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The Self-Inflicted Curse of Creativity

The Self-Inflicted Curse of Creativity

I tend to be called creative a lot.

From the moment I chose design as a major in college, I sealed my professional fate as a “creative” in the industry.

Fast forward four years, a business minor, and way too many Red Bull-fueled late nights later, and I found myself as a proud… college graduate who was living at home with my parents — sound familiar?

Thanks to my decision to pursue a creative career, most people would assume I was living at home because I couldn’t find a job.

The thing is, I wasn’t actively looking for one. Instead, I was trying my hardest to create my own path in the form of a full-time freelance career.

Needless to say, I learned more in that following year than during my four and half years at college (don’t judge — I picked up that business minor a little late).

What followed was a decade of what I like to call “productive fumbling.”

Throughout this time, I made a living by illustrating posters, building brands, designing websites, laying out apps, writing articles, teaching kids to sing, and doing pretty much anything else you can think of. I’ve even gotten paid to make weird sounds with my mouth while five other guys sing. True story.

Believe me. My goal here isn’t to brag. It’s simply to share that I know what it takes to create a career out of creativity (say that ten times fast).

Throughout this time, I can say one thing with 100 percent confidence: Being creative is hard. Let me rephrase that: being creative is easy. Applying creativity is hard.

Anyone (with enough practice and access to Photoshop) can paint a pretty picture or tell a clever joke. What sets professional creatives apart is their ability to apply creativity in the real world. You know, the one where real people live and real businesses operate? We’re talking about using creativity for more than just a clever Halloween costume once a year.

In some ways, I’ve always been fascinated with how I can apply my creativity instead of keeping it confined to my own sketchbook. This fascination started way back in college.

As a junior at a small liberal arts school in the middle of Nowhere, Missouri, I came across these two main problems:

  1. No one ever wanted to come visit, and;
  2. There was a severe lack of “creative inspiration.”

What started as in-class illustration project turned into a chance for me to kill both of these birds with one stone. Naturally, I steered into the skid.

I decided to use my indisputable wit in order to create a series of fictional tourism posters for Kirksville, Missouri.

Some of the greatest hits included, “Kirksville Date Night: Dinner and a Movie,” showcasing a Redbox (remember those?) outside of a McDonald’s as well as, “Thousand Hills State Park: Now with Even Less E. coli!” printed above a scenic lake.

After completing this eight-poster series for a grade, I ended up sharing them online. I honestly wasn’t ready for what happened next.

A few weeks later, the posters went semi-viral, racking up over 11,000 views as well as requests for custom commissioned posters. Our university even reached out, asking if they could use them for the annual spring fling.

After this experience, I considered each and every project an opportunity to learn, experiment, and set myself up for future success. Even as an inexperienced designer, I realized I could make student projects work a lot harder for me in the long run if I just thought bigger.

At this point in my life, I’m focused on applying my creativity to things that connect existing dots rather than blindly creating more. More specifically, I want to help others connect over shared ideas.

For me, the end result doesn’t matter. Whether I share a piece of writing, design a mobile app, or launch an entire company, if it helps to create a smaller world connected by ideas, then I know I’m applying my creativity in a successful way.

What do you create and what do you think it says about you?

This post reflects the views and experiences of the author, and is intended to start a conversation. Please share your thoughts in the comments below!

Or, if you’d like to hear some overall thoughts on work from Christians at THRED, you can find those over here.

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William is a freelance designer, writer, and founder of Collide, a company that is creating a better, deeper way to connect with others over shared ideas and skills. He is passionate about turning ideas into action and helping others do the same. When not working, William leads a double life as a beatboxer in One Too Many, St. Louis' premiere all-male a cappella group.

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