What it means to be creative - Part 1: Why I create

It was a slow weekday morning. I sat quietly at my desk with a cup of coffee in front of me while I watched my inbox download my email just like I did every morning- 15, 25, 50, 100… 172 emails. And while I should have started prioritizing them, instead, I sat there. My mind wandered down a path I hadn’t explored before. I asked myself, is what I’m doing worth it? Am I fulling my purpose? What *is* my purpose?

Those are big questions and I had no idea how to begin answering them. I couldn’t focus, so I grabbed my headphones and played a YouTube video– something I did often just to have some background noise. In-depth interviews with musicians, actors or authors were always a good choice. Something that allowed me to go in and out of paying attention and actually getting work done.

Before long I came across a speech. It wasn’t the best recording. It sounded like something that was recorded in a lecture hall directly to tape. I wasn’t actually listening, but something in it caught my attention.

The speaker was talking about doing what you love. He said “If you say that getting the money is the most important thing, you will spend your life completely wasting your time. You’ll be doing things you don’t like doing in order to go on living that is to go on doing things you don’t like doing. Which is stupid!”

I thought to myself, what is he talking about? I opened my browser which I usually kept minimized and restarted the video.

It was a speech by Alan Watts. A British-American philosopher who interpreted and popularized Eastern philosophy for a Western audience. (That’s the Wikipedia description.) If you know who he is then you’re way ahead of where I was in 2009 when I first heard the speech.

In the speech, he begs the question “What would you like to do if money were no object? How would you really enjoy spending your life?” When you finally get down to something you really like, he says to go do that because if you really enjoy it then you can become a master at it and then you can require a good fee for it.

It’s better to have a short life full of things you like than a long life spent in a miserable way.

I didn’t have a way to answer that question. What I did know was that what I was currently doing was not it.

I spent the rest of the day replaying the video over and over again until it was time to go home.

In the year leading up to this, my wife had given me some art supplies. A canvas, brushes and a few acrylic paints. From the outside, this appeared to be a nice gesture. We were still dating at the time she gave them to me and she knew that I’d grown up drawing and painting, but it had been years since I had done anything. Art wasn’t even a part of my life by the time she met me. From the inside, there was more to this gift than there appear to be. Heading into college I’d chosen to follow a different path leaving behind my art and failing to recognize it as a part of me and my given identity. Her gift sparked a series of explorations that started with painting and would eventually lead me back to my creative calling.

The following year I came up with an answer to the question. What would I do if money were no object?

Design. That’s what I would do.

I’d started to freelance during this time. I was designing logos which utilized my drawing skills and I liked it.

For the first time in a long time, things made sense again.

I went home that night and told my wife that I wanted to quit my job and change careers. I explained everything and asked for her advice. Mind you, at this point we had only been married for a year, we had to move back into her parent's house because we couldn’t afford to be on our own, and I was asking to quit my job with a down economy. Unemployment was high and I was willingly giving up mine.

She looked at me and said “OK.” She trusted me and knew that I'd always do right by us.

Everything in life is designed. Created to fulfill a purpose, provide solutions, or to entertain us. Creation is the most beautiful act we can ever take part in.

And that’s my gift: creativity. My purpose is to honor that calling and unlock my creative potential.

I shifted my focus to this new career. I embraced it completely. It took a couple of years, but I managed to build a six-figure business, I led design teams and worked with clients like Nike, Toyota, and Disney. I pushed so hard to be successful that I began to place my identity and self-worth in my work.

But if I’m being honest, creating has become increasingly difficult for me.

I think about it sometimes and wonder how some of the things that have happened over the years have affected me. The good things, and the not so good. The voices and opinions that I’ve allowed in. They all help to shape you, slowly molding and polishing the edges of who you are.

It’s been a long journey and at times difficult to balance who I am as a creative person and what my role is in the creative process. Often neglecting my health and sacrificing time with family. Even allowing my own values to be compromised by someone else. But you don’t have to make the same mistakes I have. You can control how things affect you by managing the importance that you give them.

The secret, for me, has been learning to be at peace throughout the creative process. Starting something new is easy. Especially when you’re as passionate as I am. Even finishing projects- when they’re met with excitement, it validates the idea and fuels me to start the process all over again. But the middle. That’s where fear, doubt, and insecurity live. It’s that part of a project that pushes back and sometimes makes you wonder if you have what it takes to finish it. Steven Pressfield, author of the book “The War of Art” calls it the resistance. The challenge is getting over the hump that inevitably meets you after starting a new project. If you’re able to do that, well, this is where ideas with the potential to propel you to new places, to move the ground under your feet or move the needle on the scale come to life.

I believe that it’s in that process that you’ll find what it means to be creative–to pour yourself into your craft, develop your voice, and mold your mind and heart.

Pablo Picasso said, “Every child is born an artist, the problem is remaining one as we grow up.”

I can attest to that. Embracing your creativity isn't always easy. You may even wish you had a different gift at times. But we can see things in ways that the rest of the world can't. We can think visually and spot less obvious solutions. And that's one of the best parts about this gift.

After a lot of soul searching, I’ve come to realize that there's only one way to live for me. Forever chasing what I call a Sunday state of mind, to help unlock my creative potential and do my most meaningful work.

That’s why I create.

I create because I need to.

I create because I have to.

I create because it makes me feel alive.

The next time you sit down in front of your laptop, pick up a camera or load a brush with paint, remember that part of being creative is learning to embrace your creativity. Don’t lose sight of why you create.