In a recent blog post, I wrote the following:
“Are you a glass half empty type of person or a glass half full one? Mentally, do you assume the best or the worst?
Well, there’s a third, outside-the-box option, when you think about it, and one that squares with my mood this morning as well as the growth mindset. It’s the one my wife and I usually utilize on weekends, when we have more time to sit over our morning lattes before the more active parts of our days begin.
And in another recent post, I contrasted creativity with consumption, saying that the two might be considered opposite poles, or like two sides of a scale. By “consumption”, I primarily meant mentally checking out and allowing ourselves to partake overly in others’ creative output at the expense of engaging more fully in our own.
Here’s another thing that’s not conducive to creativity: competition. The competitive mindset.
Back when I was just starting to work as the sculpture shop supervisor for the art department of a small liberal arts college, a tenured professor recounted to me something an artist with a household name had said during a studio visit that this professor had set up and attended with students during a field trip to New York City some years prior. I don’t know in what context the words were delivered, but the line was the adage, “The cream always rises to the top.” Without so stating, it was clear that offense was taken.
It felt to me like the source of the scorn stemmed from career comparison, and so, ever helpful, I replied that in general, I agreed with the saying, pointing out that a tenured position like the one the professor was blessed with, and its attendant blessings and benefits, was further evidence of its truth. My words, however, fell to the shop floor like a lead balloon, and did nothing to counter my colleague’s decidedly glass half empty mindset.
Speaking of empty glasses, it’s 1:49 am and my mug of latte is already empty. I’ve got to find a way to rectify that.
Beyond its usual positive effects, this morning it feels like my quotidian coffee might just dovetail perfectly with today’s subject matter. In fact, I might just make another one for an impromptu science experiment. Hold on – be right back…
Interesting. Ok, so instead of pouring the two shots of espresso into my typical double-walled mug, I poured it into one of the glass Ball mason jars we use as drinking cups. Note:
Then, I frothed up some 2% milk…
And poured it into the mason jar. Then, I waited for a couple minutes, snapped the following pic,
Then, I recorded my further findings: tasty.
Also, I found that the cream rose to the top; while the color of the coffee throughout the mug went from dark to light brown after I poured the milk in, at the top half inch of the glass, there was an even lighter section of crème de la crème.
Back to my thesis: creativity can’t thrive in the presence of the competitive mindset.
The competitive mindset flows directly out of the scarcity mindset – the idea that there’s only so much to go around. It contends that the world’s a big zero-sum game, or to put it another way, a pie graph of a fixed size, and that consequently, if someone else is serving him or herself a large slice, there’s less pie to go around for everyone else.
Now, I enjoy competition in its place, and realize that there are instances when the parameters are set up to be zero-sum. In sports, for instance, there are winners and losers. Only one figure skating team can win the gold medal(s) at the Olympics, unless, like in the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City, two teams ultimately share top billing due to Russian metaling meddling (involving a French connection).
When I play pickleball, as I plan to later today with Nan M., Bill, and Marc, it’s typically as a part of a foursome, two on two. We’ll play two out of three games and then rotate partners, so that in two hours or so, we’ve played between six and nine games and run through all the partner combinations. As we’re heading back to the parking lot, you’d better believe everyone is aware of who was top dog that day, as well as who ended up lowest on the totem pole.
Business also can be immensely competitive, and as a subset of that sphere of life, the “art world” can be as well.
But art, and creativity in all forms, requires thought, and thought requires an ideal environment in which to thrive.
You can think of modes of thought as a series of horizontal plains, with the creative plain on top. Somewhere below is the competitive plain.
In one’s creative vocation or avocation, allowing one’s thought to exist on the competitive plain is unnecessary. It’s unhelpful; a drag. Desiring to do one’s work with excellence and mastery is one thing. Desiring to get one’s work out there, to be seen, to “enter the arena”, as Brené Brown talks about, is a worthwhile goal. But doing so while existing, mentally, on a plain of perpetual discontent and competitive comparison; of believing the grass is always greener elsewhere and that you’re in competition with others for a fixed amount of attention, money, etc., is downright detrimental to the spirit of gratitude, which deserves to be the subject of its own post sometime.
Gratitude is the medium that allows creativity to flourish. It’s like Miracle Grow for creativity. Or two morning lattes.
It’s tautologically true that creativity is creative.
The creative plain is where there’s plenty of pie, as well as lattes, to go around, and if there aren’t, more can be created. It’s where one can push beyond the bounds of extant reality, extant culture. Where one can open up whole new worlds of ideas, and in so doing, remold one’s own life as well.
The creative plain is the crème de la crème.
It’s where the zero-sum mindset, competitive rules, hurry, worry, and comparison simply don’t apply. Because it’s impossible for gratitude and ingratitude to coexist.
One might as well drink decaf.