“Here’s to the crazy ones, the misfits, the rebels, the troublemakers, the round pegs in square holes because the people who are crazy enough to think that they can change the world, are the ones who do.” ~ Steve Jobs
A recent phone conversation with my mom went something like this:
“So, I have an idea for my next book!” I exclaimed.
“Oh, yes you told me about it! The one where the kitchen would be the narrator. I like that idea!” she said.
“No, that idea died,” I laughed.
“Oh, then is it the story about the reluctant guru? That would be fun,” she said.
“Oh, no, not that one either,” I laughed. “Gosh, I forgot about that one! No, this is a brand-new idea.”
I heard my mom’s gentle chuckle through the line, as she settled in to listen. I smiled in response to her chuckle.
But, there was a time in my life where a chuckle like this would’ve stopped me cold.
Sometimes it wasn’t a chuckle, but a slight frown, followed by a few well-meaning words of logical advice about not getting too excited until I had something more concrete. These cautions might have been because people found my ideas a bit strange. Or, they might have wondered when I would find something and stick with it already.
But whatever it was, these chuckles and words of advice often had the power to make me drop my idea altogether.
To be clear, I don’t believe that this was anyone’s intention, but rather, my own projection. I believe now that the chuckles come more from others’ enjoyment of listening to an out-of-the-box idea, not ridicule of it. And their frowns and spoken concerns probably come more from personal fears, rather than judgment of my path.
So today, how other people respond to my ideas might be one of my greatest curiosities, but it is no longer my greatest worry.
I no longer believe, like our society teaches, that all creativity must lead to something tangible. I don’t believe creativity that doesn’t come to fruition is a waste of time. I know, as does my mom, that my ideas do not need to be made manifest to bring me happiness and joy.
I do believe that no matter what verb describes our unique creativity — painting, singing, drawing, writing, designing, building, growing, connecting, cultivating — the act is more important than the result.
And I believe we are here not to tap our creativity sparingly, but to indulge in it radically. Here are five reasons why:
1. To stave off depression
The first time I was diagnosed with depression, in 2002, I had gone to the doctor with what I believed was a serious problem: I had recently gone to the bookstore and couldn’t find anything to take home. Not a single book interested me, I told the doctor, and that’s just not like me.
I am lucky that the doctor did not dismiss my story as silly, but saw through to what I was really saying: I didn’t know what had happened to my curiosity. Without curiosity, there was no creativity in my life, either. And without creativity, I was led closer and closer to the deceptively compassionate refuge of depression.
Now, all these years later, depression is most certainly still a possibility for me. But I tend to notice the early signals, and make corrections. (If I really need to test myself, I just head to the nearest bookstore and watch what happens.)
I’m not giving a prescription for anyone else’s mental health challenges. I simply know that I need radical, unapologetic creativity in my life — not as a matter of professional accomplishment, but as a matter of emotional and mental health. Given all that energy and potent power that comes with being human, if I don’t shape it into something, it will stagnate inside me.
2. To tip (or at least challenge) social paradigms
Society, and especially those at the top of our societal pyramid who reap the largest share of the benefits of our current social paradigm, would like to keep the status quo. They would be quite happy if we all stayed in our small family, neighborhood, and political thought bubbles. Even better if we talked, moved, voted, and created as a member of this bubble.
Because then, our movements and actions would be expected. Our lives and choices would fit into existing charts and models. Our future could be predicted. We would certainly not cause trouble for anyone. But we would not make any changes in the world, either.
A good example of how this societal power is wielded from above is presented in the movie, “The Truman Show.” Jim Carrey, playing a young, adventurous Truman, expresses his desire to be an explorer. His teacher laughs, then shows him a map of the world and says with mock pity, “Oh, you’re too late! There’s nothing left to explore!”
There’s something about this scene that touched an angry nerve in me. How many of us once believed or were told in some way that the greatest, most radical acts of creativity, invention, and innovation are behind us, only to be read about in history books? And yet, this is not at all true. Our creative potential is as endless as the universe we create in.
To be radically creative forces us right out of our comfort zones. There, we gain understanding of the larger world, making us wiser and more intelligent. We learn more about one another, making us more empathetic and thoughtful. Creative work itself, regardless of outcome, makes us a strong and dangerous contender against business as usual.
3. To see the world through fresh, youthful eyes, even as our bodies inevitably grow older
You might remember a toy called the Etch-a-Sketch, which allowed children to create a picture on the screen with lines they drew using two knobs. After they were done, they would turn the toy upside down and shake it to erase the image.
Children know what it is to build a sandcastle by the sea only to know a wave could knock it down. Children innately know that this world is a playground, and that this playground is for learning and possibility, not perfection and repetition.
Imagine a world where adults were given space and encouragement to create like a child, with little attachment to bringing each effort to its complete and satisfactory fruition. I’m not saying this is the world we have. It is, however, the world I’d like to help create.
4. To gain radical insight into ourselves and our gifts
To be radically creative demands that we dig deep into our own possibility and potential. We try things, we watch what happens. We challenge ourselves. We question ourselves. We surprise ourselves. In this way, our creative work is like a mirror, giving us valuable insight into the person we are.
This is important self-work, because our natural talents come so easily to us that we don’t often see them as the gifts they are until someone else points it out to us. It is then that we understand the power we have as just one individual.
Whether we seek greater self-knowledge, or seek to change the world through our gifts, — or (hopefully) both — radical creation can give us insight into ourselves in ways we may not be able to access in even the deepest states of meditation.
5. To resist normalization
As adults who have been hurt, who have failed at things, who have taken a scary step forward only to realize there was no path below us, we have become less naïve about the pain this world can cause. We have “wizened up.” We have become risk-averse.
What we’re failing to see in our picture is that we are still here. We have survived our losses. We have overcome our failures. And when there wasn’t a ready-made path to support us, we built one ourselves. And we have the wisdom to boot.
So, rather than seeing our personal history in terms of failures, try seeing it like a child would, as a series of new beginnings. From that freshness and renewal of mind, we can find the inner courage to reengage with risk once again.
We can risk disappointment, we can risk losing followers, we can risk an unfavorable review, we can risk being wrong. We can even risk not fitting in. It’s not the job of radical creation to make us popular, or help us fit in a box. It’s the job of creation to challenge these very boxes.
To be radically creative requires we release our desire for outer approval. No single creation can or will define the totality of who we are, merely what spoke through us in a particular moment in time, so it’s best not to seek comfort from society’s fickle opinion, but rather in our role as creator.
Ultimately, radical creation means seeing beyond the way things have always been to the way they could be. Like Charlie in “Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory,” we burst out from the ceiling, and dream and imagine beyond boundaries and limits.
Radical creation is not for the faint of heart but for the bravest of heart, the heart that can never be defined as normal.
Now, before we go back into the world creating new things with a reckless abandon fueled by unlimited, fearless, nonconforming, childlike creativity, let me leave you with this:
Have you ever heard of a tardigrade? It is one of the silliest looking creatures you’ll ever see. The universe, in exercising its creative muscle, certainly has a sense of humor. And yet, this is also the only creature to have survived all five mass extinctions. If that doesn’t say something about the longevity and resiliency of maintaining a sense of humor in our creative work, I don’t know what does.
Get curious, create, laugh, repeat.
For more self-study, The Urban Howl recommends 52 Ways to Live a Kick-Ass Life: BS-Free Wisdom to Ignite Your Inner Badass and Live the Life You Deserve.
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