I used to think that being in a state of turmoil led to better creative. But as I’ve worked to fill my life with more and more joy, I’ve learned that you don’t have to be sad to create a masterpiece. You just need to make peace with your story and have the courage to push yourself to do things you don’t want to do.
But let’s not confuse “joy” with “easy”. It’s not unusual for people to breeze into my life and say things like, “Christian, have you EVER had a bad day??” I sure do, baby boo. Ultimately, I choose to accept the compliment that the joy I have in my heart feels like a vortex of puppies and lemonade shooting at your face, but here’s something most people don’t know: I’ve grappled with my fair share of mental health issues from my early years until the beginning of college. And honestly, I feel like I’ve truly just started to make peace with them. I’m actively learning that the leftover quirks from my early struggles are a huge part of why my community loves me today. Little idiosyncrasies like being over-attached, grief forecasting the worst possible outcomes, and having a “healthy” sense of self-deprecation allow me to create things that nobody else can. And – putting it lightly – that’s pretty dope.
I believe what makes people exceptional at their craft versus good at their craft starts with a strong sense of self. And, a lot of that comes from finding ways to celebrate (or acknowledge) your past experiences – even the hard ones. If somebody else could write or design that, why pour countless hours into it? Let someone else do it. Your unique background and POV are the secret herbs and spices you need to create showstopping work. And guess what: A lot more people than you think will share your experience – and they’re going to feel oh, so seen.
I think most would agree that good creative is inherently emotional. But I believe we as people are so numb to emotion that it’s gone before we can truly tap into it. The only emotion many of us are able to feel deeply is prolonged hardship – because we’re literally forced to sit in it. That’s why musicians who articulate emotion expertly like Adele and Taylor Swift are selling out stadiums on the heels of heartbreak. Little joys can be such a flash in the pan – but if we take the care to internalize them – they can be a powerful emotion worth tapping into.
So, how do you turn joyful insights into baller creative? Let’s get this straight: There’s no one-size-fits-all for rainbows and sunshine. For me, joy comes from pushing yourself to do newer, harder things. When we seek out threats to our comfort zone, it expands and we’re more prepared to tackle those challenges when they come back around. At least that’s what Curiosity’s leadership coach, Matt Marvin taught me. And, spoiler alert: He’s right! I believe those wins from trying new things – big and small – can be an INCREDIBLE sense of inspiration. Here’s an example: When I was a senior at Miami University, I ran a social experiment on myself. I was going to push myself to do something uncomfortable every week for 10 weeks. Experiences like attending a witch coven, going to a nude beach, and joining the Dayton knitting club were my reality for the better half of my senior year. This almost reckless experimentation led to one of the most creative periods of my life. Besides wracking up new adventures to reference, I met plenty of new people far outside of my social circle who rewired my brain with fresh takes and perspectives. And, if you dare to be vulnerable, these new people and their ideas can bring joy. At least it did for me.
All of this is not to take away from people who are living their best creative lives while layering on black eyeliner. Believe me, there’s a time and place for using your creativity as a source of light – and sometimes, it’s your only light. Just don’t convince yourself that you need to stay there to make your best stuff. Joy is truly just as inspiring – and, just like pain, it’s worthy of expression. The coolest part? It’s a little bit more challenging because it’s not what the world teaches us to use as a starting point. So, next time you ideate a new concept, write a song, or dream big, I challenge you to push your range of creative thinking by giving joy a chance. You might just stumble into your magnum opus.