Thoughts & Observations

Author of Your Own Ambition

It is incredibly easy to have your ambitions, your ideas of what success looks like, driven by everyone but you.

We worry about how we’ll be perceived when we have to tell someone what we do at a cocktail party or when we run into an old colleague or schoolmate who hasn’t seen us in years.

We learn intuitively as we grow up, without anyone ever having to tell us, what our community deems as successful. We may be applauded for becoming a doctor, but not so much if we become an auto mechanic or a barista, no matter how great we are at the job.

As we scroll through status updates on Facebook and Twitter, we’re constantly confronted by other people’s ambitions and often can’t help but to use their success as a measuring stick of our own.

In this great TED talk, Alain de Botton implores that we ask ourselves a question that I think is essential to getting ourselves out of the habit of subjective success measuring: are we “truly the authors of our own ambitions”?

Thoughts & Observations

Stress and Creativity

Two weeks ago, I went to an interesting Meetup: ClubTED was created because Erika, the organizer, often found herself watching videos of TED talks and then felt the intense desire to discuss them, but had no one around to discuss them with.

A group of about 10 of us gathered in the loft office space of Loosecubes to watch and discuss Elizabeth Gilbert‘s talk on creativity.

One of the key areas of debate that rose to the surface after watching the video was the idea of whether stress and pressure kills creativity. One person in the group had the perspective that the best creativity can only come in a completely stress-free state.

And I can see where that thought comes from. Being in a world that is driven by deadlines and staying ahead of the competition can create an almost paralyzing level of stress. We reach information paralysis with increasing frequency – not only can we absorb no further information, but we can’t do anything with the information we have. Our minds become overstuffed filing cabinets, the kinds packed so tightly that you can barely see what they contain anymore, never mind fitting anything else in.

I would agree that creativity can be a little bit difficult to spark if you have a boss standing over your shoulder demanding that you be creative on the spot – like creativity is some kind of on-demand performance in a circus side show. Quick side note: This is one of the main reasons why I don’t believe in company-mandated creative time (i.e. the 9 to 5 work day).

I think the “creativity can only exist in a stress-free state” perspective may also stem from the timing of when many of us get creative ideas: it seems to be when we are doing something unrelated to the problem we are trying to solve, and something that is often very relaxing, like taking a shower or going for a walk. But the reason that we have creative ideas in those moments isn’t because they are stress-free, it is because we have placed ourselves (and the problem we are trying to solve) in the fresh context of a different situation.

I don’t think that creativity only comes in a tension-free state. In fact, I think it is the existence of some tension that pushes creativity forward. Without some amount pressure, you enter a state of stasis and complacency. In that state, the motivation to think, to change, to move, can become almost non-existent over time.

Creativity tends to rise when there is a tension between the two forces of serenity and stress.