(This column is posted at www.StevenSavage.com and Steve’s Tumblr. Find out more at my newsletter.)
I recently heard a question that led me to understand one of the most significant drivers of creativity.
That question was, “What would your seventeen-year-old self think of you now?“
My seventeen-year-old self would be reasonably happy as I had fulfilled many of my youthful dreams, at least partially. I had worked in video games, even if I found it wasn’t for me. I had and continue to be a published writer, even if it’s self-published. I am in a happy relationship, though I have one amicable divorce under my belt. I had done pretty decently.
But that made me realize that many of my dreams were creative dreams, and what had helped me reach them in part was that I had held on to some of my youthful desires to be a given kind of person. I was the writer, the game professional, involved in IT, and so on. I had held on to the dream of being a certain kind of person, even if the hope slept for years.
That’s when I realized a core driver of creativity is identity. When you identify as something, you become that thing – if not in whole in part, if not as a burning hot dream, then a warm reality. Some youthful identities had never left me, and thus I became them, and my further readings on productivity have confirmed that.
When I looked around at successful creatives I knew, it was almost always the same – each person dedicated to being a certain someone. A documentarian who could write with lightning speed scribed books faster than anyone. A creative idolizing people like Kubrik and punk rockers who could always find a new boundary to walk across into wild art. A cosplayer who constantly created as it was simply them.
And me, a person who wanted to be a writer as a kid who just kept writing, an IT geek that did it as he liked it who ended up in Silicon Valley. All that was just me being me.
Identity drives us. It is that which we are and must be, and nothing stops us because it is us. A failure may interrupt us, a crisis may mean a delay, but we surge ever forward because it’s what we do.
Identity keeps us from distraction. When you have a choice between things, your identity helps make the decisions, minimizing distractions. Even when there is chaos and crisis, that identity helps you go around the distractions when you can. Perhaps in crisis, you even find your identity drives you to a solution.
Identity channels our energies. It is the lens that focuses the light of our adrenaline and power and fear and hope. It tells our energies where to go, and from that, great things can result.
A person who knows “I am this” is powerful as they are something, even if they are not the best form of it – or the best form of it yet.
For you out there, the creative, find your identity, hold to it, act on it. That’s your skeleton key to life, to unlock what you want to do. I am not saying it is easy or without pain – not at all. I am saying it is what will help you make art, and music, and books, and cosplay, and more.
Let me leave you with something that helped me. Write down everything you want to be/think you are – and keep it positive. Out of these, find seven or less – even if you have to drop some that seem little relevant, consolidate others, or even make hard admissions to yourself. Find what speaks to you.
Now ask, if these are who you are and will be . . . what do you do next?
Keep asking that question whenever you need to. Eventually, your seventeen-year-old self may be quite impressed – or you’ll find they already are.