In modern western society, we like to pretend we love and support creativity. It brings us innovation and entertainment, after all. Without highly creative people, we wouldnot have personal computers, iPhones, Facebook, or movies. We wouldn’t have great paintings or books to read or light bulbs or cars or drugs to stamp out tuberculosis. Creativity is an absolutely necessary element of society and moving society forward.
In fact, however, as much as we like the product of creativity, we often abhor and dislike the personality traits that go along with high creatives. In college, as a psych minor, I took a class on the psychology of creativity. The text was Guiding Creative Talent, by Ellis Paul Torrence.*** It blew my mind.
For the first few weeks, I couldn’t stop journaling about what I was learning. I wrote and wrote and wrote—because all this time, I’d thought I was just strange, and actually I was actually simply a high creative. By then, I knew I wanted to be a writer, but the process of becoming one still seemed completely at odds with what my family did, what the people I knew did, what ordinary people did. The class gave me validation.
It is not easy to actually be a creative person, as most of you probably already know. We are a society that values extroversion, concrete progress, measurable results. Chances are good you are at least on the introvert side of the line. This is a helpful trait when you are going to spend your life sitting in a room by yourself, not talking to other people for many hours every single day. It isn’t so helpful when it comes to throwing parties or being popular with teachers in elementary school.
The mental and personality traits that make it possible to be creative can also be annoying and irritating to the rest of society. Aside from the crime of introversion, creative people are often non-conforming, haughty, brilliant, intense, restless, prickly, with a sense of destiny (see the whole list here). Steve Jobs is not know for being a real swell guy, for example, but his legacy of elegance of form married to power of function is one of the best of his generation.
Do you see any of those traits in your personality? One of my struggles is with impatience. I’m hostile to the phone and think texting is one of the great inventions of all time. As a teen, I was so non-conforming that my father went crazy, which only made me more rebellious. (Creative teens are actually at high risk for derailing in any number of ways, because the drive to fit in is so strong—and we don’t fit.)
And yet, here we are. Adults now. Armed with a completely odd set of virtues and talents and quirks. Like tenacity and an ability to tolerate failure. Thomas Edison tried over 10,000 variations before he came up with the incandescent light bulb. Many of his other inventions failed completely and some ideas never bore fruit at all. That’s Thomas Edison, who still holds the records for patents granted at 1093. He also famously found benefits in being somewhat hard of hearing, saying that reading beat the babble of conversation. Sound familiar?
How many rejections have you tolerated? How many times have you realized a book just was never going to work and set it aside, material for the compost heap of your imagination? That’s you, being creative, engaging in that part of your nature that knows it takes a lot of failure to find success in creativity. It’s a joyous part of the process, taking us step closer to success, to clarity, to engaging with the right stuff.
Finally, it must be said that we’re all a little weird. Or a lot weird. Maybe all humans are, but creatives tend to have a larger than usual number of eccentricities. On a board I’m on, we had a discussion of pens and paper, and it was hilarious to me how all of us had very specific needs. A black medium point gel pen and a yellow legal pad. A Clairefontaine notebook with a fountain pen (and a cup of coffee with two sugars and soy creamer). Midnight, silence, green tea and an Alphasmart. In other ways, we have our specific periods of oddness. I know I get very weird at the end of a book—I have trouble living in both worlds and I’m highly emotional and almost raw when touching the real world. It’s not an easy time to live with me. Luckily I, like many of us do, have found a partner who balances my eccentricities with some of his own.
Society loves our products, not our oddness, but that’s okay. Once we’ve weathered childhood and discovered the great joy to be found in exploring our imaginations, the payoff is so huge we don’t mind. Mostly.
When did you know you were a little different from other people? Do you recognize some of the traits of creativity in yourself? What aspects of being creative are most rewarding? Most challenging?
***I highly recommend this book and its insights, especially if you’re coping with a highly creative child. It’s old, but still valid, and aside from the pleasure I found in recognizing my tribe, it was an immeasurable help to me when I found myself with a highly gifted, highly creative child who was NOT EASY to raise. Lots of used copies are available at Amazon.