4 Ways How Our Culture Might Be Killing Your Creative Future
What is Culture?
Society is our social group, our community, our world, our town, our peoples that we hang out with. It includes both those we understand, like, and affirm and those we don’t understand, don’t like, disagree with, etc. Our society is our somewhat coherent, cooperative, organized a group of people.
Culture is what society produces.
Our culture is the common set of feelings, attitudes, expectations, beliefs, systems, rules of etiquette, etc., which we use to relate to, understand, and/or reject the other people in our society.
Culture is the soup we’re all swimming in.
Some of it’s tasty, some of it’s old and rotten, some of it’s not cooked through all the way yet.
Humanity is Great But Easily Deceived in a Crowd
If you’re anything like me, what you most do not want to be is common.
Or just like everybody else.
Or rider on multiple bandwagons.
You want to be unique. You ARE unique! Different! Individual! Kind of like everybody else! Yes!
And that’s the thing with culture, in general.
The problem is that culture, such as it is, comes from a mass of individuals who are squished together, trying to survive and form some sort of cohesive whole, trying to create the community and then trying to survive the group dynamics created by the community, trying to be accepted, trying to understand each other, trying to be (just dying to be) cool.
There’s a lot of pressure, and even the most individually minded ones cave the pressure sometimes. That’s not always a bad thing.
Sometimes the group is amazing and does stuff like inspire new trends of being nice and accepting or come up with new forms of communications.
Sometimes the group is lame. SO, so, so, so very very lame.
A Few Problems Culture Might Be Causing in Your Life
At times entire cultures (or at least the majority of them) have condoned stuff like, oh I don’t know… slavery, genocide, racism, sexism. Foot binding?
What I’m saying is, culture is not always smart, nice, or good. Or progressive. Or even witty.
Culture Might Be Imposing Silly Obligations on You
WHATEVER YOU DO, DO IT WITH ALL YOUR MIGHT. Work at it, if necessary, early and late, in season and out of season, not leaving a stone unturned, and never deferring for a single hour that which can be done just as well now.P. T. Barnum
Are you worried about how much sleep you’re getting at night?
Are you reading articles about work/life balance?
Are you rearranging your calendar so you can fit in personal time, family time, work time, social time, and ping-pong-championship time?
Oh, look at that, you just scheduled your passion, your important work, right into the metaphorical calendar-dumpster.
You can’t schedule the most important stuff of life.
You can’t balance passion.
You have to throw some stuff straight out the window and not even look to see where it hits the ground and what kind of splat it makes on the sidewalk.
You have to let your ambition drive you and quit trying to be the mythical, all-American, over-achieving, perfect-in-every-area, balanced person.
This person does not exist.
If this person did exist, he/she would not be self-employed, a writer, an entrepreneur, or a creative artist of any kind.
How about instead of worrying about balance, you just focus on doing the thing you need to do right now? And if your work gets interrupted, say, by your small child, that’s okay. Go with it. Have a snuggle, eat a meal with your family, go on a walk. Then come back home, tuck your child in to bed, and get some more work done.
If you quit worrying about balancing everything, you’ll be able to accomplish more.
The ones who get things done are the ones who don’t judge themselves. They just work until it’s done and let the world judge the work.
What kind of person are you? A person who pursues balance or a person who pursues the passion?
What random, culture-created measurement of a balanced life can you throw out the window?
What’s your passion? Remember it? Buried under your schedule? Pull it back out again.
Culture Might Be Giving You Stupid Goals
The average young man makes up his mind that at fifty or sixty years of age he will retire and take things easy for the rest of his days. The average young man makes a great mistake. It is far better to wear out than to rust out.William Crosbie Hunter
Let’s talk a minute about the underlying assumption with the goal of retirement?
The underlying assumption is that you really don’t want to work, and as soon as you’re able (financially) to quit working and enjoy life, you will.
The underlying assumption is that if you are working, hard, then you aren’t able to enjoy life.
In this scenario, most people don’t get to enjoy life until they are at least sixty years into it.
That’s the average life plan.
I get that not all work is enjoyable. Shoveling chicken poop isn’t that great of a day job, but you know what’s worse?
Forced idleness is powerlessness.
For example: you’re in a car accident, and now you’re in a wheelchair. Your legs won’t move, so you’re no longer burdened with the activity of walking. Except you and I both know that isn’t a burden, it’s an ability, a power, a privilege. That “wish I could just sit around all day” feeling that we all have sometimes becomes enslaving when it’s no longer optional but forced upon you.
Another example: one stupid decision, and now you’re in a jail cell. Imprisonment is a different kind of forced idleness. You may have work of some kind, but you are not free to work for your own goals. Your life is on hold. You can walk, you can think, you can make minor choices. But you are not free to build your future, to work for yourself, to invest your time and energy into what matters to you.
The worst forced idleness, however, is also the most common.
It is the one most people live under but never notice. It’s the idleness of the masses, the idleness of mediocrity, the idleness of a mind that says, “Whatever, I don’t know, yeah, sure, okay,” to whatever culture or circumstance throws at it.
If you’re in that position, you can walk for yourself, and you can decide for yourself, but you cannot think for yourself. Your decisions are pseudo-choices from the array of options that culture presents to you.
You may be free, but you are wasting your freedom.
The truly free person is the one who thinks beyond cultural filters and decides based on personal priorities and timeless principles. That kind of freedom takes work.
Where are you today? Trudging along in a mindless mass of unthinking people? Or are you walking in the free world?
What assumption is holding you back today? Decide to take it off your mental assumption list. Somebody came up with it in the first place; why can’t you be the one to take it down?
Culture Might Be Limiting You to a Certain Level of Productivity
You must know that it is no easy thing for a principle to become a man’s own, unless each day he maintain it and hear it maintained, as well as work it out in life.Epictetus
First thing to realize: if you want to live a truly productive life, you are going to have to fight for it.
Fight tooth and nail.
Fight yourself, your spouse, your kids, your boss, your Mom, your friends, your coworkers, your clients, your instincts, your habits, your culture.
Because everything will work against you, intentionally or otherwise. Mediocrity will pull you down. The decision to be freakishly productive is, at the core, a decision to be only exactly who you are, to do what matters to you even at the expense of what matters to lots of other people.
It is a decision to set your own standards, blaze your own trail.
Obviously a machete will be involved.
Obviously you will not make everyone happy.
Just as obviously, you should never try to make everyone happy.
Being who you are, being true, having and living with intention and integrity: this is the best way to live. We all should live this way. But 99% won’t. Even of the few people who actually read this post, only a small percentage will act.
Most people succumb. They get numb. They don’t care. They don’t get you. Most will settle for average.
And the truth is, that most will push you to settle for average, as well.
They get uncomfortable around people who are actually achieving. They get nervous when someone proves that an undoable thing can, in fact, be done.
It rocks their little boat of self-justification. It raises up a big cold wave of personal responsibility, and guess what?
They don’t like getting hit with that wave, which means they don’t like whoever caused it.
And if that someone is you, look out.
Your culture – meaning the small group of people closest to you, and their combined attitudes and opinions – will generally encourage a small, limited kind of productivity. Like, yeah, way to go, lose 20 pounds! But not, yeah, way to go, adopt a vegan lifestyle.
Or, Yeah, way to go, take some time for yourself! But not, Yeah, way to go, write that novel in your spare hours which means you don’t have any left to spend with me.
It doesn’t mean you need to ignore or reject the people you care about. It does mean that you might not get the encouragement you want when you decide to really go for something.
Will you let that stop you?
Culture Might Be Limiting You to a Certain Kind of Creativity
The culture in general is not so encouraging to creativity.
Oh, we say we are.
We write books and do studies.
But sometimes what we mean by creativity is do a normal thing in a slightly different way.
We don’t necessarily mean that it’s okay to do very different things. We’re not sure we can condone that. We don’t know about how that will all work out. We can’t foresee the repercussions. We can’t measure the effects.
Limited creativity, such as designing a different kind of app or creating a new fashion trend? Sure. Do that.
But designing a different lifestyle or creating a new kind of normal? Ummm, well.
That may be going a bit too far.
You may say you don’t care what other people think. Maybe you really don’t. But you’re not immune to cultural pressure, even if you think you are. After a while, those discouraging responses, those skeptical looks, those half-serious jokes, well… They get to you.
You get tired. You feel alone. And alone feels different than independent.
This creative stuff, this trying to make a difference, this being productive, this pursuit of excellence, this work of bringing ideas into reality… it’s too much. You need affirmation, no matter how independent you are. If you don’t get it, sooner or later, you start to doubt.
You start to agree with the masses. Let’s just lay low and forget about it. Find something that’ll do, and settle for it. Why work so hard? Why kill yourself for people who don’t care? Nobody gets it. Might as well quit. It’s too much trouble. It’s not worth it. This will never work.
Here is an alternative, in case you’ve forgotten about it: find a new culture. Create a new culture so that the generation of creatives, makers, and productive visionaries will have a better environment.
Maybe people don’t care, now. Maybe they don’t get it.
But they will.
So pick your head up, face the mirror, and repeat after me: It’s tough, but you can do this. You’ve got this. Follow through on the idea. Fight through the resistance. Don’t settle. Don’t let the discouragement eat you up. Keep moving forward. You’re gonna get through, you’re gonna hit your goal, and you’re gonna make believers out of them. But you have to believe it first. So believe it, and go do it.
Being a creative, focused, visionary, question-asking, idea-generating, change-making, freakishly productive person is not a cultural norm.
The culture in general is not going to give you the encouragement you crave.
They are not going to recognize the genius until it is in tangible form (i.e. the idea is brought into reality).
Don’t look for your affirmation from the culture.
Find it in yourself, find it in what you believe, find it in mentors and role models, find it in your comrades. Find it here. Then go give some back.