You can lose yourself in the process of creating something meaningful for your client, and in the process, literally lose yourself.
Most of my friends and colleagues know me as a fairly pragmatic character, but over the past year, I have been a somewhat fervent believer of "getting out of your own way" -- creating the space in our creative practice to allow the unconscious, the intutitive, and the poetic to be channeled into your work.
In a business that often bills on time spent ideating and then creating things from those ideas, there is always a strong urge to try and quantify every last dribble of work splashed on the page, marrying Ford-factory-like precision to the creative act to ensure maximum throughput on each finely tuned engine (read "designer"). This is the curse of every businessperson who weds themselves to creative industry. The cows are in the pasture, ruminating on grass. Holler at them all you want, but they won't make the milk any faster, growth hormones be damned.
This morning in yoga class, our instructor was focusing on the seventh chakra, the seat of all the other chakras in our body--where true consciousness and intuition illuminate the bodymind like the lumens projected on a television screen.
"It takes 18 minutes of sitting to reach a meditative state," she said at the start of class, and as we progressed through a set of asanas, we would pause to sit, breathe, and let that screen of the seventh chakra slowly clarify, pushing space aside to allow us to experience life as it is, unmediated.
After yoga class, I couldn't help but reflect on my own struggles with time and space in my daily work. Time was necessary to reach the most artful conclusion; space to explore the options before me and drive down the right path. Neither of these dimensions are linear. Neither tolerate mediation. It's very hard for most businesspeople to enforce space for play, and feel confident that the play will lead to something that can be quantified, then sold. Sheer unburdened creative thought, with no sense of utility or application, must be like arsenic to the accountant. Creativity is ambiguity, which is the enemy of economy.
I'd like to disabuse their objections, stow the calculators away, and put forth the following postulate -- that without unburdened play focused on the self, followed swiftly by focused attention on a design problem, clears space in the mind for your self to engage with the work at hand. I think it's one of the few ways to truly inspire the spirit of humanity that infuses design work for paid clients with that little hint of soul.
So next time you're in a situation where you're asked to exceed what you think you can accomplish as a creative, set a timer for 18 minutes and meditate on whatever comes to mind.
During that period of time, you can't hunt through books for an inspiring design, or read your e-mail, or talk with a coworker as a quick break from the stress. Place a pencil in your hand, a sheet of paper on the desk, and turn off your mind.
You aren't being creative. You aren't working. You aren't solving a problem. You are definitely not distracting yourself from the work. You're letting you happen.
This window of being in the midst of doing, even when the stakes are so high that you're losing sleep, is where you can most strongly assert your humanity. Do not be sucked into the feeling of self-sacrifice that punts the life right out of meaningful creative labor. You must give yourself willingly -- but only after giving yourself space to be yourself.