Every now and then, you hear something that clicks the loose synapses in your brain. That’s when you have the “Aha! Eureka! YAAASSS!” moments. I had one of those moments when I was reading Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert (to be fair, I had several of those moments reading this book, but I’m discussing one in particular here). Here’s what she wrote:
“You’re not required to save the world with your creativity.”
Wow! To some of you, that may seem as counter-cultural as it seemed to me. I really can’t scroll through my social media feeds for five minutes without seeing someone talking about how ~*the world NEEDS your creativity!*~
The thing about those “the world needs you” messages is that they are well intended. They are meant to be sincere, encouraging, inspiring. And sometimes they are. Hell, I’m guessing I’ve probably even shared similar messages myself, because I do believe that the world is improved when creative people activate their gifts. But I DON’T believe that it’s healthy for us to put pressure on ourselves to SAVE the world.
In my experience, the most powerful creative energy is something that swells up from within us. It’s an energy we feel compelled to express primarily for the sake of expression. There are some cases where we can make logical choices about what to create. But for the most part, our creative impulses are not driven by logic. A lot of creative people have a difficult time describing WHY they’re drawn to their particular craft. They just are.
We want to create for the same reason herding dogs want to herd: we’re born to do it. If it happens to contribute something of value to the world, that’s an added bonus – but not a requirement.
The more I look at the world, the more I believe the world doesn’t need martyrs taking it upon themselves to save it. When I observe people who I think HAVE made a positive impact on the world, it’s rarely because they set out to save the world. It’s because they had an indwelling calling to create something, and it just so happened that that something had an impact. The creator would have gone forth with their creation, though, regardless. Helping the world was a byproduct, not the primary goal.
If your primary motivation for creating is to save the world, you’ll probably find this motive unsustainable. You don’t need a lofty, selfless reason to create. Creativity is only sustainable when it’s driven by curiosity, by a ceaseless call to expansion.
Maybe your particular brand of creativity will have just a small reach. Perhaps you’ll make life more pleasant for your partner and your friends and your cats. Who’s to say that isn’t good enough?
It’s also okay for your creativity to be just for you. You can write words no one else ever reads. You can relish painting something a gallery would shun. You can create something extravagant, abstract, derivative, silly, against the grain, ugly, self-indulgent. It’s all okay.
So, does the world need your creativity? Maybe, but probably not.
Should you follow your creative impulses anyhow?
Hell fucking yes.
Don’t create to save the world. Create because you must create.
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