Staying Creative

by Randy Murray on April 18, 2013

Although I come from a long line of farmers, from my father all the way back to Adam, as far as I can tell, I’m setting out to found a new, non-agrarian dynasty. From here on out, we’re all artists. My daughter Kathleen just finished her graduate degree in Jazz Studies and is heading off to NYC to play her bass, teach, and generally get the place in shape (that’s right, watch out Mayor Bloomberg). Daughter Jen just finished her freshman year at the Rhode Island School of Design where she’s studying painting. Both of them are more accomplished artists and thinkers than I was at that age.

We’re all heading out in our own direction, but we share one common core: we see possible worlds in our minds, then set out to make them real.

My practical and business-oriented wife, Diane, is still getting use to the idea of a creative dynastic family, but the tide is against her. She knew I was in love with the theatre when she met me and when I started studying playwrighting, she recognized that she was done for. I behaved well for years, got a button-down job, wore a tie and everything, but she knew it was just a matter of time before I got off the leash and, er, unleashed my creative energies once again.

The secret is this: I never stopped being creative. I never stopped creating. Not even when I was working 60-80 hours a week, dealing with a newborn, and battling a horrendous, construction clogged commute. The way to stay creative is to keep creating.

How did I do that? First, you do a bit of robbing Peter. He’s used to it now, so go ahead (although don’t mention Paul to him—they’re on the outs). I traded lunch hours for writing time and bag lunches. When I traveled for business, I carried a personal projects notebook and wrote on airplanes and in hotel rooms.

And I never skipped out on an opportunity to play with my girls. Their imaginations, their focused play, was a reminder to me of what I wanted out of life.

I also worked myself into jobs that absolutely required creativity. You can do this in many fashions. One terrific way is to take on a job that no one has done before. Create or fail (fail and create again). I learned an awful lot by building departments, learning new skills, and setting up organizations. That’s how I stumbled across the Mac in 1987, learned about desktop publishing, and got to meet and work with some other wonderfully creative people, many of whom are still close friends and co-creators.

The other way to exercise creativity in work is to put yourself into an occupation that requires creativity. I started with documentation and training development and moved into marketing, where I spent most of my career before I made a wrong turn into operations and general management. If you really want to be creative, but also want to eat, I highly recommend marketing as a career choice (unfortunately I entered the marketing industry in the post-Mad Men era, so there was very little drinking at work).

Creativity thrives when you need to overcome challenges. I learned recently that raccoons are swiftly evolving and getting frighteningly smart, all because we’re conducting an arms race with the species by concocting generation after generation of raccoon-proof trash cans. They don’t stay raccoon-proof for very long and the challenge of defeating these obstacles are making the little masked bandits resort to creativity. The smartest raccoons are the most successful ones, and they’re the ones breeding the next generation of safecrackers (it helps that they have opposable thumbs).

The person who wants to stay creative has to either accept new challenges or create them. The challenge, the goal, the rock and the hard place are all part of the creative process. Very little creativity comes from just sitting down with a blank sheet of paper and waiting to think up stuff. We become creative to solve problems, to make things, to understand how things work.

Here’s something else I learned from my creative family: you yearn to be more creative when you surround yourself with creative people and go and see, hear, and participate in wonderfully creative things. Museums, concerts, exhibits, and similar events all stimulate the creative juices in me, even if it’s just the “hell, I could do that better,” or the more likely, “how the hell did they do that?”

There’s a rush that comes from winning a game, on a board or on the field. There’s the satisfaction of being recognized for a job well done. But there’s very little that can compare with creating something, building something new and completely yours. It’s worth the challenges and the struggle and the nightly battle with the masked marauders. You see, all of this is making us smarter and more creative, too.

A thousand generations from now when my vast dynasty of artists stage the final showdown against the army of raccoon zombie robots we’ll be ready. It’ll be one hell of a show.

Originally published in the Read & Trust newsletter.

The Staying Creative by Randy Murray, unless otherwise expressly stated, is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

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