When I kicked off my yearlong creativity challenge, I talked about the mind-numbing exhaustion my life was becoming. But I didn’t really address the question of why creativity? And why now? And honestly, on days when I’m scrambling to get something done to fulfill my self-imposed challenge, I kind of wonder the same thing. What the hell am I trying to accomplish here anyway? It’s hard for me to explain why creativity exactly, but I have a pretty good grasp of why now, so I’ll begin there.
My job is by turns amazing and the absolute worst. On the days when I have put my everything into a brand strategy or content campaign and the client loves the end result, I am elated. I feel exhausted, but accomplished. When one of the dozen regular doggie visitors graces our office with their fluffy presence, I feel lucky. But then there are the days when it seems like nothing I do can satisfy a client’s demands or when seven hours of meetings overwhelms my introverted soul. On those days, I slink home and curl up on the couch or fall into bed thinking, this is not what I was made to do.
In the last few months, the balance between uplifting days and draining ones has tilted out of whack. It’s my own fault really, I’m too good at what I do (#humblebrag). The result is more responsibility, more meetings, and bigger projects. Which, on the one hand, is exciting. I’ve always been a straight-A, gold star type and having my hard work recognized is validating. But I’ve also begun to suspect that this high-achieving perfectionism is a direct result of my anxiety and is just a socially acceptable way of being a control freak.
But the true tipping point was the day after my longtime manager and mentor left to start her own consulting company. For the first time in two years, she wasn’t there to listen to, support, and champion me. Instead, our team of four was now a team of three…and they were looking to me to be the person that supports and champions them. It’s like when you become a parent and you get overwhelmed so you start looking around for an adult to help you but you realize you’re the adult in this situation and basically everyone involved is fucked.
That’s all easy enough to explain and understand. But why I thought creativity would be the way out of this feeling is a little more nebulous. In part, the answer is “I honestly have no idea, actually.” My brain decided one day to spit out the question “Can creativity save my life?” and I was all, “I don’t know, can it? Let’s find out!” I suspect though that this random question came from a part of my subconscious that knows what it’s talking about. After all, there are about a million books on the market touting the healing/stress-relieving powers of creating art.
But after painting, knitting, writing, coloring, and drawing every day for over a month now, I’ve realized that there’s more to it than that: Creativity is something I do entirely for myself. Even if I sell my paintings, give away the crafts I make, or let others read my words, the creative process is for me alone. I don’t make these things with others in mind. Instead, they are moments of pure curiosity: what if I put this color here or let this character loose in that story world? What if I was utterly selfish for just a little while? Giving myself permission to do that sometimes makes me feel guilty. I should be doing something else. Something more productive, healthy, exciting, better. But these moments and the pieces that come out of them are the ultimate middle finger to “should”. And maybe after 365 middle fingers, I’ll be able to break out of the all shoulds that keep me trapped.
Can creativity save my life? I don’t know, but it’s worth a try.