Growing up, going to school, I was content. There are many reasons that contributed to this overall feeling of happiness, but one of them is surely the enforced writing time that came through class assignments and culminated in my senior year with AP English and the amazing Mr. Arkle (whom I credit with teaching me the fundamentals of writing well).
Then I went to college and majored in business, a good, practical degree. I wrote less and less. When I did it was for dry and boring accounting or marketing assignments for which I produced dry and boring writing. I wasn’t unhappy, but I felt aimless. I lacked purpose. After school I got a job at an advertising agency and quit writing altogether. I was miserable. I decided to go back to school, but this time I went to get my degree in art history. I wrote all the time then about things that really interested me and were challenging and made me think. I loved it. I thought I loved art, and I did and still do, but the real love, always, was for the writing.
Then I had a baby. I stopped writing again. I slipped into undiagnosed postpartum depression or anxiety, I’m not sure. Whatever it was it sucked to feel that way especially with a precious new baby that needed me at my best. I hadn’t written a word for six months when suddenly, after a particularly bad day, I opened my laptop and poured my heart and soul onto the screen. It was a turning point. I didn’t instantly feel better, but I did improve significantly over the next several weeks until I finally felt like myself.
I wish I could say I learned my lesson then, but I didn’t. I stopped writing again until another crisis involving my abrupt departure from a teaching job left me broken and directionless. I knew something had to change, I just wasn’t sure what it was. I started to do a lot of thinking and reading about happiness and careers. I made lists, took personality tests, researched different options, and thought long and hard about what gave me a sense of accomplishment, what excited me, what made me feel like my best self, what made me feel like I was contributing, like the world was full of opportunities.
It came down to writing. So I started doing it on the regular. That was over two years ago now, and I haven’t looked back.
The fact is being creative saved me from the black hole of meaninglessness that seemed all-consuming at times. For me, the creative act of writing equals happiness. It just took me a while to figure that out.
There is a quote I absolutely love from George Bernard Shaw. He said:
“Life isn’t about finding yourself. Life is about creating yourself.”
Finding yourself implies there is some fully formed you already out there in the metaphysical ether that you only need to locate in order to be fully self-actualized. Finding yourself is passive. Finding yourself is hoping that someone else will do the hard work for you and then you can swoop in and take advantage of it like finding buried treasure or a leprechaun’s pot of gold. Finding means hoping, wishing, waiting.
But what happens when your waiting doesn’t yield results. You get bored. You do things to fill the void, consuming other people’s creativity, with the hope of siphoning off some. The longer you wait, the more bitter you become, and eventually, if it continues on too long you stop waiting to find yourself and you start searching for things that will confirm what you already believe to be true: the world sucks, life is a sham, and successful, happy people are either lying or delusional. It becomes your mission to take them down (see Internet trolls for examples of just this sort of pathetic creature).
Dr. Seuss in his near-perfect book Oh, The Places You’ll Go has a whole two-page spread devoted to waiters. And after his rhyming list of people waiting for their lives to happen he implores his reader to take action with a fervent: “NO! That’s not for you!”
And he’s right. Waiting’s not for you.
Don’t wait. Create.
You might think you’re not creative. You are.
Creativity has many meanings and complex associations. But to be creative you don’t need to be an artist, a writer, a dancer, a musician, or an actor, although all those things are wonderfully creative. You don’t need to be in the arts or even interested in them necessarily. In its most basic form creating is taking things and combining them so that they become something new.
An artist does this with paint and canvas.
A writer does this with words.
A cook does this meat, vegetables, and spices.
A coder does this with ones and zeroes.
An athlete does this with their body.
A scientist does this with chemicals.
An accountant does this with numbers.
A therapist does this with feelings.
A teacher does this with information.
You get the idea.
To be happy, to have purpose, you must create. What should you create? Some of you know already. That is a gift. Some of you might not. In that case, my suggestion to you is to live life. Do lots of things. Pause and reflect on the way you feel. Which things make you forget about time passing? Which things fill you with a sense of purpose, with a sense of gratitude for your talents and abilities? Do more of those things.
But don’t wait.
The world needs your creativity.
Image credit: Live Alive Coaching