As a child, English and writing were chores. I was forced to submit assignments at school and university but this was merely a means to an end. When I entered the working world I joined a research house, writing commentary each and every day. The red ink on my edited work identified that my ability to express myself in the written form was holding me back and I was forced to improve. Over time I realised that the art of writing is an important element in developing well-constructed thoughts. The difference between presenting to clients before writing a research report and presenting after is chalk and cheese. Writing allows one to digest, reflect and critique ones one work. I’ve tried to maintain and improve the skill ever since I made this connection. I mentioned this process to a friend and he recommended Julia Cameron’s The Artist Way to me because it forces one to write every day for 3 months. I didn’t quite appreciate how profound a journey it would become.
I love the way in which Julia Cameron links creativity, spirituality and love. I’m not a religious person but I’ve long believed that we are all spiritual beings, that there is a portion of our brains or psyche that responds to or requires a spiritual connection, a belief in something bigger than our self. Many people express this need through religion but it could also be expressed through a belief in people, community or nature. I think this spiritual characteristic exists because we are social creatures with imagination and the ability to have a profound impact on each other, both positively and negatively. We can influence, grow meaningful relationships and have a greater impact as a collective.
I’ve developed this idea in my own head through my growing understanding of the impact of positivity. When we enter into interactions with the world that have positive intentions, positive thoughts and use positive words, the returns back to us could be exponential. Professionally, I’m an incredibly analytical and sceptical person because these are critical skills in order to seek the truth and research complex subjects. Reconciling the power of positivity with analytical scepticism is tough but it is rewarding. For a start, it is important to be sceptical but refrain from being cynical. Cynicism is the opposite of positivity.
While positive thoughts are powerful, they don’t work in every case and they cannot be relied on to achieve anything in particular. Being a selfless exuberant martyr could work for some, but that’s not what I’m advocating. I think a primary focus on the self is imperative towards constructive human interactions. Paraphrasing Jordan Peterson, “get your house in order before you start telling others what to do.” Positivity is also no substitute for core success skills like hard work, purposeful action, learning, asking questions and execution. Being positive without taking action might make you happier but it isn’t going to take you very far.
Conditions aside, there are so many people out there in the world who can and are willing to help us on our way in life. Often the journey is much more colourful and beautiful when others are walking the journey with us. People love positive people and are far more likely to help someone with a positive outlook on the world as opposed to someone who is eternally grumpy and blaming others for their negative outcomes. Looking for the positive in a situation not only cheers you and those around you but it can lead to real solutions as you tend to look forward and think about what you can do to solve the problem at hand.
A positive outlook, belief in other people and a constructive outlook have the ability to create numerous unintended consequences, what Julia Cameron calls “synchronicity.” Coincidental interactions. When we unexpectedly meet someone who can help us with our challenge, when we read an article that can help the person we spoke to yesterday, when we bump into an old friend that has just solved the very problem we’re drowning with… Positivity raises the probability of synchronous interactions.
Through being positive, believing in the ability of others, creating connections and loving the people we make contact with we have the ability to create better outcomes – what is more spiritual than that! Thinking of creativity in this spiritual way deeply resonates with me.
Historically, I would have always thought of creativity in the traditional sense. Artists, painters, writers and dancers are creative. Over time I have challenged this notion – initially through my wife who is a traditionally creative person. She taught me the power of fostering creativity and made me realise that creativity exists in all of us. Her love for dancing, theatre and just general expression of emotion triggered this process in me. Julia Cameron really rammed home those connections.
The book is primarily targeted at “traditional creatives” but a small amount of lateral thinking allows anyone to apply the principles to their lives. Creativity can find expression in a boring corporate job. Of course, not to the same extent as an artist but there are areas where all of us can create better outcomes. Yes, traditional activities like painting, drawing and dancing are great to trigger creativity but I’m certainly not advocating that everyone takes up a dance class.
A lawyer could be more creative in the way she involves juniors, presents information, teaches colleagues and challenges outdated laws, for example. There doesn’t need to be a linear connection between the creativity and the goal someone is trying to achieve. In fact, belief in non-linear connectivity is probably required to really benefit from creativity because the benefits of involving a junior, for example, won’t be visible initially. But who knows who the junior might become, what clients they could bring in or just the gratitude they might express, which could warm your heart and push you forward. Investigating the creativity in what we do, even if it seems completely uncreative, allows us to investigate the true goals, the underlying intentions and create much more meaningful and rewarding outcomes for ourselves and others – is there a more noble outcome than that? Targeting goals without fully appreciating the intention risks generating hollow outcomes.
As with anything interesting, meaningful, or powerful, the concept of creativity is tricky. Being creative and avoiding linear thinking doesn’t negate the need to generate goals and beeline towards them. The most successful people are goal orientated with priorities and to-do-lists but implementing these techniques doesn’t imply consistently linear thinking and surface level appreciation of first-order implications.
The Artists Way has encouraged me to write even more than before. Apart from reaffirming the importance of writing in creating well-constructed analytics, it is fascinating to observe one’s personal thoughts on paper every day. It is a meditative and self-reflective process that allows one to notice one’s thoughts, investigate their causes, explore one’s strengths and weaknesses and develop strategies to enhance and counter them. I’d highly recommend The Artists Way but it’s much more than a book. It’s a spiritual journey of self-discovery that is likely to be very different depending on each person.