18 principles for highly creative living




“Creativity is the greatest rebellion in existence.” — Osho

1. The purpose of education is no longer to fit yourself to a career, which might or might not exist (at least in its current form) by the time you are ready to enter it. The purpose of education is to give you the foundation to enable you to create your own path.

2. Study human nature. You understand others through understanding yourself; you can understand yourself through understanding others. Without that understanding, your art will probably suck.

3. Life doesn’t happen in sequential order (build career/find mate/have kids). The version you carry in your head of how your life should be was probably cobbled together from movies, TV, other forms of fantasy handed down by a culture that wants you to buy stuff. So junk it. Redefine success. Embrace the mess. There’s beauty in the imperfection.

4. You need the struggle to transform you into the person you’re required to be in order to carry out whatever you were born to do. Have faith in the process. The darkness is rich, carries its own rewards, and gives birth to light.

Light from darkness

5. Spirituality is not the same as religion. You can embrace the former and reject the latter.

6. When we’re kids, we get punished for being different. For being ‘too much’. We tamp ourselves down and shape ourselves to fit in. As an adult, your power is in your original point of view, so long as you a) have the courage to declare it and b) can make it relevant to other people.

7. Creativity happens in the edges and intersections (where different ideas can meet up and have sex with each other): between disciplines, and also between people. You need your tribe. Your mind craves the stimulation of other minds. We shape ourselves according to the people we hang with (we can’t help it) so if you don’t like the person you’re becoming, slowly change out your tribe.


8. At the same time, we need to actively carve out spaces of silence and solitude in order to do the deep thinking and real art-making that creates meaning from chaos. Emptiness is powerful and sacred: the birthplace of new possibility. Make those spaces for yourself. Build in your own periods of digital detox. Protect and defend them.

9. Use the word ‘yes’ to connect with people; use the word ‘no’ to protect your space, work, time and relationships. Inside every ‘no’ is a ‘yes’ to something else. Know what that is.

10. Cultivate fierce listening skills.

11. Have fierce conversations. Step out from behind the social mask. Show your core.

12. Risk-taking is the new conservative. Live off your ragged edge. Grow. Or the world will leave you behind.


13. Pain and joy come together.

14. Good change builds. Bad change destroys. But sometimes you need to burn everything down in order to rise from the ashes.

15. In order to rise from the ashes, you first have to be in the ashes. That’s the sucky part.

16. Don’t think outside the box. That’s too easy. You need limits to chafe against; limits trigger and release creativity. So climb inside the box – and find ways to kick the edges way the hell out.

17. Some roads are lonely roads. Walk them anyway. click to tweet


18. Figure out your soul signature: a statement that crystallizes the essence of who you are and what you can be when you’re at your best. Live it out every day in order to communicate it to others. As Gandhi pointed out, your life is your message. Make it epic.

Add your own in the list below.

Mar 14, 2013

40 comments · Add Yours

I love these! Especially 16: create a new box. Brilliant. And 10 and 11: Be fierce. Touché!


This is brilliant and firing me up as I finish my Masters thesis basically in human development. Thank you Justine!

One way I found interesting to help explain the difference between religion and spirituality is in the chakra system. One book I read pointed out that often, religion isn’t about faith. It’s actually about nurturing our root chakra of tribes. It’s about safety, belonging and thinking like everyone else. It often has very little correlation to how we actually act in the world. Spirituality on the other hand, is the exact opposite of faith. It’s what we know for sure having lived through it. There maybe times were we need do doubt or wonder, but we also know that is part of the cycle.


19. Life is tender and terrible, beautiful and brutal–keep your heart open.


This poem is about a world I once knew. I observed this struggle, and it encroached into my bones and into my soul, so that I was ready to defend myself with pure objectivity. The street kids knew it, they felt it radiating from my person, and so their approached were half hearted. They knew I meant business. We respected each other, because of power, but I secretly mourned them.

Street Kids

Written on May 27, 1998

Despair fades to norm as hunger takes form
Teachers so underpaid many girls get laid
Boys become men to young to have toys
Joy hides pain of dancers in the rain
Barefoot kids in the street in the heat
At night she works as the rapist lurks
At night he steals from garbage his meals
As the mayors fief is ruled by the thief


“different ideas can meet up and have sex with each other…!”
I simply adore above line…
can’t wait for Little cute “Baby Ideas to come out of those sex-ssion…
The way you put s deft and thought provoking…
thank you…


I really love your blogs and this one has so many truths in it. If I would do a short list for myself. The most powerful expression (either in theatre or written texts) comes when I take in account:

1. This Too Shall Pass
2. Embrace yourself entirely; sad, happy, angry, frustrated, in love, sensitive, sensual
3. Work from your core (however that core is feeling)
4. Dare to be silence and not connect for a while
5. Relax


Interesting ideas – i like the get inside the box and kick the hell out of it.

Silence and solitude is immensely powerful too

As is

Listening to quiet people – they often have more value to add than the loud ones – if we’ll only allow them to speak.

I like


“Redefine success. Embrace the mess” — Love it!!
Sung to the tune of “Matchmaker, matchmaker, …”, there is now: “Messmaker, messmaker, make me a mess, …” , which yesterday had my 3-yr-old (birthday tomorrow) rolling on the floor laughing.


11 & 17 speak to me . . . great post, thanks so much! And LOVE the ’25 Badass Ways to Say No’! That will be printed, framed and hung in my office ; )


Great list! I love study human nature and thinking outside the box is too easy. I couldn’t agree more.


Reinvention trumps recovery.


thank you. for this.


My son says I don’t think outside the box, but in the exact center of the box. Loved that and took it to heart. Thanks, awesome list!


Fail. Rinse. Repeat.


I love this list and will file it in my collection of things I have to keep me focused or bring me peace or cheer me up or jog my thoughts or. . . Thank you!

Here’s one of my favorites for the list:
“The educational system teaches us “about” history but one must look deeper to learn the “lessons from” history to make the information valuable. Life is short enough already to repeat the past!”


Thank you so much for these! I’m going to start every morning for the next 3 weeks with this :)


I loved these comments. Thank you everyone!


Usually I don’t like this kind of list . But I have to say that I agree with you 100%. Thank you for reminding me that these principles are actually good drivers.


I love this in its entirety. Number 7 spoke to me as my little 8-year old just started questioning the idea of friendship and who he should be friends with in his 3rd grade class. We talked about not making snap decisions, but also knowing that who you hang out with influences who you are becoming. I felt he was incredibly wise to start thinking of the formation of his tribe so young.

When I realized that every single person that was coming to my going-away party (leaving work – going home) was someone who spills over the edges of their own life, and is madly in love with life, I cried from delight that my tribe is so vibrant!


did I missed the part about hard work ?


One final rule to go with all of these:

19. Don’t be an asshole about it.


How about embrace your religion and reject New Age spirituality? There’s simply nothing inherently superior to spirituality. Delve deeply into your religion – live it fully, consciously, 24/7 – before casually rejecting something that has sustained and inspired people for thousands of years.


ten commandments for narcissists. It’s all about ME ME ME.
where is Confucius when we need him?
Oh yes: And about those who are rich enough not to worry about not paying the bills.


My rejection of religion isn’t casual by any means. And spirituality doesn’t inherently mean new age. Best.


I would love to say yes to everything, but that would be stupid.


It would cause the slow withering death of my soul.


I no longer do things that make me want to kill myself.


I don’t love it, which means I’m not the right person for it.


Ladies and gentlemen, this particular blog post got linked to by a blog with an audience that is definitely not my audience, and includes some of the (male) tech/engineering/business-wannabe types who tend to worship my ex-husband and cast me as some stereotypical spoiled ex-wife figure who is more or less a waste of skin. Because, you know, women are like that, especially the ones who end up with (in this case actually quite humble, relative to the ex’s net worth) divorce settlements. The yahoo above is quoting another post of mine, 25 Badass Ways to Say No, for some reason known only to him (and giving his email as mmayer@yohoo.com, which is actually almost amusing). And so it goes.

We now return you to your regular programming.


Let’s take these one by one:

1. There was only about a 30 year window when education was intended to “fit you to a career”, from somewhere in the late 40s to somewhere in the late 70s, By the early 80s the pretense of being about “career” was gone, and higher ed, outside of the hard sciences, became am industry with very distorted inputs that leads to folks getting Masters Degrees in South African Basket Weaving and 50k of student loan debt. Prior to that Education was about understanding the world and how the pieces fit together. Learn how the the pieces fit together.

2. You are an individual. Studying others is a worthy pursuit, especially for an artist because generally your most lucrative work will be for other people, or about other people. Well, all your lucrative work is for other people because you can’t really pay yourself. I don’t know that understanding yourself is really all that valuable. Most of the people I’ve met, if they really got to understand themselves, well the suicide and drug use rates would go up noticeably.

3. Is almost dead on. Life is NOT predictable, and it is NOT concerned with what you want. But remember that you are responsible for your actions. Marriage and ESPECIALLY children are not disposable, when you change your mind you hurt people. Hurting adults who enter into relationships is one thing. Hurting children is another. Be an adult about your relationships.

4. Do not have faith in the process. Inspect the process at EVERY opportunity. Make sure the person you’re turning into is the person you want to be. The process is not a locked, black box. You CAN influence it and to get where you want you have to try.

5. Before you embrace or reject anything, make sure you know what you’re rejecting. Western Culture and the religion that spawned it is getting a lot of grief from the left these days, but remember the West didn’t invent slavery, but it was the first to ban it. The west didn’t invent the oppression of Women, but it was the first major civilization to give them free and equal participation in the political process and, at least in law, in the economic sphere. No, it’s not perfect, but we’re *trying*. Ghandi is famous for making light of Western Civ, but that’s kinda rich coming from a culture that still practiced sati.

6. Try that and see how well it works. Diversity is about skin color and cute culinary dishes, not about genuine, deeply rooted world views. If you know your opinions are radically different than your coworkers, clients of patrons you shut up and do your job. If yo want to work for your worldview, get a nom-de-guerre and write pseudonymous crap on the internet. It will salve your conscience and have as much impact. Plus you’ll still get paid.

7. Creativity and innovation come from a deep understanding of the problem, the medium and a desire to solve it. Depending on your medium and your problem this may involve other experts, or it may involve days reading manuals. Different people need different environments to be creative. Some folks need others to bounce ideas off of. Some need 30 seconds in front of a white board, and some need to go for a run.

8. Stepping back and thinking things through is good. Exercise increases blood flow and oxygenation to the brain. It helps reduce stress. If you do it outside the sunlight on your skin produces vitamin D which is some awesome stuff. But you need to come back and DO what you thought about. To quote a WWII general “A good plan executed violently NOW is better than a perfect plan executed tomorrow”.

9. Huh? Yes and no are answers to questions, or statements of approval. You need to manage your time and your commitments, sure, but that sentence is one of those things that sounds deep and mystical while resolving semantically to nothing.

10. Listening means more than hearing. It means actually paying attention to what the other party is saying, and trying to understand what the f* they really mean. I listen to a lot of weekend talk shows–mostly various kinds of advice shows, often economic. and it’s AMAZING the number of times the caller is CLEARLY asking something different than what their words are (hint, if you don’t know for SURE what a word means don’t use it) and the host goes off and grinds a COMPLETELY different axe. Listening and understanding are critical skills, but they require to you accept you might not be the most important person in the room. This is tough for a lot of people. Me, I’m never the most important person in the room, I’m support. Until the power goes out. Then it’s my turn.

11. Evaluate the risks of stepping out behind that mask. Is it worth eating peanut butter and couch surfing until you can find another gig? See #6. This does not mean that you should be a doormat–certainly stand up for your beliefs (at the right time and place), and always stand up for your rights. Just know what they are. When you have discussions that concern deeply held beliefs that may be in conflict learn to be respectful because you may be wrong. As an acquaintance of mine once commented “90% of the people in this world prefer Harley Davidsons. This is because 90% of the people in the world don’t know s*t about motorcycles” (If this bothers you substitute “Sport bike” for “Harley Davidson”, the truth isn’t in the numbers).

12. My work history is a mix of contracting and permanent positions, most recently in some odd places in the world. This leads pimps (sorry, recruiters) to ask me if I’m open to “permanent” positions. I had one woman get audibly upset when I tried to explain to her that in the industry intersection she was recruiting for the notion of a permanent job was an unuself (sorry, brain shut down on finding a word that meant that) concept. She was offended. Risk for risks sake is for the young, and if you’re young and don’t have moral obligations (children, or debt) then, well risk for risks sake is still dumb, but go do “risky” things that aren’t.

Example: Australia (and I think New Zealand, but verify) has a really nifty “working holiday” visa. You can go over there on a tourist visa and then find a temporary job and apply online for this “working holiday” visa. This lets you stay in the country for a LOT longer, and since it’s part of the culture many places only expect you to stay a month or two. You can get a bed in a youth hostel for ~40 bucks a night, cook in the kitchen of the hostel and move around as you like. There’s a GREAT little backpacker hotel in Brisbane, and the Hostel in Bondi Beach was AWESOME. You meat lots of interesting people and as long as you have a return ticket and a month or two’s living expenses back home, it’s not *that* risky.

13. To quote the philosopher Andrew Eldritch “Pain looks good on other people. It’s what they’re for.”. Pain is unavoidable in life, especially if you take risks. If you’re feeling joy and pain, it’s not joy it’s endorphins. But learn to differentiate pain. Sometimes it’s just discomfort. Sometimes it’s damage. Discomfort sucks, but learn to ignore it as best you can. Damage is a different call. Sometimes it’s necessary, and you can take MUCH more than you think you can. You will pay later though, so it’s probably not worth it for a rope swing. Even an epic one.

14. When it comes to change sometimes good and bad are merely perspectives (sometimes). If you have a vested interest in the status quo change is scary and bad. If you have a vested interest in the way things are changing, then it’s good. Change happens, and you *have* to learn to manage change. You need to balance (your balance, not mine or anyone elses) your investment in here, now and today v.s. your investment in being able to chuck it, pack your trash and move to a new continent for a better gig. Sometimes burning it down and starting over is the optimal path. Somtimes it hurts too many members of your tribe. But don’t get too invested in today, it’s not going to be here much longer.

15. Suck is part of life. It’ll happen. Get perspective and move on.

16. The box is there for a reason. Understand that reason before you decide to break it.

17. Lonely roads are awesome, but if your head is down looking at your “smartphone” then you’re missing the point.


If you want to be “creative”, TRUELY creative MASTER YOUR MEDIUM, top to bottom, inside and you.

While you’re doing that PAY ATTENTION to your creative days and your uncreative days. No one can be “on” all the time, but there are triggers for both up and down. Learn how to manage those cycles. Learn how to make yourself “up” when you need to, but don’t try to force it every day. Down days are good for doing those bits of life that don’t require a lot of creativity.

Learn your own limits. Be honest about them with yourself. Push them, but do not expect miracles. Johnathan Livingston Seagull is a fairytale for college freshmen.

I’m a middle aged guy from the bowels and back rooms of the tech industry who has NO idea who the Hostesses ex-husband is, but I’ve got a Bachelor of Fine Art from a well known art school, most of a degree in English Poetry and Philosophy from another college, and a life time of working with, hanging out with and assisting real artists. Also a lot of experiences with run-on sentences.

I’ve got a daughter who’s got more artistic talent and creativity in her nail clippings than many artists I’ve known, and is FAR more talented and artistically creative than I.

I write under a nom-de-guerre because when you step out behind that social mask and speak your convictions, well, the real world has consequences.


I am curious about your thoughts concerning K – 12 education. Can you teach your children to be creative when they attend school 8 hours a day, then have another hour of homework? At this point we are considering homeschooling to immerse our children in a creative lifestyle, and do give them more time to explore their own interests. I would love to know your thoughts about fostering creativity in your children. (or a new post on this topic :-))


I truly love this! I’m sharing with my little sister who just turned 18 and is struggling with the next chapters of life. Beautiful!


I think that creativity can also be embraced through music as well. Music is an outlet that encourages much creativity and can allow anyone to add much expression. Improvising on a musical instrument, “making things up as you go”, can also help us to get with those eureka moments we are looking for in our minds sometimes.It can also help us look from within as well. You mentioned a lot of great points in your article! “Some roads are lonely roads. Walk them anyway.” That point really drew my attention. I think some roads are lonely, yet on that road I think we can find what we are looking for and find just exactly what defines ourselves. I just purchased Uninvited and can’t wait to dig into reading it after studying. Best to luck to you with your writing career!


Great interview on “The Craft”, by pianist Sergio Tiempo. Parallel between Arts & Sciences, both are “Discovery processes”, where the artist learns about “creation” & his/her own abilities (constantly in development).


“Of course, everything we learn, think about and intellectualize is very enriching & does nothing but sophisticate the intuition. But, it remains superficial to the real discourse, & that discourse only exists when we don’t think anymore. I think”

“But, mastery is not very interesting, because is speaks about the control of destiny somewhat, which is not really within our power musically speaking. Because what’s actually interesting is when we don’t know where it’s going to, no?



Sports is also a “creative process”, where coaches & players are involved in “The Craft”. It’s part of the Game of Discovery: honing their skills in “The Journey”. The “March Madness” (NCAA championship) has a promo video called “The Journey”, with musical branding. Strong emotional component, as well as Physical.

John Wooden (UCLA great, “Wizard of Westwood”) wrote a book about his meritocratic theory to Success (VS Winning):

“It’s the journey. It’s the getting there that’s fun. Wooden said, “Cervantes said, ‘The journey is better than the end.’ And I like that. I think that is — it’s getting there. Sometimes when you get there, there’s almost a letdown, but it’s the getting there that’s fun.” Wooden would say, ““I liked our practices to be the journey, and the game would be the end … the end result.”

“Patience is a part of progress. Success comes slowly. Expect change to happen slowly and to have patience along the way. Wooden said, “Whatever you’re doing, you must have patience” and “there is no progress without change, so you must have patience.”

“Make each day your masterpiece. Wooden made the most of each day, by design. Wooden – “Make everyday your masterpiece.”

“Failure is not fatal. Keep going. Don’t let setbacks stop you. Carry your lessons forward, and change your approach. Wooden said, “Failure is not fatal, but failure to change might be.””

“Don’t let your limits limit you. Don’t let limits get in the way. Wooden — “Don’t let what you cannot do, interfere with what you can do.””


#3 is right on the money for me. Great list – empowering, inspiring and thought-provoking.
I hadn’t visited your blog for a while and I jumped over to read this one…. sooooo glad I did. You’ve just made my day.


Hi Justine,

great post! Congratulations!!

Here are other ten principles which can be very useful!!

“Steal Like an Artist: 10 Things Nobody Told You About Being Creative: 10 Things Nobody Told Me About the Creative Life” by Austin Kleon


One of the most important principle in this book is:

“Less is More”!!

In other words:

“Making the simple complicated is commonplace; making the complicated simple, awesomely simple, that’s creativity.”

by Charles Mingus, American jazz double bassist, composer and bandleader.

All the best!



Hello Justine! I wanted to let you know that I’ve linked to this wonderful post in my monthly round-up of the best things I’ve found on the web. You can view the post here: http://spikesandstardust.com/2013/09/27/september-delights/. I hope you have a lovely day!


Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter.
Try Again. Fail again. Fail better.

Samuel Beckett


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