Something strange happened a few weeks ago over a microwaved shepherd’s pie and a few lines of Rilke in the staff kitchen.
A nagging feeling has been clawing at the back of my consciousness for the best part of thirty years. It causes a low level emotional discomfort but on occasion rears its head in a wild and sometimes scary way. It asks questions, poses doubts and usually ends up in the ending of something, a relationship, a hobby, a job.
Last Thursday, a breakthrough of sorts. The emotional discomfort had gotten out of control and I had turned to poetry for some relief. In this case selected passages of Rainer Maria Rilke’s Letters to a Young Poet. In it Rilke talks about creativity and the need to be alone while creating. Read it, he explains it far more eloquently that I will.
In a moment of clarity, I realised that this uncomfortable feeling was unfulfilled creative potential.
For my entire life I have lived by the values I was brought up with. Instilled from an early age was the need for education, a good job, a stable career, money, savings over debt, houses, marriage, family…safety over freedom. And that is the path I inadvertently chose for myself. Sensible over creative, because lets face it, that arts don’t usually pay the bills.
Creativity is, in my parents eyes a luxury, confined to weekends and hobbies. Creative is not in the job description.
Though the values they instilled are not inherently bad they resulted in a lack of fulfillment in my life. Strapped into a corporate machine, reliant on a regular wage to pay the bills was their idea of life well spent, not mine.
There’s a discord here between inherited values and the things I really care about and it has caused decades of existential angst and identity issues.
There is a lot of work still to do. The psychological archaeology has so far only unearthed the bones of it.
It boils down to two questions that need to be answered. The jab-cross combo of tough questions.
Who am I?
Since I am not defined by my job title, what is left?
Identity can change over time but the core parts of it remain the same and sometimes that is lost in relationships, in trying to fit with society and peers, the corporate environment and family commitments. We so often forget what we stand for and who we are when life gets overwhelmingly busy.
Too many become institutionalised in the corporate world and forget who they are. Their creativity sapped and leached from their bones by bureaucracy and routine. It is the new experiences and the playfulness that will release them from the cycle.
The foundations of a person lies in their values. Discovering what they are is the first step, living by them is another.
The second punch is this.
Why am I here?
This can be summed up in the idea of the epitaph or the obituary. It’s morbid and possibly dark and twisty, but stay with me.
If you were to die tomorrow what kind of legacy do you want to leave? What would they say and write about you? What would they carve into that headstone?
This is a biggie. The French call it their raison d’etre, the Japanese ikigai and we English call it a purpose.
Well, I know the answer to this one if I’m feeling brave. Putting a hand up in class at school was not at the top of my joy list, but this answer I’m sure of.
I want to put beautiful and inspiring things into the world.
No, not want, need. I need to do this.
From a young age I was fascinated by stories, fictional adventures and people and worlds. They aided my escape from a world where I did not fit. They taught me everything and gave me a sense of belonging. Most of all though the books I read inspired me.
I’ve known from the age of eight that I wanted to be writer.
I need to write.