What does it mean to work creatively, and to know that you are doing the creative work that is uniquely yours to do?

These are questions I’m asking myself as I begin writing Meeting the Muse at Midlife: Finding your creative work in the 3rd act of life (book title, TBA).

Is “creative work” defined by the work itself, the project, the artistic endeavor? Is it a spirit that one brings to the process of creating? Is it about what you produce, the results?

I’d love to know what the question means to you!

The dictionary doesn’t help much. The Oxford Dictionary, defines “creative” as:
“Relating to or involving the use of the imagination or original ideas to create something.” Google’s web dictionary adds “especially in the production of an artistic work.”

That’s a simple enough definition for something scholars have spent lifetimes exploring. (There are 2772 books with “creative’ in the title in our local county library system.)

Encountering my creative muse in mid-life

In my mid-50’s I became consumed by the urge to bring more creative expression into my  life. For 25 years, I had been tethered to the notion of being productive and making something of myself. My heart was tired.

Flying back from an assignment teaching in Japan, where I had been awed by the Japanese, “wabi-sabi” way of bringing artistry into day to day life, I made a commitment to myself: I would find new ways to bring creativity into my life. I would start with arranging flowers. Beyond that, I didn’t know.

Re-entering my world in Seattle, I signed up for a class on Ikebana, the Japanese art of flower arranging, a practice I am still studying. I looked for other ways to experiment with being creative and decided to wrap all my Christmas presents Japanese-style, with fabric and beautiful design, a time-intensive process that was so different than my take-five-minutes-to-stick-on-some-wrap-and-a-bow technique. I began composing music, if only in my head.

And the muse started to show up.

Listening to the muse

The muse, (that person or force, real or imaginal that inspires artists, writers and creators)  kicked into gear when she discovered I was listening to her. Seeing how hungry I was to create, she began feeding me more ideas. She invited me to explore the world of gardening, and I threw myself in, big time. I experimented with developing and performing theatrical-style stories. Story-crafting opened the door to writing, which I then whole-heartedly pursued.

My muse got more interested.

One she knew I was committed, she began offering ways I could transform my business practice–to bring more games, laughter and improv theatre, into my work. Soon I was facing a threshold: I knew my consulting practice had to embody this new creative spirit and I could no longer return to my old, productivity-obsessed, habits.

The disruptive challenge: My age

All of this happened as I was tracking towards my 60th birthday, a milestone too big to ignore. How odd it felt to be kicking my creative impulse into gear and having my work/life come alive, at a time when society said I should be readying myself to retire. Was it too late to develop my creative passions/

My heart said “NO!” and that’s part of why I am writing this book: to prove to myself and demonstrate to others how this “3rd Act” stage of life (usually age 50 + but not always defined by age) might be one of our most creative.

Who knows? It may be easier to express our creative yearnings as we age, come into ourselves more, and let go of the preoccupation with what others think of us. At least I’m going with that story!

What does it mean to you to work creatively?

For me, it’s work that feels like I’m called to it, where I experience a feeling of flow; where I can approach it with a sense of wonder, curiosity, experimentation, and artistry and where the joy of creating is as important as the need to be producing.

Now why I turn this back to you, to learn how you experience working creatively.

  • Is it looking for ways to do common things in original ways?
  • Is it feeling that you are called to work out of a sense of higher purpose, vision or contribution?
  • Is it working from a sense of flow?
  • Is it tapping into the energy and joy in your work?
  • Is it an artistic project or desire to be artistic?
  • Is it challenging yourself to routine work in an artistic way?
  • Is it time spent hanging out and just listening to your muse?
  • Is it waking up energized in the morning, knowing that you have a special project ahead of you?

Whatever it is, in your language, I’d love to know.