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Tuesday
Sep042012

Creativity: you don't grow out of it

Almost every one of us has had this experience at some level. Activities that used to fascinate and transfix you as a child eventually get pushed aside in favor of more practical and sensible activities. Maybe you loved building forts out of cardboard boxes, maybe you made up recipes using whatever you could find in the kitchen, maybe you wandered your backyard with a magnifying glass. In most of those cases, you look back and realize you don't do that as often as you used to.

It starts in grade school when you have to do your homework before you can play. Or you need to clean up the house first. Soon your parents and teachers don't have to say anything, it becomes ingrained in you. The process is gradual but highly effective; we learn to push all the responsible and "necessary" activities to the top of the list and barely notice as fort making, cartoon drawing and puppet shows get pushed farther and farther down the list. Eventually they're buried under so many other responsibilities that we forget them.

The problem with that eventuality (if my own experience is at all applicable to you) is that we don't really forget those things. They burn deep down, eating away from the inside while all the exterior forces scratch away from the outside. Despite the message that pummels us from the world around, "cut your hair, get a real job, stop wasting your time", the crazy, intense, youthful creativity that we start out with is still there and suppressing it hurts, literally.

For one, suppression is destructive because it makes us less effective in everything we do. Many of you know how much more difficult it is to teach your parents' generation about technology than it is to teach your kids. Just watch a 6 year old and a 60 year old, each with an iPad. The 6 year old will bang around, try things and learn from mistakes. They will ask you questions whenever something doesn't make sense ("Why does the picture keep flipping when I turn it?") but the minute you answer the question, they run with it (I constantly find my iPad with rotation lock active and I rarely, if ever, use it myself). Kids take these things very seriously (they want to learn as quickly as possible) and yet they approach everything with a wide open, playful sense that means they seldom get demoralized or frustrated.

The non-technical adults I interact with are quite different. Every challenge is a struggle, every quirk is a land mine. Even though adults have much more experience to draw on, seeing analogy in technology is much more difficult. Where kids revel in the newness, starting from complete lack of information and rapidly climbing the learning curve, adults get impatient. The first hurdle and they fall deep into the mud, sucking them down into mental gridlock. And, in my opinion, this is tied very closely to buried creativity.

You can't make creativity go away. If you do, you become less effective in so many ways. When you bury your creativity, you also bury your happiness, although this process is slow enough that you don't really notice until you are quite far down that road. It doesn't matter where your creativity naturally focuses. It's dangerous to bury it, assuming that more practical use of your hours will make up for it. Every one of us needs to find a balance: support yourself and your family without walling up your creativity behind brick and mortar. Your creativity is a fuel and a skill that facilitates everything you do. The more actively you exercise it, the more likely it will be available when you really need it.

For me, this means remembering that music, and specifically, guitar, drive me in a way that nothing else does. I am happy and energized when I give myself time to play my instrument. Listening to music isn't just a passive thing for me, it's enveloping and something I need to do regularly. Maybe it's cooking for you, or gardening or oil painting. Can you figure out how to restore the creative activities in your life? What is the key for you; what creative arena defines you?

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