We worry so much about the future that we fail to manage the present. We build artificial visions of the future and then expect life to match up to them. And when they inevitably don’t, we burden ourselves with disappointment and a sense of failure. We use our heads and our gut – but not our hearts, the most formidable organ of them all.
My assistant, Gemma, said a few weeks ago, apropos I have no idea what, " I don’t buy this business of waiting for the ideal job. We should just get on and do the best with what we’ve got".
My first reaction was that she was wrong; it was too pessimistic a view of the world. After all my own experience had been that when I had ‘got on and did the best with what I had’ and didn’t pursue my own creativity it drifted further and further away from me.
Then it struck me that, in the past, I hadn’t done ‘the best I could with what I had’. Because if I had, as a creative person, I would have continued to seek my creativity in whatever job/life/marriage I had. And, as someone seeking after meaning- I would have continued to do so, wherever I was.
What had I done instead? I’d told myself that
"This job is not creative; is not meaningful – is not me. I’ll take what it can give me: an opportunity for my management skills; for making good money; for turning around companies. It’s a job for my skills – not my commitment.
You could summarise it in one sentence "This job is not me"
It’s part of a conversation I’ve been having all my life; first with myself, my parents and partners. And more recently listening to my clients – and my children. It starts off with the question "What do I want to be when I grow up?; moves on to "This is my ideal job/ love/ life…" and then inevitably to "There’s something missing. There’s no joy, creativity, love in it" And finally to: This job, this relationship, this life…is not me"
And what does that mean when we say that about ourselves? That we’re holding ourselves outside our own life.
If we say ‘this is not me’, what we’re doing is refusing to commit ourselves to the present. We’ve always got one foot outside the door. And the problem with standing on the threshold is that you never fully experience (or even know) what goes on in the room; you’re forever an observer.
And creativity, joy and love are participation sports. As is fulfilment
Joy is an experience; an emotion that results not just from doing but from participating. Fully -with both feet well past the threshold. With the door shut. And a commitment that you’ll give it the best you have.
That you’ll give it all you have.
And you can’t create something by just looking at it. You’re going to have to get your hands dirty.
And love? How can you find love when you’re forever hovering?
Commitment doesn’t imprison you. It doesn’t mean you can’t walk out the door if you want to go further. It simply means that while you’re in the room you’ll give all you have. And by committing yourself, you maximise your experience (your wisdom of skills, emotions, thoughts) that equips you to make the best of the future – in the same or in other rooms.
So next time you find your job is not ‘giving’ you enough authority/ creativity/ joy/ scope to use your real skills (and whatever else you feel is missing) ask yourself how much of those aspects of yourself are you giving it? And what would happen if, as Gemma said, you gave it the best of you?
How do we lose ourselves?
How do we lose that which we hold most dear in ourselves – by which we identify ourselves?
Recently I was introduced to an intriguing coaching tool in which you’re asked to identify your ‘core quality’; that attribute by which you most closely identify yourself. I said ‘Integrity’ was mine. While it was true it was also a cop out because if I didn’t have integrity as a coach I may as well pack up and go home. As I started using the tool with colleagues and clients, I noticed how many said exactly the same thing: ‘Integrity’. And without any passion. Or, at least, with the same lack of passion that I had felt.
And then I thought: “When did I last feel really passionately about an attribute of mine”?
And I remembered: when I felt so passionately that I would sacrifice anything for it without a thought. When I couldn’t wait to wake up. And sleep was such a waste of time.
And the object of my passion? Making things. Creativity.In the theatre, in radio, television and film. I acted, directed, wrote, adapted, broadcast, presented, made programmes on poetry, noise, tea, music and anything else I could think of. Incessently. And without a single care about whether I was being judged successful or otherwise. Everything I did felt perfect for me. And that was enough.
And then I abandoned it.
I was living in South Africa at the time- Apartheid South Africa. And I began to suspect that my own creativity wasn’t ‘doing enough to change things’. Writing and directing plays and making programmes may offer relief – or even show people how things could be – but it wasn’t going to feed people or stop them from being imprisoned and killed. So, quite swiftly, I abandoned what I had done best and started reporting for foreign networks -as well as working with the then nascent black trade unions. Good, solid, serious work. Where I felt creativity had no place. Where, ironically, although we were working for ‘what could be’, I felt that only tackling the grinding reality – of what was in front of our noses – had any place at all.
Thoroughness was the byword. Do things carefully. Start at the beginning and get to the end.
And that pattern continued when I arrived in Britain. Yes, I went back to radio and television (not the theatre) but not as a programme maker or writer. As a manager. And, eventually as a turnaround specialist: diagnose, change, move on.
That lasted until, many years later, I decided that wasn’t good enough either . And I went back to school to learn about coaching. Because I was beginning to understand the lesson of joy. Or, rather, the lack of it.
Intutition, creativity and the cross hairs of intelligence
When I was being ‘creative’ I was literally firing on all cylinders. In order to direct a play, I needed to use my intuition to grasp the essence (or perhaps ‘my’ essense) of the story. I also needed to have a view of the overall production as well as to focus on an incredible amount of detail to ensure that those two hours (on stage or on air) ‘fitted together’. I had to make sure I could manage a complex project against tight and very precise deadlines. And I needed to make sure that all involved (cast, crew and management) were kept motivated, sharp and passionate for the performance or recording. (Because even if you’re playing Lazarus before the miracle you still need to do it with conviction, wouldn’t you say?)
So, in order to be creative, I needed to use all my multiple intelligences: mental, physiological, emotional and spiritual/intuitive.
And what do I mean by creativity? In my experience it’s very close to intuition. Intuition comes from the Latin ‘intueor’, meaning to contemplate, to look into. And, the OED tells us intuition is “the ability to understand something immediately without the need for conscious reasoning”. Does that mean it’s guesssing? No, it’s the drawing together of all your intelligences in one sudden insight.It’s the apex of those multiple intelligences – mental, physical and emotional as, literally, an ‘insight’. It’s not a leap into the void but a flight within.
And creativity is a milli-step beyond intuition: it’s that which moves the insight into growth, into a way forward, into something new. Intuition grasps how things are; creativity grasps how they could be; creation makes them real.
Your intuition grasps that this search engine does amazing things; your creativity shows you how you can turn it into a huge business; your creation actually shapes that business.
And where do both intuition and creativity spark? In the cross hairs of your intelligences. And without exercising all those intelligences in a balanced way it’s going to very difficult for that convergence to happen. If your mental (logical) ‘intelligence’ is over ‘flexed’ and your physical (feelings) is neglected, your insight may end up being nothing more than a linear, academic idea with little or no joy or passion to drive you into doing something about it – and staying with it.
If I overuse one of my intelligences (be it emotional, intellectual or physical) I will see the world only in a particular way: as logical detail, as chaos, as pain or as ‘big picture’. And the world is all of those things -at different times. So, we need to remember to look at it in different ways, using our different intelligences.We need to, sometimes, start at the end before we find a beginning. We need sometimes to fly above before crawling into its microscopic detail. Each view gives us a different insight. And in each view we’re exercising a different intelligence.
Insight, Outsight and Passion killers
I abandoned creativity because I confused it with the’arts’. I thought: the theatre = arts = creativity =soft emotions = no place in ‘real life’. Now, there are a lot of flaws in that entire logic but the most important one for this discussion is the last one: that creativity is all messy and soft and “has no place in ‘real life’”.
The result of that was that, instead of bringing with me the balance that had made me successfu, strong and happy before (being detailed one moment, big picture, pragmatic, intuitive or visionary in others, as I had as a director and writer) I focused almost entirely on my mental intelligence: that faculty that sees the world in a linear, logical and – allegedly – objective fashion.
The trouble with walking along the ground in a “linear and logical” way is that your view of the world -and therefore your ideas for the world – stay at ground level as well. And, of course, equally, being up in the air all the time, with a big picture view, tends to make your ideas ‘up in the air’ as well.
As for my intuition – the grasping of what is- was replaced by that killer of all passion: what should be. Understanding the reality of what is, comes from your own insight; from the converged experience of all your intelligences. Seeing reality as what should be is second guessing someone else’s reality: your outsight, if you like.
If we accept that creativity is a ‘good thing’ and it’s best chance of emerging is from that coming together of our multiple intelligences, then we clearly need to make sure that we’re exercising those intelligences – and in a balanced way.
And something that may help is periodically making a few check calls into how we’re living your life – at work or at home.
Core quality check:
Which core attribute of yours do you hold most dear?
With which quality do you emotionally identify yourself?
How are you using that attribute to bring value – to renew – your work?
If you’re not, how can you do so? If you don’t want to, where can you do so?
If you’re changing jobs or career, are you taking with you that core quality and self identity which brought you most success and satisfaction?
If not,why not?
Multiple intelligences check:
What (and how) do you think about this job? How do you feel about it,emotionally?
What about physically? Does it give your body strength and energy – or does it drain it ?
And bringing them all together, what does your intuition say?
What do all your intelligences and experiences say?
And if you can’t see clearly or you’re anxious that you can’t do the job.Or -like me so many years ago -you think it’s not enough to change the world. Then try changing your view:
What will this job look like if you’re not here? What will you look like if you’re not here?
What would it look like (and how would you feel) if you were an observer?
How about looking back from a distance of ten years?
In doing the job, are you using all your intelligences?
Oh – and one which is my personal favourite: what do you feel about your work first thing in the morning?