the life-or-death pursuit of creative-badass joy (+ why we’re all entrepreneurs now)

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When Jen Louden invited me to blog about creative joy, I couldn’t help thinking about how we have yet to put creativity — as a value, as a practice –at the center of our lives, our families, our culture.

We’re trained to be productive. We have to put food on the table. Who can afford the time and money to be creative, especially with all that daydreaming involved, that pointless wandering around? We’re coming out of an Industrial Age that trained us to be factory workers, sensible professionals, linear thinkers. Creativity had little to do with any of this. It was banished to the sidelines otherwise known as Bohemia, not exactly known for a flourishing economy.

But now, as we enter this post-consumer era where we differentiate ourselves not through our factories, but our ideas, the question has flipped upside over. As we step into The Creative Age, who can afford not to be creative?

Creativity is the ability to find new solutions to old problems, to make something new from what is. To see new patterns beyond the existing ones. To rethink one or more aspects of what is given. — from the book WELCOME TO THE CREATIVE AGE by Mark Earls

Whether the problem is personal (finding a job, juggling work and family, losing weight, getting out of debt) or global (fighting poverty, fighting human trafficking, fighting the oppression of girls and women, fighting climate change), the ability to find new solutions seems, shall we say, damn crucial.

One could even say that our survival as a species depends on it.

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I consider myself a fan — and a friend — of Silicon Valley whizkid Ben Casnocha, who just came out with a book called THE START-UP OF YOU. The book suggests that in a world like ours, laughing hysterically at the very notion of a five-year plan, we are all entrepreneurs now: of our own lives, innovating and creating and co-creating as we go.

I like the analogy.

A startup isn’t a company so much as a loose organization in search of a business model that will make it a company. It has to figure out what it does best (as opposed to what it thinks it does best), how it can solve a problem or fulfill a need in the real world (and not just in theory); it has to stay open and flexible and quick on its feet, absorbing what doesn’t work and leaning into what does. It starts out with Plan A, comes into new information (the kind that less-entrepreneurial types might perceive as ‘mistakes’ or ‘failures’), and pivots to Plan B. Or Plan M or Q or Z. It observes, tests itself against the world, learns, tests itself some more, learns more, and through a series of calculated risks — small experiments and little bets — moves toward that sweetspot where what it is and what it does intersects with what the world needs. And everyone is better off.

Successfully navigating a world of constant change, where things are one way one moment and another way the next, is a deeply creative act.

After all, the only way to stay ahead of the future is to invent it.

(Before your resources run out.)

I think about this when I look at my sons, now five and a half and eight years old. How to prepare them for a future when you don’t even know what the future is going to look like? How to prepare them for careers that could become obsolete or don’t exist yet? What if preparing them now means equipping them with the skills and tools to invent and create? To combine ideas, reframe problems and solve them in new ways?

Am I doing that? Am I cultivating their creativity, their curiosity?

Am I setting an example?

3

I am no photographer by any means — my digital camera defeats me — but dude, do I love Instagram for Android. I love to compose shots, or crop and edit existing shots; I love to run them through the different filters and see what results. I started playing with Instagram while waiting for a website to load (my Internet was having a very slow night) and then, when I looked up, two hours had passed.

My initial response was to berate myself for wasting time. It’s not like those two hours had advanced my life in any obvious or clearcut way. I had done something just for the doing of it. The creative joy.

(It deepens and rounds out your day. It’s like disappearing into the moment and touching some mystical ground, then surfacing, restored. I felt a calm that I would take into the ‘real’ work of my writing or my interactions with my kids.)

And yet. I know that you don’t live your life in neat little compartments. The brain is wired to seek patterns and meaning, and what it learns in one domain it transfers to another. I am developing my eye, my aesthetic, and I am learning about the self that reflects back from the images I make. I am also learning about how you change ‘reality’ just by the angle or the light, or a shift in perspective. There’s no telling how this will influence other areas of my life, but I know that it will; how you do one thing is how you do everything.

Just because something doesn’t seem relevant now, doesn’t mean it won’t prove relevant later, as various authors point out in the book JUST START:

When you’re operating in the unknown…It is not always clear beforehand which pieces of information, or which potential assets, are worth paying attention to and which are not. This means everything is potentially important, at least initially. It is only later (or after the fact) that we know which things were critical and which were superfluous.

Steve Jobs dropped out of college so (ironically) he could just go to the classes that interested him. One involved calligraphy, an ancient art form not exactly in demand in the workaday world. But it helped Jobs develop a formidable sense for beauty and design that, ten years later, he would build into a company called Apple. (“Taste,” Jobs once said, “is trying to expose yourself to the best things humans have done and then trying to bring those things into what you are doing.”)

Jobs’ interest in calligraphy was a dot that connected up with other dots. It became relevant. In hindsight, the connection of those dots seems logical. Back then, people no doubt thought he was nuts, a dilettante, drifting and wasting time.

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It turns out that emotion is not divorced from reason. Emotion enables reason. Emotion acts as a kind of mental GPS, leading us toward what helps and away from what hurts. Emotion enables us to assign things their proper weight and make decisions accordingly. Without it, saving a child from a burning building would imprint itself on your brain with the same importance, or unimportance, as tripping over your shoelace. It isn’t emotional people but unemotional people who make decisions that strike others as irrational — or who can’t make them at all.

In the book HOW WE DECIDE, Jonah Lehrer points out that

…emotions are rooted in the predictions of highly flexible brain cells which are constantly adjusting their connections to reflect reality. Every time you make a mistake or encounter something new, your brain cells are busy changing themselves. Emotions are profoundly smart and constantly learning, they are not simply animal instincts that must be tamed.

Creative joy, then, is an arrow pointing us toward what helps. It evolved as part of a system of emotions that mapped out our survival. Creative joy reveals our interests and hints at our abilities. It demonstrates our strengths. It shows us who we are. As Andrew Halfacre points out, often it’s not a single overriding passion that defines you but “a patchwork of passions which you stitch together to keep you warm”: not one dot, but many.

Creative joy — if you’re willing to listen to it — is the unifying thread that leads you from one dot to the other to the other until you can connect them or “stitch together” into a greater whole. It’s not a quick process. It might take twenty years. So maybe nature instilled a more immediate reward to keep us involved and on track: the joy of the act itself. Turning our backs on that — dismissing it as a frivolous or “selfish” use of time — could mean rejecting life itself.

And wouldn’t that be tragic.

tweetable: “creative joy is an arrow that points us to meaning” click to tweet

Check out the Creative Joy Retreat led by some favorites of mine: Jennifer Louden, Marianne Elliot and Susannah Conway.

Apr 20, 2012
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9 comments · Add Yours

Whereas in the past, creatives have been the outliers, I think now and in the future more than ever, creativity will need to become the mainstream, our way of life. Loved this.

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Justine,
It has taken me most of my life to embrace my creative joy.
I have always liked to write, but was held back by fear, the fear that no one would like it or read it. I also was following the corporate dream, working my ass off, making that $$ and hoping to someday own my own business. Well I got tired of hoping and took that leap of faith (in myself) and 12 years later I am still running the business I built. A couple years ago, I took the same leap with my writing and my creative side, and now have a book ready to publish and a blog that is growing and evolving every day.

“dismissing it as a frivolous or “selfish” use of time — could mean rejecting life itself.
And wouldn’t that be tragic.” Yes it would, and I’ve decided not to dismiss my creative joy.
As always awesome post

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I’m reminded of a story from the begining of my marriage, that shows a distinct perception between the US and other cultures. We were on a train, travelling from France, where we lived, to stay with some of my husband’s friends from Germany. I had never met them, so as we sped toward Luxwmburg, I tried to recount whom we would be meeting.
“So, Norbert’s a barber, right?
“Well, yes, but that’s not what he’ll say,” my husband said. “When you meet people there and ask what they do, they usually don’t tell you where they work. That’s just for putting food on the table. Norbert is a fisherman and a photographer.”
“Those are his hobbies?”
“Yes, but that says more about him than him working as a barber does.”

I find myself falling into the same trap of berating myself for “lost” time, or putting off starting or finishing a creative work for “important” things. I believe that it’s largely tied to parenthood, and the time demands in our lives.

I’m slowly working through Ken Robinson’s “Out of Our Minds.” It discusses creativity, and the break in our school tradition with “academic” courses and “creative” courses during the Enlightenment. (There is a TED talk on part of the ideas online.) I would love to see the US embrace the importance of creative thinking, and perhaps encourage people in our culture to define and introduce ourselves by more than how we put bread on our table.

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@JulieB / Julia Spahn Oh, should have scrolled back up and proofed the page. That would be “Luxembourg.”

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Justine,

Thank you for this thoughtful, gutsy post!
You hit on so many important points, I will read it a few times.

I was especially taken by the following comments…(It deepens and rounds out your day. It’s like disappearing into the moment and touching some mystical ground, then surfacing, restored. I felt a calm that I would take into the ‘real’ work of my writing or my interactions with my kids.)

It is so true that we do need to allow time for disappearing, if only for a few moments each day. I consider it part of self-care and take it no matter what. It can be as simple as a hot bath with Lavender salts to a 20 minute hike, but that time to escape and just ‘Be’ does make a huge difference in how we show up in our work, and especially our interactions with loved ones, and our kids.
Without it, it would be easy to burn out quickly and my pre-teen son couldn’t care less if being a “Creative Entrepreneur” is causing me to have a melt-down, so I’d better take care of myself and get my “escape moments of self-care” in each day, so I show up for [him], with everything I’ve got, just as I do with the business I am creating :)

Being a Creative Entrepreneur is not about punching a clock. At 5 PM, you don’t leave it behind. It is a way of life, it is with you always, and it takes a lot of courage, tenacity, hard work, and of course, creativity.
Making the decision to immerse myself into it, is one of greatest gifts I could ever give to myself. It was in me all my life, I had glimpses of it, but when I was younger, I didn’t have enough belief in myself to fight for it, like I do today. Lucky me, I finally said YES! I want that enough to do it and I am willing to do whatever it takes (which includes posting publicly on line, knowing I am subject to criticism)

Thank you for putting yourself out there the way you do, and empowering women to go for it! Thank you for being a “creative badass” with heart and soul!

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Dear Justine,

you have a wonderful way with words – hitting thoughts right on the head, touching mind and heart!
Thanks!
D.

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Thanks for the shout out Justine! appreciate it.

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“the only way to stay ahead of the future is to invent it.”
Loved this line! I’ve only begun to think of myself as creative within the past couple years, as I grew up believing in logical, black & white facts. None of that hocus-pocus, imagination, magic stuff for me, thank you. My way of playing involved arranging the books on my shelf by size. Now I have begun dabbling in arts-n-crafts, scrapbooking, writing, & even voiced curiosity over oil painting which I may pursue. The very idea that I am in charge of my own destiny — that I can invent my own future — has never been more real. Thank you for confirming this suspicion which has been growing in the back of my mind. Who knows — maybe I’m a budding artist or author who just needed a kick-start to “come out”!

Andi-Roo /// @theworld4realz
http://www.theworld4realz.com/
theworldforrealz@gmail.com

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I find that when I’m truly living out my creative joy, I feel like a crazy person (and I’m sure I often appear that way to others). The rest of the world (or, at least, the superficial surface of it) feels disconnected and bizarre. But it’s when I’m in that state that I’m able to see the patterns and connections that help me solve problems. Being “crazy creative” is a joy, but it can also be darn scary and uncomfortable at times. Still, I think it’s the only way to be once you’ve had a taste of it. Badass post as always Justine!

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