4 simple rules for living a creative life

Nov 15, 2018

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The best advice often comes in small packages, through "simple" sentences that reveal profound truths about ourselves and the universe. All of us, especially creative professionals, tend to over-complicate and over-analyze.

As creatives, we need to think constantly, but we also run the risk of living too much in our heads.

The creative life is hard and often scary, especially if you’re doing things right. In challenging moments, such as when a client doesn’t appreciate the creative risk I’ve taken and wants a more cookie-cutter approach, I find myself repeating "simple" sentences that reveal profound truths and help me re-balance. They remind me to lean into self-awareness and lean away from seeking approval from the outside world.

Here they are:

"The only way around is through."

We all live with blind spots, with elephants in the room, with things that make us uncomfortable and that we want to avoid (I've got a boatload of this stuff myself). And it is precisely these “scary” things that will shape and define who we are. Sooner or later, everyone notices what you're NOT talking about, what you're not dealing with–even when you spend your whole life pretending that nobody notices.

Fifteen years ago, I spent an entire year in psychotherapy refusing to talk about what I most needed to talk about, which was why I sought to please everyone but myself. The therapist listened to me every session talk about books and politics and the weather, saw through my endless "arounding and arounding," and at the end of each session would say, "the only way around is through."

I had to accept all that "through" means. It can take a long time, but it has to happen, sitting with the fear and, yes, turning around and talking to that ghost you've been trying to ignore.

Guess what? That ghost is you. If you want to be whole, you need to stop going around and start talking to the ghosts. I am trying and, trust me, it gets easier.

"Don't just do something, sit there."

One of my favorites, and I say it to myself every day. It reminds me to choose reflection before action. It doesn't mean NOT acting, but simply prioritizes thinking before acting.

I heard this phrase in a podcast with a philosopher, and it made me laugh in the way brilliant epiphanies often do. Never forget that you have every right to take your time, to reflect upon your values, and to think before you do anything.

Can you overthink? Yes. There's a happy medium between acting and thinking: Do both, of course, but think first.

"In the beginner's mind, there are many possibilities; in the expert's, few."

Another favorite. This phrase compels me to see the world with fresh eyes, not to make assumptions about other people, about situations, about what's happening around me. The "beginner's mind" is curious, like a three-year-old's mind.

Have you ever watched a three-year-old walk around, seeing the world as if for the first time? They absorb knowledge like sponges and are filled with a sense of amazement and infinite possibility.

If someone tells me, "you're acting like a three-year-old," I thank them.

Question everything, especially yourself and your motives. "Why" is the only question that matters, and we need to ask it constantly of ourselves and of the world around us. The expert "knows" but fails to comprehend what she doesn't know.

For this reason, the expert needs to re-learn the things every three-year-old knows: That the world is large and filled with mystery, wonder, and infinite possibility. Open your eyes, the way a child does, and see.

"Put on your own mask before helping others with theirs."

You hear this instruction on every airline flight, and it's a profound truth to live by. Balance care for others with care for self. This is not selfish, but the beginning of all compassion.

If I'm not well or whole or safe, how can I help others be well or whole or safe? Have I tried to help others whilst I was broken? Oh yes, many times. And it's never worked out for anyone (see sentence # 1 above). Helping others without focusing on ourselves can be a form of avoidance, of deflection and denial. If I can save another, then somehow I might be saved. It's a great theory, and I’ve tested it, but it never works.

You must self-care, daily. If I'm stressed out, I need to meditate or go for a walk in nature or talk to a mentor who helps me find my way. When I'm restored, I can help others. When I'm not, then I need help.

Life is about learning how to get the help you need and then helping others get the help they need. The word for this is community, and it starts with caring for self.

Put on your mask.

Boston-based Chuck Leddy is a freelance B2B Brand Storyteller who connects brands and customers through engaging stories. His clients include Sojourn Solutions, The Boston Globe's BG Brand Lab, MITx, abas USA, and The National Center for the Middle Market. His website is www.ChuckLeddy.com.