I’m starting a new blog series today called “Battle Lines.” I’ve been seeing more and more creatives struggling and wrestling with their creative lives not because of a lack of resources, skill or knowledge but because they are drawing the “battle lines” in the wrong places. As a result, they spend their time fighting ghosts and mustering up all of their strength to combat the wrong enemy. In this series, I’m going to name a few of the places where I see this happening and (hopefully) challenge myself and all of us to begin engaging on the real front lines.
The first “false front” I’d like to mention is that of being Reactive vs. being Proactive. This typically manifests itself most obviously in the form of victim language. For example:
“I wanted to [insert creative idea here], but they made me [insert organizational replacement here.]”
“I would love to [insert dream here], but [insert person] would never go for it.”
“It’s not worth the effort to [insert creative activity here], because in the end it simply won’t matter.”
These are all statements made from a victim posture. They are reactive statements. (Notice that I didn’t say that they aren’t true – they very well might be, but we still must recognize them as inherently reactive.)
The problem with this kind of posturing is that it’s essentially the same as allowing someone else to control your life. You are willingly living in a prison that you helped build. You are allowing someone else to limit your creative engagement and the fulfillment you find in your work. You are eating your own heart.
The journey toward engaging with a creative ethic begins by asserting that no person has the ability to steal your creative engagement. They may not like your ideas and they may consistently disagree with your vision, but they cannot steal your ability to engage fully in whatever you’re doing. You can still choose to be proactive rather than reactively acquiescing or folding like a cheap lawn chair.
As a word of precaution, please know that you cannot control the results of your decision to “reactively” withhold yourself from the creative process. You cannot “silo off” one area of your life and think that it will not affect every area of your life. If you choose to harbor anger, bitterness, resentment or grudges in one area of your life it will most certainly spill over into all other areas. If you think you can slack off creatively at work and that it won’t affect your creative engagement in other ways, you are wrong. It will catch up with you.
You must engage. You must make the choice to bring yourself fully to the creative process regardless of your circumstances or how unfair things might be within your organization. It feels good to turn everything inward and stew on negative stuff, but ultimately the only person you’re harming is you. You must assert ownership of your own creative engagement.
Here are a few practical questions to help you get started:
1. Are there areas in your life in which you’re actively withholding yourself? Why? What would full-on creative engagement in those areas look like?
2. Are you proactively creating anything other than what’s required by your work/career? If not, why? How can you begin to work that into your life?
3. Do you have other people in your life who share your passion for creating that you can share work-related issues with? Sometimes it helps to get the perspective of someone outside of the situation.
The next part of our series will be on “Possibility vs. Pragmatics” thinking.