In his book “Why Bowie Matters” (affiliate link), Will Brooker writes about his own creative journey in the context of exploring David Bowie’s life. He decided to walk in Bowie’s footsteps and to explore Bowie’s life in a physical manner. He distilled Bowie’s life down to a year’s worth of experiences, dressed like Bowie, traveled to the places that were important to Bowie’s development as an artist and icon, and experimented with the same talents that Bowie did. His experience can help you in your own creative journey.
Curse of Success
“By my mid-twenties I’d cut almost every creative activity from my life, as I devoted myself to a PhD. Anything surplus was forgotten. Acting and singing weren’t going to get me employed. I was never going to be a great artist, but I was becoming a promising academic.”
Part of the workplace paradigm is that in order to be above average or great at something, you have to devote yourself to it fully. When a project or job is so consuming that it takes 10 to 12 hours or more and it drains you emotionally and imaginatively, there’s no room left for creativity. We all strive to be great, but that often comes at the cost of cutting out the things that would make us better and happier people.
Lack of Validation
“I’d learned the lesson that you shouldn’t show off your work unless it’s above a certain standard. People don’t praise a thirty-year-old for a half decent drawing the way they do as a kid at primary school. They’re embarrassed. They want you to wait until you’re better, and if you don’t get better, they’d rather you kept it to yourself, or maybe just stop.”
It was awesome to see your parent(s) put your work on the refrigerator. It validated you and showed that what you were doing was worthwhile, even if it wasn’t great. As you get older, this validation stops. It’s no longer good enough to be exploring a new area of possible talent. Instead, people want you to put yourself in a box and be good at one thing. As a person, you are multi-faceted. One thing isn’t going to allow you to self-actualize or feel fulfilled.
Loss of Self
Brooker became head of the film department at age 35 and had to stop dressing in vintage clothing and wearing make-up. By age 45, he hadn’t done much painting, drawing, dressing imaginatively, singing or other creative performances for 20 years. “In a way, I’d done well, but I also lost a lot of myself.”
Brooker was successful in the academic arena, but at what cost. The price of his success was losing a valuable part of himself. Creativity and its expression are a natural part of a person’s inner-self. Societal rules and judgements suppress those urges and tendencies creating a hole that can only be filled with creativity and imagination.
Return to Self
Brooker wore the same kind of make-up Bowie did, he dressed in the same style of clothing, he sang in drag at a gay club in London, he painted an expressionist painting, and fronted a Bowie tribute band. “My matrix was intersecting with his, and the overlaps were making my life richer.”
Creativity will help make your life richer because you will find a natural expression of yourself. Exploring old skills from elementary and middle school and developing new ones will help keep your mind healthy and keep your time occupied in a manner that has true value to you. It doesn’t have to perfect or even good; you just need to make it.
Your Own Creative Journey
“Nobody can become Bowie. But by connecting with him, and trying to immerse myself in his personae, I created a bolder, braver and brighter version of myself.”
Maybe David Bowie isn’t the creative person you admire most, and you probably can’t take a sabbatical from your work to explore the rest of your human beingness. That’s okay. You can still find a biography of the creative person you admire most and learn from their lives what helped to make them creative. Try to do some of the things they did, try to think like them, and go on your own creative journey with their story as a guide. (You might even read some of the “How to Think Like…” books [affiliate link].)
For More Creativity
If you want to learn more about creativity, sign up for email notifications from this blog. Our Patreon is a great way to engage in activities designed to increase creativity, and it has penguins! When you join us, you’ll get access to new trainings, articles, and the Penguin of the Month photo! If books are more your thing, check out “Disneyland Is Creativity” and its sequel “The Haunted Mansion Is Creativity.” I have also written “Penguinate! Positive Creativity” which includes activities you can do to become more creative. For some of David Bowie’s music, check out Amazon.