10 reasons why pursuing your creative work is actually highly productive (+ not selfish or self-indulgent)

 

 

1. Carving time from your regular, ‘productive’ life to pursue a hobby or project that you’re passionate about means that you increase your chances of being in flow.

Which I wrote about in this post here.

Long story short: flow is you in your element. It reinvigorates you. It wakes you up to new possibilities for yourself and increases your sense of well-being.

This is good for you.

It’s also good for the world, because

2. Your happiness and well-being are contagious.

Human beings are wired into each other to an extent that most of us don’t even realize. The mirror neurons in our brain enable empathy: we absorb and reflect what other people are feeling, and their moods influence our moods (which go on to influence the moods of others).

This is called emotional contagion.

And because of how we network off each other, you’re more contagious than you know.

In their book CONNECTED, authors Christakis and Fowler show how we’re influenced not just by our friends, but our friends’ friends, and even our friends’ friends’ friends. What you do and what you say and how that makes other people feel ripple out along the invisible lines that link us to each other, just as the bad mood of someone you don’t even know comes echoing down to affect your day.

When you are happy, you are healthier, more productive, better able to contribute to society. Imagine if you could cultivate all those benefits in yourself – and radiate them out to the people in your network.

The world becomes a better place.

3. You are less likely to tolerate other people’s bullshit when your self-esteem DOES NOT DEPEND on their acceptance or approval.

Elizabeth Wurtzel expresses this rather nicely:

….I would argue that a woman is more likely to put the kibosh on her manhandling, leering boss if she has lots of things she likes to do, because there is something about loving life and yourself and your enthusiasms too much that makes it hard to put up with any idiot’s crap. And the people most likely to be in possession of that quality known as joie de vivre are people who have insane interests, consuming passions, constant sources of enjoyment that do not depend on the approval of others….Women must learn…what it means to be besotted with something other than some useless bloke.

When you look to your creativity for a sense of your identity (you don’t know who you are until you know what you can do), that means you are not looking to other people to define your worth. After all, as Eleanor Roosevelt so saucily put it, “No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.”

So developing your creative side increases your sense of personal power because

4. It deepens and strengthens your sense of who you are.

We are what we make. It was writing, for example, that helped me find my way back to myself when I made the mistake of giving waaaaay too much of my power to someone else (*cough*a man*cough*). I let that someone shape my sense of who I was – or more specifically, who I wasn’t – according to what that person thought I should be (which had everything to do with that person’s agenda serving that person’s interests).

The result was a kind of amputation of self, a numbing-out. Reading through my blog and other writings, as well as the reactions they inspired, brought me back to enough sense of self that I could build on, reset, start again. Saying I’m happier for it is like saying I was happy to walk away from a car accident. What you feel, instead, is a deep shaken sense of relief — and gratitude for the second chance (or third, or fourth).

5. ….and knowing who you are allows other people to know you better.

We all want to connect. We all want to be recognized for who we are (and not the car we drive, the clothes we wear, the title on the business cards we do or don’t hand out). But how can other people – including your friends and loved ones, including your own children – know you, the way they want and need to know you, if you don’t express those deeper parts of yourself?

We are what we make. But are we making the right stuff?

6. ….which means you have a stronger personal ‘brand’.

God, there’s so much about personal branding these days. You’re a brand, I’m a brand, soon even the family dog will have a brand. But all the douche-y associations with branding (bad branding) aside, the reality is that other people will react to you, choose or ignore you according to the mental imprint they form of you. Being known for something that you do (and are good at) outside of the way you earn your living can make your ‘brand’ more memorable.

Who would you rather talk to at a cocktail party: an accountant, or an accountant who moonlights as a jazz pianist?

When I was 17, I spent a year as an exchange student in Australia. I lived with four different host families, which means I had four different host ‘fathers’. One had a passion for bonsai. He was often in his greenhouse, nurturing his remarkable little trees. Of all the people I met that year, twenty years on he’s the one I remember the most (along with this crazy Belgian girl who liked to get us into trouble, but that’s a different kind of blog post).

When I was a teenager, my own passion for fiction writing paid unexpected dividends when my school nominated me for a four-year scholarship to a highly competitive Canadian university. I had an erratic academic record (let’s just say that I did not have perfect attendance). I wasn’t valedictorian (the thought inspires laughter). I wasn’t much of a joiner (the one time I tried out for and made a sports team, I quit when I discovered that all the mean girls were on it).

What I did do, was: write novels. And other things. I had so much practice under my belt that I’d gotten rather good at it. “Justine,” my guidance counselor told me, “that’s going to set you apart.” And it did (I was one of a handful of students chosen from across the country to get this scholarship.) It was, I realize now, my first lesson in the importance of differentiating yourself– which, in today’s cluttered, noisy, post-consumer society, is not just important but necessary.

7. It opens you up to new people, ideas, and connections.

As Michael Margolis points out in his speeches and courses on ‘brand storytelling’ (ie: how you present yourself through your bio or your ‘about me’ page), your interests allow people (including, say, the potential employer interviewing you for your dream job) to find points of connection. Your passion allows you to open up new conversations with people, which brings richness and diversity into your life.

A less-than-obvious benefit of this has to do with the importance of weak ties. (Strong ties are your relationships with family members and close friends; weak ties are acquaintances, people you know only passingly.)

Sociologists have discovered that most new information (like the kind that would help you in a job search) comes to us through weak ties. People inside the same networks tend to know the same stuff. It’s by linking – however casually – to people outside your usual habits, places and routines that you open yourself to new influences, new facts and forms of knowledge. This could end up changing your life (or introducing you to your life partner).

8. It makes you creative in other areas of your life, including your regular work.

Creativity thrives at the intersection of different disciplines and perspectives. The way to seem like a freaking genius is to take ideas from a field totally alien to your own, and find ways to adapt and apply them. Creativity, after all, is finding the unexpected connections between things: combining and recombining old ideas until you come up with something – original.

In the book THE MEDICI EFFECT, Frans Johansson suggests that the best way to stimulate the kind of creative insight that, you know, changes the game (what exactly is ‘the game’, anyway?) — is to educate yourself in a second discipline, something other than what you already do or what you’re already known for.

When you pursue your creative work, you might regard it as something you’re doing strictly ‘on the side’ – but you’re opening the door on a dimension of ideas that just might find their way to the center of your life. In a good way.

9. It’s good for your brain.

Dude, learning something new is so good for your brain. It’s like the old saying goes: Use it or lose it. The brain turns out to be far more plastic than we realized. It changes and grows according to the experiences we provide it. Developing a new skill(set) forces the otherwise-lazy brain to form new neural pathways that keep you sharp as you grow older (and older). One of the best ways to stave off Alzheimer’s? Learn a new language. Or a musical instrument.

Your brain will thank you.

10. It makes you totally sexy.

I mean, c’mon. Being passionate about something – anything – lights you up with the kind of energy that attracts total supermodels. (I swear to God.) Which doesn’t necessarily mean that they’ll sleep with you. But they’re more likely to consider it. Or at least to consider considering it.

You know what I mean.

Nov 6, 2011
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14 comments · Add Yours

Glad to see Elizabeth Wurtzel’s name here — but the Elle piece you link to doesn’t have the quote you reference in it. Can you include another link?

Wurtzel’s book More, Now Again is a truly great book — it’s my favorite addiction memoir after Caroline Knapp’s Drinking, A Love Story. Certainly, if you want a look at what decadence REALLY looks like, hers is the book to read. But of course her masterpiece, Bitch, looks at many of the same issues you do in the blog — the trouble American culture has with strong women, and what it means to be a strong woman in the first place.

Pursuing a creative life and earning a living are at odds with each other. The way you solve the practical problem of putting food on the table determines how you pursue your creative impulse — if, in the end, you’re able to pursue it at all.

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The quote was from her book “The Bitch Rules”. I posted to the article instead because I thought it was more interesting than an Amazon page.

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Just to add — the whole finding-the-time thing. So many Americans can’t or won’t find the time to pursue whatever it is that they’re interested in, and yet watch just how many hours of television a week?

(I don’t watch TV, although I would like to. I don’t have the time.)

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“I mean, c’mon. Being passionate about something – anything – lights you up with the kind of energy that attracts total supermodels. (I swear to God.) Which doesn’t necessarily mean that they’ll sleep with you. But they’re more likely to consider it. Or at least to consider considering it.
You know what I mean. :)”

Best quote ever!

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Great post! I’m so passionate about all my many interests that I never get bored. The b word does exist in my vocabulary. Everything you mentioned about dipping into different interests is so dead on! I have recently found that writing a novel (participating in the national novel writing month challenge) has opened me up creatively more than usual: I’m working on a jigsaw puzzle, reading a few books at the same time (I do that often though), and I feel Alive. Thank you for sharing! So inspiring and true! =)

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Love this. “And the people most likely to be in possession of that quality known as joie de vivre are people who have insane interests, consuming passions, constant sources of enjoyment that do not depend on the approval of others….Women must learn…what it means to be besotted with something other than some useless bloke. ”

You had me at “creative badass.” Now following you on twitter via flgirlnewlife.

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I think one of the most important things you can do as a parent is to, sometimes, just let your kid be bored. Not try to fill up every hour of his schedule or arrange for his on-demand entertainment. When you’re bored, you’re forced to figure out ways to amuse yourself, which leads you in the direction of your real interests, which can make such a difference in your life.

Glad the Wurtzel quote went over so well!

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Nice post, Justine. In agreement.

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I totally agree, if I do not pursue my dreams and hobbies I would not be happy nor productive. In personal and proffesional life it is necessary to be passionate about something. Thanks!

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Very inspiring. Ironically, I could never fully understand nor explain why I was so passionate about my hobby of creating photographic art. I think you’ve helped me understand why it is so fulfilling and powerful, and why it probably won’t let go forever…

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Absolutely right on, Justine. Every one of these points mirrors my own thoughts and experiences exactly.

Since I’ve started blogging as my passion, I’ve experienced every one of these– particularly:

4. It deepens and strengthens your sense of who you are.
5. ….and knowing who you are allows other people to know you better.
7. It opens you up to new people, ideas, and connections.

Strangely (or maybe not strangely), I recently read “Connected” and I’m also big on the whole “mirror neuron” concept…

I’m so glad that my friend passed along this post to me. I really “get” what you have to say and feel like we’re on a similar wavelength :)

Thanks.

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Thank you for this, Justine. I love your viewpoint. For the past year I’ve been developing a new hobby or creative outlet and it does at times feel self-indulgent. I wonder if women struggle with that “should I” question more than men?

I totally agree with your comment above on kids and boredom – I used to tell my kids, when they would complain about being bored, ‘You aren’t bored. You are between activities.’ In other words, they needed to figure out the next thing to do. (Although I think many times when they said they were bored, they were actually just really tired. With rest and energy, creativity wants to flow, IMHO.)

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THANK YOU. You just spoke directly to my soul. Rock on, sister.

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Uh oh. See for me the really salient point is #5. My bullshit tolerance is way low these days any way and anything that can make it less I say bring it on. And I am even learning to deliver the “that is totally BS” speech without the sledge hammer. Sexy is not everything. Although it is fun.
Great article.

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