The Productivity in “Play” – 3 Stories/Lessons From My Childhood That Give Me Perspective On Work + Creativity Today
“Time is a game played beautifully by children.”
“Follow your passion and everything will fall into place” everyone always tells me when it comes to building a career. If I had a dollar for every time I’ve heard this, I would be a wealthy, wealthy man.
My dad however, disagrees with that statement. He has the mentality that a job is a job, and it’s only a means to support your family, lifestyle, and responsibilities. Your job is a responsibility and if you like it that’s cool, but if not, tough shit. As long as the work has some form of stability and allows you financial independence, then can you spend your free time with other pursuits and hobbies. At the very least you can always change jobs when the timing is right if you are truly unhappy.
Whilst the idealistic romantic with rose colored glasses in me likes the sound of what most people preach, the realist in me understands the basis of what my dad says.
Although never “always” mutually exclusive, passion and income, for the most part do not come packaged together the way we want it.
Academic Struggles, Lessons Learned
The last couple of years (with my academic wheels spinning in the mud), I contemplated on this frequently. I flipped around from biological sciences, to wanting to do business, to kinesiology, to essentially just wanting to be out and done with school as soon as possible to start earning some decent money. I was willing to apply to anything to stop living a life of stagnancy and to have a goal that motivated me. Of course the realization that time is a valuable commodity only happens when you see your hairline starting to recede, your face getting chubbier, your parents getting older and your peers moving on. Only that type of perspective was a hard enough kick in the face for me. I was an immature kid fresh out of high school, and in many senses stubborn in my ways for years after.
Undoubtedly many of us fresher faces are directionless and aimless when it comes to combining career excitement and monetary success, but as I watched a TED talk about “how to retire at 20” with great skepticism, and intrigue earlier tonight, it suddenly became more clear. Whilst the speaker rambled on about the economic plights of her 6 year old self, drawing up posters of her lemonade stands, and marketing herself, I remembered a time where I had done something similar with some trading cards and toys in my childhood. I pictured that raw, focused attention of complete creative control and freedom I had at the time. No deadlines, no pressure. Just that childlike passion that we all observe from time to time, when kids are playing, drawing, or building model cars what-have-you that makes you stop, take a second look and ask yourself where you lost that uninhibited spark.
Let The Chips Fall Where They May
After remembering that isolated time from the past, I recalled more of my childhood and elementary years (surprising since I hardly remember what I had for breakfast this morning). I remember certain times where I felt completely in a state of flow, happy, at ease and even profitable as a child.
Heck I was probably more productive than I am now.
Exploring a little further into my memory bank, I recalled a time in the first grade when I would sit in class and pull off the small, different colored erasers from the end various kinds of pencils. I had done this pretty frequently out of boredom and had piled them all up in my desk. I started to draw little faces, and designs on them and aptly came up with the name “freaky friends” after some deliberation.
I started shaving down bigger erasers into fine strands and putting them into the compartment of my desk, creating a nest for my new friends. Once my classmates started to notice, and with a little explanation It took off like wildfire among my peers. Everyone was pulling off the erasers from the ends of their pencils and placing them in “nests” in their own desk compartments. We started trading and collecting them, and learning took a back seat to who would have the most elaborate collection. My first creative victory, was my first ever marketing victory and it was completely organic.
Lesson 1 – Don’t be shy or inhibited with your work/hobbies/talents. Put it out there, and let the chips fall where they may.
Freaky friends would have never “taken off” if I would have kept my little eraser buddies to myself. Obviously networking as kids is much easier, making friends is as easy as asking “Hey, wanna be friends” and there isn’t much resistance to ideas as children are open minded, but the point still stands. Put your creative ideas/products/pieces/visions out there, and watch who gravitates towards it. This is the start of a loyal fan base.
I’ve applied that today via sharing my blog. Had I have never started this blog, I would have had journals and journals of writings that at the end of the day never would have seen the light of day and reached a broader audience.
There are also certain levels of transparency that can be applied to every post you make. I have personal and informative articles, but If I chose to hide the harder personal ones I wrote or never wrote them at all then I would be suppressing myself, and the insights for my reader and potential audience. Put it out there, and let the chips fall where they may. The like-minded will find you eventually.
Find Your Niche
Flash forward to 2001. I suppose I would have been in 3rd grade, although I can’t exactly remember. I had been really into drawing and designing my own comics, with characters and worlds of my own creation. I would draw a couple pages of my strips, photocopy my designs, staple them all together and sell them to family and friends. My parents were impressed and I loved watching them read them.
Then the terrorist attacks happened on September 11th 2001, and although I didn’t completely understand it, I knew I wanted to give back. So I started my comics again with a particular character I called “Bomber Man”. He was a cannonball looking character with a fuse, two arms and legs and an affinity for fighting crime. I drew up some panels, photocopied the pages, stapled them all together and arrived the next day at school with a dozen or so copies. I went around selling them to faculty members explaining how all proceeds would be going into my big jar for the victims of the attacks. I sold all the copies that day, and continued for around a week until the jar was full.
Inevitably I was called into the principle’s office one day, as “Bomber Man” wasn’t necessarily the most appropriate name for a comic book I was selling to raise funds for an attack that involved explosions, and thus I was forced to stop. 10 year old me didn’t really even see the stupidity of it until it was too late, and I was really troubled by my good intentions being misunderstood and my character pushed to the back burner. I stopped drawing comics after that.
The fact that I am so invested in writing now is the natural progression of being ousted from and losing former passions. Like finding a new love after a breakup, it gives you perspective on the previous loss as not being a loss but a divergent path; a lesson and a new entry point.
Lesson 2 – Roadblocks and dead-ends are important to finding your niche. Almost always, you have to come full circle to realize this.
I knew I was a creative kid, but as the years went on I felt increasingly pigeon holed into a technical career. Engineers, doctors, lawyers were the pinnacle of job prospects. They offered prestige, with job security. I bought in and thought I wanted to eventually be a doctor after high school. So I went to university for biological science, and thus began the process of not being truly invested in my choices. I wasn’t forced, but I had lost that creative side of me through the years. My external circumstance was the learned mentality of creation and the arts “being for children and the unemployed”. It took me wasted years to see it is the key to my happiness, and can be combined with my propensity for marketing and branding that I discovered innately in the first grade.
I am now pursuing school in parallel with my hobbies. I get to do what I love everyday in a more technical, narrow frame of view as well as a completely free, wider frame of view. They complement each other and whilst one gives me stability, the other gives me creative control with the possibility of monetization.
Have Faith In Your Creative Visions
My next lesson as a child was a few years later. As one of the top artists in the school, my life from when I was very small was dedicated to sitting down in one spot for hours and hours, drawing characters and creatures that I envisioned in those specific moments. Hard lines, soft lines, cartoon-ish features with an innovative name was my forte and I was good at it. In art projects I always had classmates asking me to draw them their designs and pin point their visions. Whilst I was happy to help and felt there were people technically better at drawing than me, my imaginative designs were what set me apart.
Christmas rolled around the corner and there was a school wide drawing competition. We were tasked to draw “The Grinch” in an imaginative way, and the best design would win. I halfheartedly started working on my drawing, but never really committed to it fully because It was based off replicating someone else’s creation. It didn’t feel right to me, and I didn’t think my drawing would win, so I gave it to one of my best friends to enter into the contest.
A few weeks passed by and I took my seat in my school’s daily assembly, unknowingly to me the winner of the drawing contest was about to be announced. When I realized, I perked up a little bit up from my groggy state to see who the winner was. After all there was 400+ kids in the school, so the design must have been top notch.
And so the winner was called, and the design I had given to my friend on a whim without hesitation, won. He walked up there without much excitement, and claimed his prize (I believe they were Garfield comic books, which were popular at the time) and walked back almost upset at himself. He looked up at me as he sat back down, and I shot him a smile, validating that it was okay. After all he was one of my best friends and although the emotions of not understanding how to process having someone else reap the benefits of your vision played with me, I didn’t want him feeling bad about it. I didn’t care for the prize, I cared for my friends and was glad that we shared that moment, however much it stung that I hadn’t had the faith or self assurance that what I was producing was up to snuff.
Lesson 3 – If you have created something, have faith in it.
As kids we think everything we do is gold. As we get older we start to doubt ourselves and worry too much about what others think. I mean If you acted like you had the Midas touch as an adult you’d be called a narcissist or an ego-maniac, but to drop the criticism and have the utmost faith in what you do with your life, whilst maintaining a wholesome perspective on always improving is something instinctual to your inner – child. It may not be your best work, but it is yours. Not everything you are going to create you are going to feel great about. Surprisingly those very things will strike a cord with someone. Believe in what you create, especially if you have put your heart and soul into something.
If it’s not your best work, its a spot for improvement, but it’s still yours and an effective piece in the journey of your personal progression.
Let’s face it you are not a kid anymore. Recapturing the magic of your younger years is somewhat of an impossibilty due to having more awareness, less naivety, more cultural and societal conditioning and succumbing to norms, external familial influences and a wide variety of other factors. There are many answers our childhoods can give us though, especially if we feel dazed, and confused by our lack of direction.
Children gravitate to what makes them feel alive, they are not swayed by job stability, or monetary gain, but investment in an idea based on a sense of play, joy, and creative control.
The things you loved as a child should not be forgotten or overwritten by the new rules of adulthood. What is intrinsically special to you as a kid, will always strike a cord with you as an adult. Follow the natural progression of your childhood loves, evolve them into parallel pursuits, and seriously invest time into these pursuits whether it be career wise or hobby wise.
Implement this into your day to day, and your inner child smiles.