You ever hear some of the things people say about creatives? It’s troubling. Apparently, it’s a universally desirable trait. Even kids should be more creative, because why not? What could possibly be the downside of being an artist? Well, it’s complicated.
I’m no artist, but I can recognize artists. I know powerful art when I come across it, but I can barely create it myself. My artistic sense has always been sharper than my artistic skill — might be considered a disadvantage to most. On the contrary, I appreciate that it makes me good at studying artists, who are some of the most opaque people out there. And from all this time studying them, I can say one thing for certain: Creativity is a curse, not a gift.
I was recently talking to someone about a complex business idea. And as he was explaining it, I was building a mirror image of the idea in my head. Turns out, his idea was similar to one of mine. At least, it felt like it. But I couldn’t put my finger on how the two were connected. In the end, what revealed the solution to me was a vlog I had watched earlier in the day. It was a short movie about a spring break road trip from my favorite creative person of all time. Not related in the slightest to the business ideas we were talking about, but somehow my brain joined the dots in a useful way. That’s a utilitarian example of creativity. Without that non-obvious connection, I couldn’t have connected the two ideas. So in this case, creativity had a positive impact. This is what most people think about when they say “I want to be more creative”. But that’s not the full story.
Creative people are tormented by their creativity. It’s a curse with positive side effects. Not a gift with negative side effects. What do I mean? Watch a creative person try to sit down and get something tedious done. The lateral-thinking mind is suffocated by forced narrowness. And most things in life do exactly that. Brushing your teeth in the morning. Cleaning up the house. Keeping your finances in order. Even learning a new skill. They’re narrow tasks that require focus. Which is exactly what creative types struggle with.
But that’s not all. The power of creative thinking sometimes creates new obstacles, too. It’s hard to explain what this feels like. But imagine you’re thinking about something, and your brain subconsciously tries to undermine every foothold you gain. Which happens because lateral thinking can’t really be put on pause. I mean, that’s how creativity works, by definition. This can be overwhelming. Speaking from experience, it is overwhelming. It feels like your mind is ripping itself apart. You’re just trying to figure out what ice cream flavor to get, but you can’t stop thinking about panna cotta’s connection to the Ottoman Empire.
Creativity shouldn’t be a universal trait. It’s a burden few are capable of bearing. Even those who have it don’t necessarily find it useful. Sure, it’s responsible for many of the beautiful things in our world. But not everyone should be Michelangelo. Not everyone should be Steve Jobs. If people knew how much a truly creative mind jumps all over the place all the time, no one would want this.