learn to identify and grow. If you’re like me, and you don’t consider yourself to be creative, or you’re afraid to get started because you’re not confident in your own abilities - understand that everyone feels like that in the beginning.
Start small - publish one article and take a stand for something you believe in, dust off that guitar, or spend just a few minutes a day sketching. Seek out the work that’s meaningful for you. It doesn’t matter what you create, or what anyone else thinks about it - but once you’ve started, I’m guessing you’ll want to keep going.
It’s definitely not something I expected, but I’m finding that the act of creating - sitting down to write an article each week, or designing all the little interactions that make up a website - is the thing that truly makes me happy. I can get lost in it for hours. Knowing that my work and my writing might someday inspire others down the same path is just the cherry on top.
Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi has this to say in Psychology Today about how it feels to be a creative:
When we're creative, we feel we are living more fully than during the rest of life. The excitement of the artist at the easel or the scientist in the lab comes close to the ideal fulfillment we all hope to get from life, and so rarely do.
So I want you to take a moment, right now, and think about the last time that you lost yourself in your work. The last time you were so creatively consumed in what you were doing, that you lost track of time and just created.
Doesn’t that make you a creative?
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