A creative’s work is never done, and what it means for us

I’ve tried describing this before unsuccessfully, but yesterday, as I celebrated reaching part of the tail-end of my 20s, I couldn’t resist exploring the concept more.

That experience alone, for me, is an example of the point I want to get across: as creatives we often find ourselves unfulfilled.

The artist who gets her first gallery show is ecstatic, of course, but the feeling quickly dissipates into longing for more, better, and bigger work.

It’s the same with the writer who gets his play featured on Broadway, or the inventor who successfully develops a new way for vaccines to be provided in third-world countries, or the musician who receives multiple standing ovations.

We feel this way as creatives not because we all have some unrealistic vision of what success is or means (though, sadly, many do).

No, we feel unfulfilled because what drives us to do the work – what drives us to fill the gallery, to write hit plays, to invent life-changing solutions, to out perform our last seven performances – is the very nature of the work itself.

As creatives we strive to create, problem solve, and tinker. Work that, by it’s very nature, has no end.

There will always be the possibility of something new, something to be dreamed. There will always be problems to solve, inventions to make, music to dream and compose, plays to envision, novels and blog posts and poems to write, and so much more.

That work will never go away. It’s on our character to be creative, so no matter how accomplished we may become or exactly how much work we complete, there’s always going to be more to do.

We may feel triumphant in a moment, but within another we’re right back in the fray, rushing towards the unknown in order to conquer the next challenge.

What’s this mean exactly?

If you’re a creative it means many things. One important thing, however, is something it has taken me many, many, years to come to fully understand: it’s ok to take a break once in a while.

Because there will always be work to do and because I know that no matter what tomorrow brings I will have a challenge (and an opportunity to prove myself, to myself), if I really need to break away – to spend time with friends, to re-connect with myself, to open a good book and relax a little – that’s going to be ok!

Yes, when there is obvious work in front of me you will see me sitting away whittling at it (day and night). But too much of that drains me, emotionally, socially, mentally, physically, and even creatively.

So if you’re feeling burnt out: remember that the work can almost always continue tomorrow.

One more thing about how our work is never done and what it means for us.

Many people will never understand this drive. They’ll see us accomplish much but take little apparent esteem in our work. They’ll question why we work so hard, or why we’re always back into whatever comes next the day after we complete something.

It’s part of our job to help them understand that we’re not unhappy, or mislead. We’re not upset with ourselves (well, we may be, but not at the level of which we commonly come across).

We do this because it’s what we do.

Have respect and patience with those who just don’t get it. They’re not trying to fight you about it or prove you wrong. We just live by different rules.

Photo by Robert-Jonathan Koeyers.