By Melody J. Wilding '11SW of the Columbia Career Coaches Network
Originally published on melodywilding.com
Why does it seem like some people can effortlessly “follow their passions,” while others can’t? What’s the secret of successful entrepreneurs and creatives who live out their dreams of dedicating their careers to inspiring, meaningful work? Why do the rest of us feel stuck in an unfulfilling funk?
Not everyone can follow their passion and make money from it. Not everyone can work on a personal project or business that lights you up and makes every day feel like retirement. Or can you?
The exciting truth is that there are small changes you can make every day to dig yourself out of burnout and inch yourself closer to creating a life and career that invigorates you, instead of draining you. The key is attuning yourself to your capacity for creativity.
Unfortunately, the systems we find ourselves in—whether that be family, schools, or—condition out of us the courage to risk. Playing it safe suits the naysayers who are scared of the sacrifice and upheaval big ideas entail, but staying small is unfulfilling. This is why, if you truly want to be exceptional, you have to nurture this skill again. You have to nurture your creative genius. Luckily, you can do that through developing habits and deliberate practice working the creative “muscles” in your brain.
Creativity is part art, and part science. In the decades since the science of creativity began to be uncovered, there have been many books written on the topic, which will help you build those muscles and achieve that illusive creativity.
These are 5 of my favorite:
1. The War of Art: Break Through Blocks and Win Your Inner Creative Battles by Steven Pressfield
Our job in this life is not to shape ourselves into some ideal we imagine we ought to be, but to find out who we already are and become it
The War of Art frames the struggle of producing meaningful work in a context that most of us can relate to: releasing your creative genius can feel like a constant, never-ending battle. Pressfield reveals that what we’re really fighting against is resistance—the nagging internal critique that holds us back from success. The War of Art provides techniques to defeat our own psychological self-sabotage. Pressfield also explains that we need to find out who we already are if we’re going to unlock the creativity within us, nudging us towards the practical necessity of self-discovery and how to get there. It’s an important read for anyone who feels they’re fighting an uphill battle unlocking their creative self; and this book will show you how to win the war.
2. The Creative Habit by Twyla Tharp
When you’re in a rut, you have to question everything except your ability to get out of it
In The Creative Habit, Tharp asserts a truth we often don’t dare to believe: that creativity is not a gift bestowed on a select few. Studies have found that only 30% of creativity is genetic which means that the majority is environmental and can be cultivated. Tharp manages to blend eloquent motivation with simple guidelines for getting hard work done, like “butt in chair, hands on keyboard” or setting up rituals that’ll help launch you into your ultimate creative mode. The Creative Habit contains over 30 exercises, all of them accessible to any personality, which will increase your creative potential.
3. Breakthrough!: Proven Strategies to Overcome Creative Block and Spark Your Imagination by Alex Cornell
If the remedy was exact, I’d patent it, design the packaging and make some money
If you’re looking for a fun, easy read, Breakthrough! should be your go-to book. This collection of essays is serious at times but also very funny, and communicates its messages in an accessible, engaging style. That said, don’t think that it’s any less effective than the other books in this list. Despite its easy reading, the information and strategies provided are scientifically sound and appealing. One major message in Breakthrough! is that there is no one-size-fits-all solution to your creative block. The essays within are therefore from a varied range of writers and artists, and so manage provide solutions that cater to specific personalities.
4. Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi
People who learn to control inner experience will be able to determine the quality of their lives, which is as close as any of us can come to being happy
Flow is perhaps the most important treatise on the neuroscience of creativity and how to capitalize on it. Flow refers to the mindset you’re in when you can feel creativity flowing through your veins, out of your body and into a tangible piece of art—whether that be writing, creating a product, or even doing a simple idea brainstorm. When you’re in flow state, you’re focused, energized, and buzzing with ideas. Csikszentmihalyi draws on over 30 years of psychological research to explain how you can access this mindset at will. It’s vital reading for anyone interested in the science behind creativity, as well as everyone who wants access to one of the most important skills our minds have to offer.
5. Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead by Brené Brown
There are people who have amazing gifts, who could make the world a better place, who won’t put their work out there because they don’t want to walk into uncertainty and vulnerability
Daring Greatly exposes the most potent enemy of creativity: fear of vulnerability. Being creative means putting your unique ideas out there, and facing the possibility of your emotional life being criticized or even rejected. As the quote above makes clear, thousands of revolutionary ideas have surely been missed because the creator did not have the skills to weather criticism.
Daring Greatly helps you develop the skills of courage, resilience, and emotional intelligence so you can take more risks, even when fear and shame rear their ugly heads. In building a career, vulnerability is a constant risk. Very few entrepreneurs succeed right from the start. Your ideas can and will fail at some point, exposing your vulnerabilities to the outside world. Daring Greatly forces you to acknowledge this, and helps you confront that certainty, so that when you do face failure, you’ll be confident in your ability to pick yourself back up.
Need even more recommendations for your reading list? Pay a visit to the Columbia Alumni Authors Bookshelf, a collection of hundreds of published works by and for the Columbia University community.
Melody J. Wilding is a part of the Columbia Career Coaches Network—a group of over 20 accredited professional alumni career coaches who provide fee-based consulting and volunteer for the Columbia Alumni Association's free professional development programs throughout the year.