Health VS Creativity

By | Thursday, August 19, 2010 1 comment
My day job generally involves some amount of creativity. I work on websites and email campaigns and portals and that type of thing. A good chunk of my day is spent playing around on the computer and trying to solve design issues. Taking some vague ideas from project managers and turning them into something Joe Average can use. I enjoy doing that, and I like to think I'm pretty good at it.

Some days I get to be more creative than others, not surprisingly, but it's rare that I have a day where I do nothing creative. Today, though, was one of those rare days. There were just a lot of pages that needed to be built and no one but me to do them. But that was cool because, for whatever reason, I wasn't in the mood for doing anything creative.

The strange thing, though, was that despite sitting at my desk doing little of interest, I came home pretty tired. Not physically tired, but kind of emotionally drained. Like I wanted to collapse in front of the TV, have someone deliver a pizza and zone out on bad sitcoms (is "bad sitcoms" redundant?) until it was time to crawl into bed.

Now, while I REALLY appreciate a good pizza, I don't watch television. At all. I have one, but it's unplugged most of the time. I can't stand turning my mind off like that for hours on end. In fact, I'd rather sit there with the TV off and just do some navel-gazing; I find that preferable to watching Two and Half Men (or whatever).

I did forgo the television tonight, and I did do a bit of introspection. It occurred to me that my lack of any creativity today was what was so debilitating. Being able to take a blank page and make it into something is energizing. While creation of any sort -- graphics, music, dance, etc. -- involves expending physical energy, a lot of that can be fed back emotionally by seeing your creation spring from nowhere. That's very powerful and can keep you going when you might not otherwise feel like it.

I think that's part of where Americans poor health comes from. Collectively, we're conditioned to NOT be creative. In our schools, in our jobs, in our home lives. Somebody who goes to work all day, does a lot but none of it creative... well, it's little wonder they come home exhausted, plop themselves in front of the television and order a pizza. And if you do that every day, it takes its toll. The pizza clogs your arteries and the lack of physical exercise atrophies your muscles. I'm not saying that a lack of creativity is the cause of the obesity epidemic, by any means, but I'm sure it's a contributing factor to the overall poor health of the nation.

On the other hand, having complete creative freedom -- as, say, a fine artist might have -- tends to be somewhat limiting with regards to your income and/or health insurance. Unless you happen to be "discovered" when you're young and healthy, you're not likely going to make tons of money off your craft. So, while you might enjoy a great deal of work satisfaction, the trade-off is you're less likely to be able to deal with any unexpected problems. You'd also be less likely to be eating healthy as cheaper foods tend to be worse for you. Plus, you still have to pay your bills and you end up worrying about where the next month's rent is coming from.

(Note that I'm using "tend to" here a lot. I'm not trying to piss anyone off with overly broad generalizations.)

So what we've got is a situation where your health tends to be worse off either the more or less creative your job is. Comic creators are generally better off (health-wise) than fine artists and dull accountant managers, but a commercial artist working at an ad agency is probably better off than the comic creators.

Where, then, is the sweet spot? That magical job that's creative enough to give you plenty of opportunities for expression, but not so open that they don't pay you crap?

I don't have a good answer for that. I think that's something that's going to vary from person to person based on how many other venues might they have available for creative expression. It also depends a lot, of course, on how naturally creative a person is. The key is finding what works best for you.

Maybe your job is deadly dull, and you turn your brain off for eight hours a day at work. But if you can survive that and bust out some incredible webcomics on your lunch hour, maybe that's your place. Maybe your spouse has some killer job that rakes in tons of money, and you can afford to be 100% creative all the time without having to reign it in for anybody.

This isn't anything new. This isn't anything you don't already understand at some level. I bring it up here, though, in the hopes that you give it some conscious thought and compare what you do all day with how you feel at the end of it. Or do I need to remind you all about my old Dudes vs. Chicks post?
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Matt K said...

It's funny, just the other day I was reading something that referred to "The Dilbert Paradox," apparently a term for the fact that, if asked, the people running large and growing businesses will consistently list "talent" as their most important need... yet the image of the workplace as a Kafka-esque farce continues to have deep resonance for Americans.

Because the workplace continues to be, more often that not, a Kafka-esque farce.

This fits into some thinking I've been doing already, lately, as well. I feel like the more that the notions of "constant innovation" and "flexibility" and "competitive forces" are lauded as these wonderful strengths for American business, the more hollow those claims seem. At best, such phenomena exist within a very narrow, mostly technical, realm. Otherwise, American employers seem stuck in a one-size-fits-all, "show up at the office 9 to 5, sit in this cube, do these reports and attend these meetings because we said you have to" mindset. I suppose that articles about this reality aren't going to grab many casual readers for BusinessWeek or USNews, though.

I know what you mean about longing for the sweet spot, too. I suppose I'm at the other end, and a "happy medium" seems just as elusive from here, too. Faced with reluctant, very-occasional, pinch-penny clients, I can't help thinking about the hugely more generous sums which, even now, businesses are paying for my skillset... IF one is willing to go along with their one-size-fits-all schedule, cube, etc.

Why does it have to be one or other? Why do businesses place such a huge premium on inflexible working arrangements? Can nothing be done?

Beats me.