If you’re reading this, you’re the recipient of someone else’s creative gift.
Somebody, somewhere, decided to come up with a written alphabet. Somebody, somewhere, taught me to write it and you to read it. Somebody, somewhere, got really into numbers and came up with a system for language comprised of 1s and 0s and somebody else somewhere else made it pop up on a screen as the written alphabet. While they were designing the tech, someone made them dinner and washed their socks. Someone else constructed the buildings where they worked. All of these people lived in different centuries and on different continents and probably never imagined the full effects of their efforts. They certainly couldn’t have known that I would be writing this and you would be reading it.
That is just one tiny sliver of insight into how much we benefit from the gifts of others. Spend a day just trying to think of all the people throughout the centuries and in your own life who worked so that you could be where you are, doing what you’re doing, right now. I guarantee you can’t help but be overwhelmed with gratitude.
People using theircreative gifts is essential to the flourishing of others.
You using your creative gifts is also essential to your flourishing.
Steve Jobs may be most famous for his creative endeavours in founding and growing Apple, but he’s become slightly iconic in the fashion world, too – for wearing the same thing every day.
Each morning, Steve Jobs donned a black mock turtleneck, blue jeans, and new balance sneakers. He didn’t change colors based on the seasons or branch out into business suits and trendy ties. His wardrobe was what many people would consider the essence of not creative.
“People think focus means saying yes to the thing you’ve got to focus on. But that’s not what it means at all. It means saying no to the hundred other good ideas that there are. You have to pick carefully. I’m actually as proud of the things we haven’t done as the things I have done. Innovation is saying no to 1,000 things.”
The average adult makes 35,000 decisions per day, but our ability to be creative actually diminishes the more decisions we have to make. (That’s why so many people do their best work early in the morning, before they’ve waded through a full day of decisions.)
By wearing the same thing every day, Jobs completely eliminated an entire set of decisions from his life. He said no to choosing what to wear every morning, and all the consequences that follow from it: where to shop, when to shop, price and brand comparison, various laundry choices – all the things that are tied to having a varied closet.
He refused to spend his creative energy on his wardrobe, so that he could spend it on what mattered to him. Jobs put getting dressed on “automate” so he never had to think about it.
Have you ever thought about the difference between creativity and productivity? Or struggled with how to be both? It seems to be a theme that is popping up a lot – perhaps because January is simultaneously a season for nature being at rest, in preparation for the creative burst of spring, while the modern world is trying to be as productive as possible, implementing new habits, losing weight, and finally doing the things they had been procrastinating through Christmas.
On the one hand, pursuing creative work is a worthy goal. On the other hand, it’s hard to look at a day that looks like January — where not much happens with that lengthy to-do list — and say, well, at least I was creative, even though I have nothing to show for it.
Where is the balance? Every great writer seems to offer the same advice about creative work: it’s still work. You can’t just wait for a muse to strike you, you have to sit down at the keyboard every day. But is creativity the same as productivity?
When my friend first moved to Italy, she was eager to learn the language and would dive right in to efforts at idiomatic expressions. As a woman studying alongside seminarians – an “outsider” with some “insider” knowledge – she was in a unique position to understand some of the difficulties at the institutional level.
One day, she had the opportunity to speak with an older staff member at the seminary, to whom she tried to explain the benefits of changing things up a bit. They needed to “think in new ways,” to “think outside the box!” she insisted, as his eyes widened in surprised. The priest nodded, but did not have a response.
My friend went away thinking that her “shake-up” had been successful… only to learn that what she had actually said, in Italian, was that they needed to “bust some —–“ – a phrase usually limited to the men’s locker rooms.
We’ve all had mental blocks. Whether it’s writer’s block, a total lack of ideas for projects, or just feeling “stuck” about what to do next, everyone experiences creative dry spells. In those moments, I’ve noticed that a pen and paper, rather than a blank screen and blinking cursor, are an immense help. Here are seven reasons why. Continue Reading
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