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Creativity & Productivity

This is actually someone's desk, and while the view is killer, it's a challenging and stressful job that sometimes involves more people wanting courts than there are available.

We all have inherent truths that are part of us, and one of mine is that I'm happiest when being creative, allowing me to fully engage with life.

Creativity was the muse Ernest Hemingway was chasing when he tried to imbibe just enough to loosen him up, instead drinking excessively which led to, well, death. I can sympathize with his challenge but don't believe chemicals are the best solution.

When we were young, we might have been told by our parents or teachers that we were either creative or not creative, the implication being that it is something we're born with. It's my belief that we all have it in us. But why is it so hard to access? Speaking from my own experience, there are so many voices competing in one head. It's 9:09 am as I'm writing this and here is a partial litany of what has yelled at me (1) Get out of bed, you need to write before your day starts (2) Don't go barefoot as it will make your foot worse (3) clean that pan (4) You need more dishwashing liquid (5) Don't have so many cherries (6) Floss and brush better today (7) When are you going to the gym? (8) What are you going to bring Mom tomorrow? (9) Make that phone call (10) Get that interview scheduled (11) Ice your foot (12) Do laundry (13) Text everyone about next Thursday (14) What are next steps for outreach? And on and on and on and on. I knew a man who said that the homeless guy at Copley who yells all the time is doing the same thing we are, only out loud. I once did a project, writing down everything I thought I "should" do, from balancing my checking account to stretching to logging my work time, and laughed at the absurdity of one human accomplishing all of it.

My point being that our worldly responsibilities can get in the way, and engaging the playful and curious side of ourselves becomes a luxury we can't afford. It was under these conditions that I decided to embark upon my cross country drive. After a week of solitude and a hike in Amarillo, Texas, my mind quieted down enough to get a clear picture of things that weren't working and what I needed to do to fix them. I had been unhappy at work, with the stress of deadlines coming from too many directions. Something about nature's abundance in this beautiful canyon helped me to know that of greatest importance would be for me to focus on actions that would open up my world, rather than maintain it.

As writing was one of those actions, and my prior work stress had precluded being creative, I fired a bunch of clients when I got home, clearing a path for something new. It felt sooooo good! But as it turned out, I was frozen and bored and my days felt empty. There was so much space that weeks seemed interminable, nothing was fun, the world was monotone. And writing was not happening. So when a new interesting client asked me to do a search, wavering from my commitment, I sheepishly agreed, relieved to have something that would provide structure to my days. And here's what I found: I loved doing the search and found it easier to write. "If a little is good, more is better" may be true for butter, but not for working or doing nothing. Balance is key.

When I was an HR person at the Symphony many moons ago, there was a guy on the house crew who everyone loved, in part for his smiling blue eyes, bright white hair and strong Boston accent, but also because he called it as he saw it. He once said to me "They're putting 10 lbs of %&* in a 5 lb. bag", a not unusual expression, but one that made me see the inefficacy of what was happening in that particular situation and one that is unfortunately prevalent for most of us on a personal and professional level. While people in my manager trainings always nod enthusiastically when I mention that studies show IQ decreases under stress, they are never quite able to translate this knowledge into action, continuing to pile on work, assign hard to reach deadlines, all of which have likely been piled on to them. And so it goes.

My output last year had been incredibly high, some might have called it productive, but it was a joyless experience and unsustainable, mirroring so many of the work environments I've been part of. So many of us carry around an inherent, unspoken belief that we're not doing enough. I've realized by conducting only two searches at a time, that I can focus on every aspect, listening and interpreting better, thinking of creative solutions, and anticipating what lies ahead. It's my belief that while I'm doing less work, I'm more productive, sewing seeds that may take longer to mature, but that will regenerate for many years. It's my guess that I'll make more money this year than last, AND I get to write!


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