I see people I know achieving big things, but I’m always starting projects and moving along without finishing them. I am sure that if I had a focus I could make something great, but I have no idea what to do with my creative energy.—Sean
Yours is a problem that existed long before post-war economies and Twitter distractions, but it does seem like a lot of thirtyishes (even the really boring ones) know the sense of not meeting their big-idea potential. So I went all out for all of us: My advice helpers are Chris Gethard, host of The Chris Gethard Show, a public-access phenomenon that has variously featured Sean Combs and Tina Fey, and Jonah Lehrer, the author of Imagine: How Creativity Works, which debuted in March at No. 1 on the New York Times bestseller list, no BFD.
The best/worst/funniest thing about being creative is that a steady routine—of trying, failing, trying, failing, until you die—is what makes it happen. Gethard says, “Not one of the people I know who have wound up being ‘famous’ on TV didn’t do hundreds of shows beforehand, all with varying degrees of success.” You see “big things” from your friends; you don’t see their interminable hours of not getting it right. “The majority of most peoples’ creative output isn’t great. It’s adequate at best, and often downright awful,” Gethard adds. “If you can only equate being great with being successful, you are giving yourself no freedom to fail.” When the result of your efforts isn’t as good as you want it to be, you can either choose to make a grilled-cheezie and play Wii, or else sit back down and keep going. Jonah Lehrer calls it being “handcuffed” to the desk; I call it being “in jail.”
Lehrer cites the work of psychologist Angela Duckworth, whose maxim is to “Choose easy, work hard.” He says, “When choosing a pursuit, it’s important to select one that seems easy, at least at first. However, once we find a creative task that feels like fun—a sign that we’ve got a natural talent for it—then we need to constantly be reminded to work hard.” So find out how you can best keep yourself in jail: a typed schedule, weekly rewards, sex fantasies about impressed gallery girls. In his book, Lehrer writes, “Creativity shouldn’t be seen as something otherworldly…. The human mind, after all, has the creative impulse built into its operating system.” It’s all there, ready; we’re just always getting in the way of ourselves.
Despite our long-term live-in status, my boyfriend and I are going on our first vacation together—two weeks up north. The way he’s talking about it is scaring me: I had lots of sleeping in and eating in mind, but he’s talking non-stop about outdoorsy activities. I work long hours and this is my only vacation this year, so I want to make it count.—Candace
Oooh, girl. You and your boyfriend have different Vacation Expectations, which is both a cute thing I just thought of and a potentially ruinous situation that sets in around the third day of vacay. It doesn’t so much matter that he’s your live-in BF; even your favourite people can turn into monsters on holiday.
I did a tropical dreamland trip with my mom and sisters and found out that they wanted to wake up in the morning, eat every meal together, and, weirdest, do full makeup, hair, and jangle-jewellery every night. (I had packed one lonely, low-key sundress and 1,000 hardcovers.) Like, no.
You want to avoid this turning into a “full sesh” kind of problem, a.k.a. something so complex that it will take an entire post-vacay $110 therapy session to unpack (unpack! Ha.). Emphasize to your boyfriend how excited you are to be horizontal for two weeks (maybe put some sexy top-spin on it?) and casually ask him with whom he’ll be doing all of this adventuring (are there other action-bros he could hang out with?). Usually, I’d be all “Communicate! Compromise!” but going on vacation means never having to say you’ll hang-glide.
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