The Gratitude Challenge’s twentieth topic is “Creativity”.
As much as I am proud of my personal transformation this year, I cannot deny the fact that many times I felt and still feel lost. I read an article about “identity crisis” and it resonated so much, particularly in the following aspects:
- You change with your environment: As a people pleaser I try to adapt as much as possible. I am reluctant to mention that I am vegetarian or might force myself to eat something I do not like just to not trouble anyone or appear as a burden.
- You often have radical shifts in your opinion: Topics that I might have felt very strongly opposed to I have set into perspective over the past year, and also vice versa: Things of which I was once convinced that they are worth pursuing I now feel much less enthusiastic and much more doubtful about.
- You don’t like being asked about yourself: This is not so much because of a fear to not know myself, but rather that I think it’s better to listen to others rather than to inflate my existence to such an extent that I keep talking about myself.
- Your relationships don’t run deep: I have a strong fear to rely on anyone or to become dependent, I believe that eventually I need to be able to do everything myself and that it’s safest to do so, hence I don’t ask for help and most relationships I do not develop to an extent where I would feel that it’s a really deep connection.
The last point that resonated a lot is one that I can fully quote here, because the description fits 100%:
At the heart of not having an identity is often a restlessness, as if you are afraid to settle down, in case you commit to the wrong thing that makes your life worse instead of better. The truth is that as much as you want to know who you are, there is a fear of knowing, too.Who am I? 7 signs that you suffer from an identity crisis.
I asked myself many times this year: Who am I? Who do I want to be? How do others see me? Who do I want to be with, not only romantically, but also in friendships and business? What drives me? What are my values? What kind of partner and friend do I want to be? What do I want to be known for? How do I want to spend my time at work and the time I’m free? Do I have values and boundaries that are non-negotiable? If so, which ones? Do I follow them myself or do I hold others to higher or lower standards than myself?
It is difficult to feel safe and trust oneself when different events and realizations shake up your own system and world view so much that suddenly you question everything. Maybe I’m a late starter and these are all questions that most people would usually ask them during their teenage years. Maybe it is something like an early midlife crisis. Maybe it is something very individual that doesn’t have a fixed term. It actually does not really matter. I felt that what I once believed to be “me” left me. In my last post I wrote about how I’m paying more attention to lyrics these days and below song is one example. There is a song called “Motto” by Slovakian band Tolstoys, and the beginning of the lyrics roughly translates as follows:
Loneliness, nothingness, darkness scares me. You know I’m shy so why are you leaving me.Part of the lyrics for the song Motto by Tolstoys
That’s exactly how I felt and often still feel: Left by myself. I lost myself.
I cut off many other connections too, which I identified as solely being there to help me not feeling lonely. Because I’m scared of loneliness. I stopped doing things to make my schedule less busy, as I identified them to only fill a gap of potential emptiness. Because I’m scared of loneliness.
Why I bring it up is because I think an identity crisis and questioning everything can be intimidating and tiring, but it can also be a great source of creativity and inspiration. I was always proud of my consistency, of pushing something through even as it became tiring or boring. I studied Japanese for a decade without any concrete perspective to ever live there or to really “need” the language.
In contrast, this year I tried out so many new things, thought I could do them forever, just to find something else that fascinated me even more. Unstable? Maybe. But as we break lasting patterns and believes, we proof mental agility, we learn to think out of the box and consequently come up with new ideas, trying out new things, combine knowledge and skill to create something new.
Starting new things, stopping others, cutting ties, dropping values and assuming others – it can feel great, like the start of something new. But it can also be very scary. Am I doing the right thing? Am I losing or giving up things that are worth keeping? I don’t deny: There’s regret. As much as I would like to follow my meditation practice and just fatalistically accept whatever happens and see something positive in it, sometimes I’m too afraid and I start to feel very bitter. Then I tell myself that when we want to learn to fly, we need to accept that we will stumble and fall in the process. Cheesy metaphor? Maybe, but again, music and lyrics come to the rescue. Berlin-based Italian artist MISSINCAT sings in her song Oggi No (as translated by Google):
I don’t know today
Whether to cry, or to laugh
I don’t know today
If that’s okay
Or if it was better before
Tell me how to do it
To learn to fly
Without getting hurt
Tell me how to do it
To look back Without falling
Look at me, tell me what you see
It always seems to me
That does not change anything
I don’t know tomorrow
If I go home
Or if I hang around and wait for the sunrise
[…]Part of the lyrics for the song Oggi No by MISSINCAT
As someone who gradually moved from music making to programming, I argued that while music making is more likely commonly associated with creativity, there is also a lot of creativity and out-of-the-box thinking required for good programming. While I still believe so, as I’m moving back from programming to music making, the kind of creativity required to solve an engineering problem now feels somewhat cold and heartless to me. Sure, the process of coming up with a new idea might be different, sitting in a swing and gazing over the ocean while plucking away on a guitar, yet…
It requires mathematical precision to cast the idea into code, a mistake in the process is unforgivable, because there is no room for such human component as is inaccuracy or variability. Ambiguity or room for interpretation are like a curse: It has to be either 0 or 1. It’s the technical manifestation of a business-driven “get your shit together” society. You have to know what you want. You have to express yourself precisely. You have to be proper and follow the rules or else you are an error that needs to be fixed.
I think human beings are inherently creative. Sure, not everyone comes up with ideas that others would label “genius”, but I think almost everyone gets satisfaction from following an intuition or listening to one’s feelings and converting it into something new or different. Yet, in our lives today society teaches us from early on to keep ourselves busy, to not think to much “what if” outside a business context.
I had a colleague – a successful IT security consultant – who never even had the time to think about if his job was what he really wanted to do. He was busy flying from one client to another, solving their seemingly urgent and important problems and being praised for his expertise and dedication. His career path was bright and clear.
And then one day his main project was over. Finally, he had time to think. He had time to feel his body and mind and how tired they were. How disconnected he felt with his surroundings and nature. Shortly after he quit his job and started a new life in landscape gardening. I would like to write that he then created the most beautiful gardens happily ever after. I want to believe so, but I am not in contact with him anymore. Changing a profession in such a profound way not only changes your professional identity but also your social circle. Of course, I wish this colleague all the best and hope that it was the right decision. But even if afterwards he found that this was still not quite it, I think it was 100% the right thing to do: He followed his realization that he felt disconnected, incomplete, and uprooted and he took a brave step towards another direction where he can channel his creativity into creating something tangible that pleases the eye. Many people fantasize about such a dramatic change, but not many have the guts to do it.
For me personally I realized that somehow since I reduced my working hours to part-time, I do not enjoy the job quite as much anymore. And I wonder: Is it because the workload didn’t decrease, and I simply have to do the same amount of work in less time? Is it because there is less time for the more interesting – creative – tasks, as I first have to complete the necessary, mundane stuff? Maybe there’s some truth to it. But I think another important factor is that I have more time to reflect on what I want and if what I’m spending my days with is really what really satisfies my needs.
Sure, it is quite a luxury problem to think if a very well-paid and flexible job is “really making me happy and fulfilled”. Maybe a job does not need to be like that. It’s like with everything else in life: You can’t have it all. Sure, there are these motivational quotes, we are told to think big, to believe in the impossible, and consequently we want to believe that yes, we can have it all. I do believe that many of us can have much more than we dare to believe.
The question is: Do we need much more? Do we know what we need? And what is a need anyway? Are we talking about basic needs to survive, or about something high up the hierarchy of needs, such as self-actualization? Where does creativity have its spot? Do we need it?
As I spend more time writing, meditating, making music, doing more relaxed sports while feeling my body and breath rather than just pushing the limits as I did in the past, being present to enjoy the beauty of the moment, trying out things because they are fun, not because “it makes sense to do it”. It’s these times that I have what I consider to be my best ideas. And it also makes me wonder: Is “being in the zone”, being fully present, a prerequisite for creativity?
It probably very much depends on how you define creativity. The rational business world of course came up with techniques to demystify this difficult-to-grasp concept of “and magically the genius’ creativity produced up this idea”. There are steps to follow and in design thinking workshops we are taught how to think out of the box and combine existing ideas in a new way. Yet, I dare to say that many people enjoy a less rationalized experience of being creative still more. To truly think out of the box by not even trying so, by not following rules with the set goal to come up with something useful. But to simply be playful, free of expectations and to enjoy the process of doing.
I’m grateful that I’m gradually learning to be more present, to worry less about if what I’m doing yields a useful outcome, to simply enjoy the process of doing something rather than wanting to finish it as quickly as possible to have a desired outcome. I’m grateful for having started to (re-)discover and explore my less technical, less mathematical creativity that pleases my inner child that was locked up for too long. I’m grateful that despite my fears and the terrifying feeling of not knowing my own identity anymore and who I am, I still dare to explore and try out new things and I believe that in doing so I’ll gradually get to know myself again – and better than before. I’m grateful to realize just how much creativity was locked up, waiting to be released and now gets a chance to do so.