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Monday, 18 February 2013

If This Is Sick, I Don't Wanna Be Well

Anyone who's talked to me in the last year or so will probably be aware that I've been spending a lot of time on self-help stuff - productivity, time management, confidence, talking to people... I've spent a lot of brainpower on getting to where I think I ought to be.

A lot of this advice is good (especially the time management stuff - I can confirm that working from an empty email inbox, both at work and at home, is just about worth the price of admission). Some of it is less good - either hacky or just too broad to be of use to me.

But the thought I've been having a lot lately, and it's echoed in some of the stuff that I listen to or read about, is the connection between unhappiness and creativity.

To be clear, I don't believe in stereotypes of tortured artists - but I also sometimes worry that if I got too happy, would I still be driven to write, or tell jokes, or whatever the hell I do when I'm not in the office?

I've heard it said that those who perform for a living are seeking approval that they were denied when growing up; this has been applied to actors as well as comedians. On the face of it, it rings pretty true to my experience too - as a child I wanted to be a movie star, but having since grown into a face for radio (and, to be less self-deprecating, not really enjoying the terror of being on stage and learning lines), I've found that I wanted to tell stories.

So that's what I've been doing since I was about fourteen. In that time, there have also been instances where I was more or less happy with my station in life. Some of the best times included my first and last years of college; the years in between were worse, as were the years after I left graduate school.

I can say that the very happiest times weren't necessarily my most productive in terms of writing, but neither were my unhappiest times that good for my writing. But I hold onto this fear that if I were ever truly satisfied, that I'd stop, and then my chance at greatness would be gone forever.

But does it matter? If I'm happy with my life, would I really need to leave behind a body of work? Because that's what it comes down to: being remembered, either in the form of children or of my work.

I'm hoping I can manage both, despite suggestions that you have to choose between professional success and personal success. I know which I'd choose (I've effectively chosen already, at least for the moment), but I also hope there's a third alternative.