It’s been a good while since I did any writing on my own platform. Rather than call it a hiatus, I’d like to call it a sabbatical. If you’re familiar with this term in the academic world, it’s where the professor takes about a year off to go research, have fun, or discover something while getting paid.
I’ve been on a self-imposed creativity sabbatical for the last 4 weeks and have come to some pretty earth-shattering realizations. Okay. this might be an exaggeration.
Why I went on this sabbatical.
Let me preface this by saying that I have been a fan of taking time off work and doing what refuels you. This time was no different. I noticed that I was feeling lost in the sea of creatives, and that the waves of “sameness” was starting to wash over me. I felt like I needed a boost from my internal reserves, something that I felt was getting depleted my constantly putting content out there.
So I temporarily quit creating. All this while I was actively creating content for LifeHack and loving it. I just couldn’t translate this creative energy into what my own brand deserves.
After identifying this impasse and lack to produce any fruit...even after embarking upon my sabbatical, I hired a mentor. I’ve only been working with my mentor for a few days and I can tell you that this will be one of the most important investments in my business.
But first, let me address why I think we get into creative gridlocks.
Why does it seem like we fizzle after having just identified our spark not too long ago? Why do we experience creative fatigue when all we want to do is just pump content from a never-ending oasis? And how do we get past this?
Here are my top 3 reasons for this creative gridlock.
1) We are afraid to infuse all elements of our creativity into who we are and what we do.
For most creatives (like you and I), we don’t subscribe to the notion that there is one single dream job. We want the freedom to explore all these creative instincts in us, whether we’re paid or not. If we’re paid, awesome!
But we live in a world that preaches security over imagination and are constantly barraged with options to choose from. And you know what the issue is?
You secretly want to do it all but you’re worried that others would think you can’t seem to make up your mind. This feeling of wanting to do it all is constantly at war with your mind, which is constantly trying to shield you from taking risks.
2) We’re fighting the impulse to jump out the creative box we’ve created for ourselves.
Creativity should never be boxed.
When you realize that you’re constantly feeling like bursting out of your skin; or your heart is full and you’re looking for ways to express this; or that your heart and mind aren’t on the same page...ask yourself if you’re following the instinct you’re blessed with. Or fighting against it.
3) We don’t have mentors.
You know one of the ways I deal with creative highs and lows? I get mentors.
A lamp cannot shine so brightly enough to see it's own bottom. It's got shadows, and this same bright lamp will need another bright lamp to light up its behind.
No matter how bright you think you are, you're going to have several doubts and blind spots...so much so that you will need someone else to be your guide.
Even for myself. As a creative who works with other creatives to help them get clarity on what their message is and how they bring creativity to the people they serve, I'm finding my own struggles with several "shoulds" and "wants."
But I’m not only back from my creativity sabbatical and working my way out of my creative lows, I’m documenting my learning process so that you can feel a resonance when you find yourself in this situation.
So, without further ado:
5 Lessons from my self-imposed creative sabbatical
1) Creative lows are not just psychological; they’re physical.
While so many experts would explain creative lows as depression, anxiety, and other mental health ailments, I dare to say that creative lows can and will incapacitate you physcially (if you let it).
That butterfly in your tummy will turn into full-blown diarrhea. Those headaches? Well, they’re headaches...but with more hammering qualities to them.
My point is this: don’t neglect how your body feels. Listen to your body. The onset of a creative low might be something as simple as an unexplained ache which is most likely accompanied by a psychological component like anxiety. It's never just psychological.
2) Creative lows are often preceded by moments of “existential crises”
You often feel guilty or dissatisfied with what you have or what your purpose is. You not only question what you’ve done and the results you’ve helped others achieve, you get lost and cross over to the other side of reflection: self-damnation.
It’s like a domino effect: have one bad thing happen to you and all of a sudden, all you see and feel is a cascade of negative events.
Oh well, I’m talking about stuff like your darn water pipe broke. Your mortgage payment was calculated wrongly when you bought a house so now it’s fixed...but you have to pay more. Then you get a higher than normal energy bill. And so on and so on.
The key lesson I learned here is the need for me to question “wait a minute, my life isn’t pretty right now but how is it going to affect my creative energy?”
When we experience negative events, we need to check in with ourselves to see if 1) we’re capable of dealing with this and 2) It won’t send us spiraling into a creative low.
3) Just because you aren’t creating doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be creative.
So you’re at this gridlock and can’t do anything with your creative energy. For most people, it's something like being unable to film a video or go on livestreams. Or being unable to write a rich blog post. Okay.
But you can still be creative. You can take in your environment and find the little things that light you up. You can eat out with friends and family members, share some good laughs, and read fiction. You don’t have to stop functioning just because you can’t think of something good enough to “create.”
The point is this: you don’t have to create a bestseller. You just need to be open to receiving the creative energy from all the living things and the non-living things around you.
4) Be honest about your experiences and chronicle them.
Because how else can you go back to see how you fared during the journey? However, this will require you to step away from being your own critic for a while.
Case in point: I recently realized that I have a problem with letting go of control: how I see my progress as a professional and creative. I want answers now and will often retrace my steps to criticize every decision made. However, I fail to realize that paying attention to the journey and how I feel will most times provide the answers I need.
This is where the eureka moment is: paying attention to the journey rather than seeking a quick trip to the destination. Enjoy the bumpy ride; it makes for a great brand story later on.
5) Be grateful for what you currently have.
Lord help me as this is something I’m still working to understand fully. Even as a Christian, I find myself slipping into negative thinking patterns as soon as the creative low hits. Out goes gratitude and in comes resentment, anger, jealousy, and others.
But really, all that isn’t going to bring me into a creative high. All it does is press me further into my negativity and allows me to marinate in its manifestations.
Know the simplest thing to do? Be grateful. Count your blessings. Use what you have to the best of your ability. You don’t need much...but you’re called to do so much more with what you hold inside of you.
These are the lessons from my hiatus and here’s what it means for me and (hopefully) you:
I will create and honor what I create. Meaning I don’t want to fret over blog post lengths or what constitutes as an “ideal content.” Sometimes, the point will be made in less than 500 words and most times I will exceed the 1500+ word count. (Like this post)
I will invite you along in my creative process and musings. I don’t have to have it all together before it’s shared. There’s journey in traveling this road together, and I want you to join me.
I’m open to trying new things in my pursuit of creative expression. What’s life if it isn’t lived boldly, colorfully, and daringly. I might not jump out of an airplane but talking about photos and learning about historical places is a start.
Over to you. Ever experienced a creative low? How did you get out of it.