There are a number of paths to finding fulfillment in life, such as discovering your purpose, building deeper relationships or finding true love.
Would it surprise you if I put creativity on the same list?
It’s not often that we think of creativity as providing fulfillment.
Yet, according to Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, author of Creativity: Flow and the Psychology of Discovery and Invention, “of all human activities, creativity comes closest to providing the fulfillment we all hope to get in our lives.”
This makes sense when you think about it.
Creativity is the use of the imagination in coming up with original ideas. If you’re showing signs of being highly creative, it means you are thinking for yourself.
The opposite of being creative is to become a replica of someone else’s mind. It conforms to what society expects of you. It’s to be conditioned by the education system. It’s to be politically obedient in a world where politicians don’t want us to critically analyze their policies and ideas.
I think that deep down we are all creative. But there are forces acting upon all of us that are trying to extinguish our flame of creativity so we conform to other people’s plans.
In this article, I’m going to outline a number of warning signs to look out for that you are not as creative as you may think you are.
If you’re starting to notice these signs, be alarmed. You may be starting to change your identity and becoming a replica of someone else’s mind.
1. You don’t have a problem with authority
The political activist Noam Chomsky shares very few of the principles driving his analysis of human behavior. There is one principle he consistently expresses:
“Authority, unless justified, is inherently illegitimate and that the burden of proof is on those in authority. If this burden can’t be met, the authority in question should be dismantled.”
There are many instances of authority in our lives that we unthinkingly accept as legitimate. Yet, why is this the case? Why should your boss have authority over you in the workplace? Why do politicians get to decide the fate of the human species by allowing factories to emit carbon dioxide with very few limitations in place? Why should your romantic partner get to dictate what you do with your spare time?
I’m not suggesting that authority is always illegitimate. Rather, the person with authority needs to be able to make a clear case for why they are exercising authority. If they can, and you agree with their reasoning, that’s fine. Accept their authority. It may be for good reason.
But if the person with authority can’t make a clear case for it, then be warned:
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You may be in a situation where your creativity is being extinguished by a structure of authority.
2. You are starting to behave like others around you
Some people want to be just like everyone else around them. They want to fit in, be respected and gain social approval.
This makes sense on the face of it. We are a social species. We crave human connection.
But what happens when the price for connection with someone is to behave in a way that is not authentic to who you are?
What happens if you’re acting in ways the people around you want you to behave, as opposed to acting in a way that comes naturally?
When your actions are conditioned by the expectations of others and come from a desire to fit in, then you are not being creative.
You’re being manipulated by other people.
But when you are able to stand up for yourself in an authentic way, you are probably acting in a way that is unique and true to yourself.
You’ll end up giving voice to your inherent creativity. It may change other people’s expectations of you, but that’s okay. You’ll be living a life true to yourself.
Personally, I’d rather be true to myself and act in ways that threaten to keep me isolated. I’ll pay the price of loneliness, but I’ll build a deeper relationship with myself.
Over time, I suspect that I’ll end up finding others on a similar journey of discovering their own authenticity. These are the relationships I want to keep in my life.
3. You can’t remember the last time you daydreamed
Do you remember what it was like to day dream?
If you can’t remember, it may be that you are becoming stuck in routines.
There’s nothing wrong with routines. In fact, I have found that having routines for my key work functions has enhanced my productiveness.
But you don’t want to eliminate randomness from your life. You want to allow yourself the time to lose yourself in your own thoughts.
In fact, daydreaming is associated with important mental functions.
A study shows that mind-wandering is the “most omnipresent internal cognitive function.” It also activates a whole gigantic network of neurons, which helps activate many parts of the brain.
Give yourself the permission to daydream. It’s better than becoming a robotic follower of routines.
4. You avoid stress like the plague
Chill out. Find a yoga mat. Come and meditate your stresses away.
Does that sound familiar?
If so, you may be trying to avoiding stress.
This is healthy, right?
Not so. Stress and creativity aren’t the enemies you think they are.
I used to be a management consultant, and one of the key things we implemented inside companies was non-negotiable goals.
These kinds of goals had a deadline and a clear deliverable. The deadline had to be met.
People who think they’re creative often believe that deadlines are highly prohibitive.
Yet we found that non-negotiable deadlines created a healthy amount of stress. It forced people to be creative in coming up with solutions.
Limitations provide the structure for thinking outside the box. After all, to get out of the box you need the box to be there in the first place.
If you’re trying to avoid stress in your life, you’re missing out on one of the most important structures that give rise to creativity.
5. You don’t like disagreements
We should all just get along, shouldn’t we?
Avoiding disagreement is another sign of conforming to people’s expectations of you. It’s a way to avoid speaking up and giving voice to your creativity.
If you don’t like disagreements, it could be that you’re avoiding expressing an original thought. You may be trying to fit in with other people rather than sharing something truly unique to you.
I’m not suggesting that you embrace disagreements. There’s a time and a place for arguments, and it’s important to find common points in discussions.
But you shouldn’t simply agree with whatever is happening just because you don’t like the feeling of disagreeing.
If this is the case, it’s a warning sign that you may be shutting down your creativity.
6. You don’t handle rejection very well
It’s one thing not to like rejection. No-one does.
It’s another thing to avoid situations because it may result in rejection.
I don’t like being rejected. I’m petrified of it.
We evolved in tribes where the price of rejection was isolation, a very real threat when we rely on each other for our survival.
But at the same time, we pay a price for avoiding rejection. Being rejected is a sign that you have put yourself on the line, that you have taken a risk.
It’s important to build a relationship with yourself where you feel the pain of rejection, but it doesn’t stop you for putting yourself out there.
Good ideas never seem like good ideas when they are initially expressed. By definition an original thought is something that isn’t yet socially sanctioned. There’s going to be a process where people need to shift from thinking it’s a bad idea to accepting it more widely.
Do your best to embrace rejection, even if it’s painful. Become a more resilient person. You’ll end up becoming more creative over time, and this will help you to live a more fulfilling life.