Creativity needs constraints

There was a time when I thought I had life all figured out. I had an air of confidence in everything I did. The only aspect which was not perfectly managed was my creative time. There was never enough of it and I felt I could really use more. Like many people who suffer with this type of time deficit affliction, I was always on the hunt for the best ways to manage it. Then I left full-time work.

You know when retired people proclaim to be busier than ever before? They complain they have no time to do all the stuff they want. They marvel at how they once managed to work full-time. All the while they are smiling, and it feels a little smug to those who are still working stiffs. Well, I have to admit, all that is true. I lived it in my mini-retirement.

Except I did not enjoy the experience where all my time magically filled up. Not at all. By not commuting to a job site, a huge swath of time was opened up for my discretion and I honestly didn’t know what to do with it. The time wasters jumped all over me and I had no idea how to fend them off. My perfectionism ran out of control. What used to take me minutes to complete would take me hours instead. Without the guard rails, I was careening off track at every turn. It was ridiculous, and I couldn’t control it at all.

At the end of a day, I would be very disappointed about my lack of progress. Of course, my goal for the day was vague, so what did I expect? As the days turned into weeks, I kept rationalizing my behavior. I needed more time to settle into this new life. Inspiration would strike, and I would find my groove. It was perfectly normal to take 2-hour lunches and 3-hour dinners. I had so much time now.

I had escaped from an extremely prescriptive schedule according to the plan I created with my husband. I was in charge and life was great. I could do anything I wanted. Imagine the freedom? Doesn’t it sound wonderful? If I fancied taking an afternoon to knit and watch Netflix, I could do that. I sometimes felt like dedicating hours instead of minutes to research a topic of interest, no problem. There were endless ways in which my time was gobbled up, like pacman running the board.

Yet, inspiration and creativity were not finding me. I was patiently waiting and day after day I was being stood up. Something was wrong. Not only was my time evaporating into thin air and I had nothing to show for the efforts I took, I was growing sad about it. I was also confused, why was this happening to me? On top of the efforts to process my feelings leftover from my working life, I had added on another layer to sort through.

My mini-retirement, was not off to a good start. I knew from the onset that I was transitioning. The only thing I was not sure of was, what would that look like? How would I make money again, one day? I knew I wanted to move into the realm of service towards others. I wanted to create a community of like-minded people. But, that was where my sense of certainty ended. I could not see the future, for the first time in my life.

It is not to say I could predict what would happen in my life, up until that point. I only had the security of knowing that for many years I had happily worked for one company. Of course, there were many different jobs and tasks within that tenure, but I felt secure turning away head hunters trying to lure me away. I was able to work creatively within the confines of that one company. The type of business they operated in was a constraint or a boundary I had to stay within.

Then I set myself free. I thought the real world of creativity lay somewhere out there. The places where there were no rules. The land of do anything you want when you want to do it. It took me 18 months to realize that is not the case. The greatest creativity comes when I am under the gun a bit, on a deadline or otherwise under a little bit of pressure.

The schedule I have come to treasure only allows me to write at certain times of the day, for short stretches. I open up my laptop and get to it. I don’t do anything else first and succumb to distractions. I can’t. I’ve devoted commuting time to create. 100 minutes a day. 500 minutes a week or 26,000 minutes a year. Over the course of 12 months, I will have spent 433 hours or 54 eight-hour days typing away. I’m a little shocked to think about that.

This practice of being creative, not when inspiration strikes, not when I feel like it, but at the same time each day, is key. This is a fundamental skill where I have to put myself in the zone with the opening of the pink cover on my laptop. There is no internet access to let me check one thing, really quick. If what I am writing requires some research, I have to balance my phone in one hand and type with one hand. All the while keeping my computer from sliding off my lap as the bus rounds the next corner.

Is this easy? NO. Especially on the ride home. It is so tempting to stay in my job through my phone. Typing away through text and email. The danger there is not easy to see at first. Most people I talk to assume I am working for the whole commute. That would be the logical thing to do, it seems. But, if I don’t move my thoughts away from work, before I get home, then how do I transition? In order to be truly at home in my mind, when my body is physically there, I can’t keep circling around problems I need to solve at work.

Nowadays, I arrive home pretty fresh. The bus driver battles the traffic, delivering me safely to the street I live on. I am greeted by the aroma of dinner just being finished up. I have very few responsibilities to attend to. I can focus on enjoying my evening, in whatever way suits me best. By honouring the constraints in my day, I am more creative than I have been in a very long time.

Thank you for reading my thoughts on creativity. Each day, I hope to get a little closer to understanding how to design a lifestyle I don’t need a vacation from. I believe that focusing on the importance of creativity in our daily lives is an important aspect of happiness and ultimately wellness.

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