I have a difficult time conceiving of my creative and intellectual abilities, or anyone else’s, in terms of distinct aptitudes. I think, instead, that our skills and proclivities are constantly evolving, unfolding, and overlapping in such an untidy fashion that, to define ourselves by a series of clear-cut abilities (and inabilities) can not be only misleading, but also severely limiting. In fact, I’d say that those of us who may be considered generalists, or polymaths, are terrific examples of what it means to have interrelated aptitudes and interests of equal (or almost equal) measure. Some of us are attracted to entrepreneurship and creative endeavors like blogging because they allow us to wear many different hats at once. When I am blogging, for instance, I get to be writer, designer, philosopher, marketer, coach, psychologist, teacher, and researcher. That’s why I like it. That’s what makes it stimulating. And it’s not enough to say that I like doing and being many things at once. My mind automatically goes in all of those directions when I am entertaining a concept or an idea, in a way that is quite energizing. To stifle that process, or channel it in one concentrated direction can be frustrating, boring, or even depressing.
Perhaps that’s the creator in me.
I use my own experiences to describe a space, or a state, in which everything appears interconnected—where inclinations and aptitudes fuse with concepts and ideas—and I like to call it, “the middle.” The middle is a space of sameness. It is an awareness of similarities and the birthplace of innovation. It is a meetingplace, a point of intense overlap between disciplines and aptitudes. It is vision. It is insight. And it often requires thinking conceptually. It is blurry, leaky, and ever-so permeable. The middle is where wisdom resides. I consider it a gift to be able to inhabit this space occasionally. I also think that many of us would spend a great deal more time there if we were educated differently. If we weren’t consistently taught to specialize. To narrow, narrow, narrow our interests. And our thinking.
I believe our educational system needs more generalists, particularly at the university level. I also think it would be wonderful to see more people recognize themselves as multi-talented, or as having a generous array of aptitudes and potential. Because all of you are out there. You just may not recognize yourselves. You might know you think differently and may not be sure yet what to call yourself or what, precisely, to do about it. (If the question, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” has always been one of the most anxiety-inducing queries on the planet, I might be referring to you. Especially if your answer is, EVERYTHING!)
Here are some thoughts on finding the middle, on thinking creatively, and on engaging more of yourself when you approach a problem or a question.
I swear that cooking has helped me become a better writer. I also swear that swimming helps me brainstorm more effectively, and in a way that no other sport can. When I want to get in the mood to write, I design graphics. (If I were at all adept at drawing, I would probably draw.) In fact, I often design social graphics or covers for projects before I even start writing. It helps me gain clarity by identifying up front what a particular poem, post, or piece of fiction is supposed to feel like. I also must listen to music. Preferably jazz, house, or lounge. For me, writing is an auditory endeavor. It’s all about rhythm. Either you’ve got it, or you don’t.
Engage your senses. Even those you think are unrelated to what you’re working on. Or work on mental (or physical) tasks that engage you in different ways. This is a great method for detecting the similarities between ideas and activities. (As a side note, I was going to call this section, “Mentally Cross-Train” until I discovered that is an actual term used by some in athletic training and sports psychology. But, if thinking of these complementary, yet divergent, activities as a form of cross-training for your intellect and your sensibilities, helps you, then, by all means…)
Forget What You Know.
I am going to write a novel. Seriously, I am. It is a bucket list item for me, which means I have to do it. And I have an idea! (Oh no, have I just committed, officially, by telling you?) The problem is I’ve never written a novel before, and I don’t know how! A formidable angst rises up in me whenever I think of how utterly unprepared I am for this task. And yet, even during moments of intense overwhelm, there is a little voice that whispers, “Yes, you do.” And it calms me.
The funny thing is, that little voice has the most unbelievable track record of being correct. I learned a long time ago not to waste my time arguing with it. Listen to that voice, and forget how unprepared or how inadequate you feel. Forget what you know of your own limitations. Forget what you’ve been taught about the rules. And do it anyway. Even if its only for yourself. Play. Experiment. Do what you would do naturally, if there were no rules.
Find Your Weird.
Once you do forget the rules, or reach a point at which you feel you are conceiving of an idea, brainstorming, or combining unlikely elements in a manner that is authentically you, go with it. The feeling that you are in sync, or are one, with a project is rewarding. To get to this stage, however, generally requires dealing with a certain amount of uncomfortability (which is why it has its own category here). It is not enough to say that you’ve thought outside the proverbial box or flirted with unconventionality. You must do. And in order to be “in the middle,” or to find the space within yourself where those little sparks of genius, beauty, and wisdom hide, you’ve got to embrace your weird. To be in the middle is to be totally, vulnerably, enacimpatingly weird. Learn to enjoy the ride.