I am a creative. I say this as a release and not to sound arrogant. I used to think of the creative as a tortured artistic soul or a mysterious genius that nobody quite understands. Some creative people like to perpetuate this idea of the creative, because it makes them feel special. I am not one of them. I do not in any way feel tortured by my creativity and I don’t see myself as some kind of genius. In fact, some well-known creatives resisted the stereotypical image of the incurable Romantic.
Anyone can be creative, but not everyone decides to be creative. Mark McGuinness says that the truly creative are those who:
- embrace their creativity
- love creative work
- position themselves in situations where they can do creative work they love.
The problem was, I thrived on being creative but I had placed myself in a setting that stifled creativity. McGuiness also says that motivation is not some magic potion you drink. You can’t motivate anyone else, but you can demotivate them. The culture I was in was demotivating the creative in me, and I say this not to shift the blame to my boss or a corporate entity. You can see it as either being at the wrong place or being the wrong person (or both). In any case, it was just the wrong fit. How did I know this?
The biggest indication for me was that I was motivated more by intrinsic factors, but my job emphasized external factors over everything else. Don’t get me wrong, I appreciate money and other rewards. But what mattered most to me was that I was passionate and found pleasure in what I was doing. McGuinness cites the book, The Rise of the Creative Class, where Richard Florida concludes from a survey of IT workers, a “fairly conservative sector of the Creative Class,” that creatives value job factors that are intrinsic (qualities inherent in the work itself) like challenge and responsibility, flexibility, stable work environment, professional development, peer recognition, stimulating colleagues and managers, exciting job content, organizational culture, and location and community. Money or compensation only ranked fourth as a motivating factor in the survey. Besides, if you think about it, creativity and money don’t have to be an either/or. It’s just that most creative people don’t like dwelling on the material rewards the work brings and would rather focus on the work itself.
I decided to accept that being “creative” was what made me feel alive. What I initially felt was going to be a long-lasting love affair with my job turned out to be mere infatuation. I knew that my boss viewed me as insufferably idealistic — someone who didn’t want to face the realities of the corporate world. She told me repeatedly, “This is what we do and you have to accept it.” She often tried to motivate my team with the idea of a bigger bonus. It worked for a while—a few days each month—before I would again rapidly sink into the abyss of despair.
At first, I felt guilty. I was being paid to work and felt that there was something wrong with me. I didn’t want to seem ungrateful, but this is what I was becoming. Instead of doing my best at work, I found myself slacking off more and more. While my colleagues were happy with the idea of high monetary rewards, I was chasing after what everyone else thought was a mere illusion.
The people closest to me told me that I should stick with what I have and just be thankful. I tried motivating myself by being more interactive with colleagues, and by filling my mind with positive quotes and inspiring music everyday. The emotional highs and lows in my job went on for months until I woke up one morning and realized that the torture I was putting myself through had to stop. I was not being fair to the company, to my colleagues, nor to myself. I was not fit for this job. To make matters worse, I wasn’t maximizing my skills and talents by staying where I was. In other words, I was committing spiritual and emotional suicide.
Let me make it clear that I am not saying this to ridicule my colleagues who chose to stay where they are. Some people fit and some people don’t. I thought I fit; I tried to fit. But it was like being inexcusably stupid in a shape sorter game. I was a circle trying to fit herself into a square. My boss and other people around me, no matter how well-meaning they were, were wrong. I didn’t have the power to change my circumstances or my corporate culture. But I could change myself. I can accept and embrace my identity as a creative. I could move on and finally be free.