A few months ago, I wrote a piece about surviving the Creativity Dark Ages. The Dark Ages are those periods where you want to create, but it simply doesn’t seem possible. You’re working too much, kids are in the way, or other life stressors are taking you away from your creative projects. It’s tempting to give up your creative pursuits, to say, “This is never gonna happen,” and go about your regular life. But a Dark Age is (usually) temporary and giving up isn’t the solution.
In response to that piece, a few people asked me if I would share the causes of my Dark Ages. Sure. I’ll tell you the story of the first Dark Age because it was the only one I didn’t really see coming. The others were due to obvious external factors like health issues or caregiving. But the first one… (They say you always remember your first and in this case, it’s the truth.)
It hit not too many years after college. I was working as a technical writer in a software company. It was my first “adult” job. The boss was a nightmare (oh, if only #MeToo had been popular back then, that guy would have had his own sub hashtag), the hours sucked, and the work was soul-numbing. Still, it was a job and the beginning of a career. Or so I hoped.
To that end, I poured everything I had into the image of a good career woman. I bought conservative, uncomfortable clothes. I traded many of my artsy, fun-loving friends for “networking” opportunities with complete assholes. In my limited off hours, I read self-improvement/career boosting books. My beloved fiction and non-job-related non-fiction remained on the shelves. My evenings stopped being fun and instead became about hanging out with people I didn’t like, doing things I didn’t enjoy, all in the name of servicing this “career” I thought I was building.
Even my home took a turn for the worse as I traded in all of my fun, geeky, quirky decor for “serious adult” decor. I didn’t want anyone to come over and see that I wasn’t serious. My hobbies became nights with coworkers at bars and doing whatever they thought was fun. I cleared the shelves of board games and Disney meorabilia, and put away my Lego collection. I “leaned in” before leaning in was cool.
Heaven forbid people should think I was weird. I wanted to fit in.
In the words of the Bible, “When I became a (wo)man, I put away childish things.”
And it nearly killed me. It certainly sent me down the rabbit hole of depression.
I gave up everything that meant something to me and which made me creative. I gave up my time, my relaxing hobbies, and my interest in other creative efforts like books and movies. Socializing became torment instead of a time to talk with interesting, fun people full of nifty ideas. There was no time for exercise, for my mind to rest and come up with creative ideas.
For the first time in my life, I had no desire to create anything and worse, no idea how to begin even if I wanted to.
I’d always been creative. Even at the height of my busy college schedule I found time and desire to write short stories, to doodle, or to make things. But once I started that job? I became so busy being an adult I forgot that there had to be way more to life.
My mistake was in stopping with the idea of putting away childish things. C.S. Lewis had a much better version of that Bible quote, which I should have heeded, instead.
“When I became a (wo)man I put away childish things, including the fear of childishness and the desire to be very grown up.”
It took a few years, but I finally reached the point where I said, “Screw this. If this is what it takes to have a career, then count me out.” I saved as much money as I could and finally “bought” myself the freedom to go freelance. I carved out a life that was tailored to my interests and my pace. Going freelance allowed me to reconnect with the parts of myself I’d so recklessly cast off.
Ever so slowly, I pulled out of the Dark Age. I surrounded myself with the things and people I loved again, and found time to just “be.” The harassers and assholes got kicked to the curb and I cut anyone who spewed negativity out of my life. My brain gradually juiced itself up and one day I found myself wanting to write and make things again. In trying to become an adult, I’d practically killed the creative part of my soul. It took time and effort to resurrect it.
The corporate, hard-driving career life may be an ideal fit for some. For me, it was a disaster. I learned that I am far better off acting a bit childishly and embracing a somewhat childish outlook on things. I need my toys and my games, and I need for life to be fun, varied, and interesting, not a mind-numbing climb up the corporate ladder. I’m never going to be the type of serious adult who can network and schmooze.
Once I got that all clear in my head, creativity returned and my desire for the career life dissipated. It’s funny how we think we “have” to pursue certain paths in life but when we really examine our lives, we realize that what we “have” to do is not what we want to do. And trying anyway can put you into a Dark Age.
(Photo courtesy of Free-Photos)