I came across a nugget of information on a very dark day that changed everything. To be honest this information should have been very obvious to me considering my own experiences and my background in Psychology. Suffice to say part of me did know but I thought they were just flights of fancy on my end. So what the hell was this information?
People with highly creative personalities have no choice but to create. – Dr Jordan Peterson
To not create is to die a slow spiritual death. It takes a massive toll on your being as a creative individual to not practice your art or your craft. But often a lot of us who are not earning directly from our craft sometimes sideline it to the detriment of our well-being.
You will note that I used the word ‘personality’ earlier on, and that’s because creativity is as much a result of personality as it is the environment. In other words, it’s encoded in your DNA because personality is widely believed to have a biological basis.
(PS: I will be leaving links to detailed, but easy to understand articles on this topic for you to sink your teeth into. Psychology is very broad and sometimes complex or confusing therefore I will point you in the right direction.)
What is personality?
A simple, easy to understand definition is: Personality refers to individual differences in characteristic patterns of thinking, feeling and behaving (apa.org). Personality encompasses all the traits, characteristics, and behaviours that set you apart from everyone else.
This is of course the simple definition. Once you dive into the world of research psychology it becomes much more complex. For today that explanation will suffice. Creative individuals usually share a particular core personality trait that makes them who they are. That trait is openness, one of the Big Five.
The five-factor personality theory
The five-factor personality theory, also commonly known as the Big Five theory is a widely accepted framework used to describe and test the human personality. There are many theories on personality, but the Big Five is the most widely agreed upon in the field of Psychology.
It breaks personality into 5 core traits that are universal, namely; openness, conscientiousness, extraversion (also spelt extroversion), agreeableness and neuroticism. For the sake of this discussion, we’ll only touch on openness. You can read this article on the subject for more information on the other traits. It’s easy to understand and well laid out.
It’s necessary to point out that these traits happen on a spectrum between two extremes. Imagine a line graph from one to 100 as the spectrum, and people will fall anywhere between those values. So basically everyone has these traits but within a range from high to low. Creative personalities are often high in openness.
Openness and the creative personality
So, what is openness?
In short – the tendency to be intellectually curious and use imagination.
People high in this tend to be creative, adventurous, have many interests, love learning and new experiences. They often think outside the box, crave novelty, enjoy the arts and engage in creative careers or hobbies. Now, do you see why most creative people share this same personality trait?
Despite having studied Psychology, I never applied this knowledge to myself. This was unusual for me because I’m very self-aware and do a lot of introspection. I partly blame the lack of insight on my former dislike for the subject, the module on Personality was one of my least favourites. I digress. My point is when you are high in openness as a creative person, not engaging in your art means going against your biology. It will leave you miserable. I learnt this the hard way when I gave up creative writing for financial freedom.
So why do we stop creating?
There are many reasons creative people ignore that aspect of their personality once they become adults. One of the most common though is money. Following a creative endeavour simply doesn’t pay the bills for a lot of people. Monetizing that passion is extremely difficult and the market for your endeavours might not be lucrative. There is a myriad of other, often traditional careers that will almost guarantee you a steady income and more often than not, a creative career isn’t one of them.
For those of us that do have successful creative careers, it’s a long and slow process and we shouldn’t expect overnight success. Most of us will give up on these in favour of more stable jobs, but that’s still okay. What matters is you create regardless of whether that earns you an income or not.
So what happens when you don’t create?
Misery, sadness, a feeling of incompleteness. I can only speak from my own experience here and tell you how that was like for me. I felt as if I was suffocating slowly, with this widening emptiness I couldn’t fill. Whenever I create I experience this buzz of energy, I feel alive. When I live through long spans of time without creating anything, I feel this bone-deep sadness that I cannot shake. I ask myself what the point of life is, I start to have mental breakdowns. This is not melodrama, when I said I made my discovery during a dark time, I wasn’t exaggerating.
So how can we always ensure that we create? How do we keep that creative personality from withering inside?
How to have your cake and eat it
Well there are many routes, but these three are the most obvious:
- Attempt to establish a creative career that fully supports you financially. I’ll admit, this is pretty difficult for most people but if you have very few financial responsibilities and the time, give it a shot.
- Get a creative job for your 9-5. The creative industry is booming with the need for copywriters, designers (web, graphic, UX etc), illustrators and so many more. The list is very long. This might work for you, satisfying the need to create, but often you might not control the artistic vision or direction which might drive you crazy. Your own little hobby will still be necessary.
- Getting a relatively undemanding 9-5 and becoming a serious hobbyist for your craft. This I would say is the best alternative. By undemanding job, I mean the kind of job that doesn’t require you to work crazy hours or leaves you feeling mentally and emotionally drained. That leaves you time and energy to invest quite seriously in your hobby. Purchase the tools you need, dedicate time for it, create and share your work. Do this to feed your spirit, keep it alive and help it thrive.
So there you have it – why not creating leaves you feeling miserable and what to do about it. As for myself, I’m still trying to find my way but I have learnt my lesson, never stop creating. This post is part of my participation in the Afrobloggers #WinterABC blogging challenge.
For further readings on personality and the Big Five, PositivePsychology.com has the perfect article for you, follow that link to read it. It will give you more background on personality, a brief history and interesting cases that happened in the field. It’s detailed but easy to follow and won’t drown you in too much information.