That erroneous quote, “Houston, we have a problem,” sums up 2021. Between a rampant global virus, climate change, economic distress, racial inequity, and social isolation, we have pressing problems to solve. Given this, we would do well to turn to our innate super power— creativity, as a mean for addressing our most salient concerns of the day.
Creativity can be defined as the ability to transcend traditional ideas, rules, patterns, and relationships. It entails the emergence of meaningful new methods and interpretations and uses imagination and originality as tools for transformation. By tapping into these to forge new paths, we improve mental health and the well-being of our society. As Einstein said, “Logic will take you from A to B, imagination will take you anywhere.”
Creativity is not the Frosting; it’s the Cake
Creativity is often viewed as the icing on the cake—meaning creativity isn’t essential or the highest priority in our personal or work lives. In fact, some people view it as a luxury or leisure activity reserved for the elite. Yet creativity isn’t something doled out to the chosen few. It’s a trait we all have and is a primary agent of growth and change. It allows us to:
- Renew ourselves
- Recharge our minds
- Reclaim hope
- Restore connections
- Resolve problems
Given this, it’s unfortunate that creativity isn’t always valued as a high priority. In fact, most of us are familiar with Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. It’s a theory in psychology that states humans have basic needs that are ranked in order of importance and priority. Our need for food, clothing, shelter, and safety is paramount, followed by the need for love and belonging. Creativity is ranked last. Obviously, if we’re starving and don’t have shelter, we might not be thinking about painting the Sistine Chapel or self-actualization. However, what if creativity, which is at the top of Maslow’s pyramid was viewed as the primary vehicle for meeting all of our needs?If this was the case and we tapped into this approach, we might:
- Prioritize creativity within schools and organizations
- Address economic problems and inequity to create a more just world
- Foster empathy through arts programs in communities and businesses
- Think outside the box and envision change and possibilities
With creativity, we see possibilities even when our current reality indicates otherwise. We need this vision or we will remain stuck in our circumstances. And while it can be hard to dream, if life hasn’t given us much reason to, creativity helps build the imagination muscle. It revises our viewpoints allowing us to “see again”. When this occurs, we have increased personal agency and these areas of our lives become enhanced: our vision and goals, systems, jobs, relationships, stories, issues and problems.
Misconceptions about Creativity
It’s interesting how we categorize creativity and tend to think only certain people or industries are creative. “I’m not creative,” someone might say, or “I’m not an artist.” In fact, we often deify people in the entertainment industry for their talents yet neglect to recognize creativity in the people around us.
Here are just some groups that also tend to be highly creative:
- Artists (painters, writers, dancers, actors & musicians)
Another misconception is that there is a causal link between creativity and mental illness. While many individuals living with mental illness might be highly creative, there are equally as many who would not be described that way at all – by themselves or others.Instead, I would argue that creativity is healing and restorative whether we have a diagnosis or not. Creativity helps us transform our challenges into works of beauty and endows life with purpose. Not to mention the enormous contribution it makes to society and humanity.
Creativity in the Workplace and Education
Without a doubt, work and school environments have changed radically in the last year. We’ve all had to “pivot” and adapt to a new normal. Creativity increases flexibility and spontaneity as we learn new ways of doing things. In the work place it can help us navigate interpersonal conflict, balance budgets, innovate, market, produce, and make a profit.
That said, work and school environments often operate counter-intuitively. Instead of embracing approaches that enhance learning and productivity, sometimes these methods are stifled. We look to companies like Apple or Tesla and praise them for their innovation, yet creative strategies are often not supported in the work environment. And students at school who color outside the lines are sometimes frowned upon. Instead of being viewed as mavericks who can reach new heights, companies and schools often prefer folks keep to the status quo.
If creativity is to flourish in our communities, work and school environments must allow a degree of play, risk, connection, exploration, trial and error, and rest and reflection. These are the ingredients that foster new configurations and possibilities.
Jumping into the Void
Creating takes courage. It’s often a leap of faith and into the unknown. It can make us feel vulnerable as we wonder if we will succeed or fail. Do we dare dream? And can we step into something new and unfamiliar?
To begin revitalizing your creativity, why not take an on-line class, work with a mentor, or sit down with few distractions and focus on a task you’d like to work on. Feel free to take a little time out to explore and play. You will most likely begin to feel renewed.
Not only that, when we look at our lives from a creative vantage point, we start to see ourselves as characters within our own narrative. We can shape the story, honoring core scenes and events that have occurred while creating new ones too. This is really key because during the pandemic, most of us have been stuck in an unhappy narrative and we might feel a little short changed on hope. Yet creativity allows us to foster optimism and to rebuild. We can turn to the poetry of Emily Dickinson who wrote, “I dwell in possibility, a fairer house than prose…” And from this sense of possibility, we can soar to new heights and see things from a radically different view.
Lise Porter is a licensed marriage and family therapist, consultant, and trainer for the Workplace Mental Health Institute. She is based in Los Angeles and is also a working actor. Her book, Own Your Life: How Our Wounds Become Our Gifts is available on Amazon or through her website, liseporter.com.