I have always been a creative person: as a child I loved writing, designing board games and dunking my fingers into paint (to the delight of my mother and the dismay of my father). As I grew up, I still loved these things, but a second feeling had developed alongside my love of creativity and that was a nagging, self-critical part of my psyche that consistently chirped in my ear: is this meaningful enough?
Three Classes of Activity
I think most of us could divide our day into three types of activities: the habitual parts like the commute to work or brushing our hair — they don’t have real meaning for us in our lives but nevertheless we must do them. The next type is meaningful activities: reading or watching a TED talk, practising yoga or spending time with our family and friends. These are the activities that help us grow, that anchor us and nourish us a person.
Finally there is the third type of activity, the controversial one: the things we feel compelled to do – and this is the one we often struggle with. I will always make time to go food shopping because I need it to live; I make time for my job because if I didn’t I would be fired and have no income; I make time for my yoga practice because it calms me down and keeps me sane. However, I often don’t make time for the third type of activity, the ‘compelling’ activities.
This is usually because when an idea strikes me to, let’s say, do a collage using lots of old magazines — one part of my brain is jumping for joy screaming “yes, yes, yes!” The other part wags its finger, saying “what do you really gain from this in your life? Is it going to propel you anywhere? Wouldn’t you be better off looking for a new job or volunteering for a charity? Is this really meaningful enough?“
My Journey To Trust
A few weeks ago I wanted to attend a creative yoga workshop – focussing on different ways to practice and bring your own ‘flavour’ to your practice — so I signed up straight away. Immediately, the familiar questions came: “Can you afford to do that when you already take time out to do yoga?” “Shouldn’t you be helping out a homeless shelter instead?” I ended up not going and I have thought about it ever since. Not the workshop itself, but the fact that I didn’t go.
My bedroom is full of half-finished projects: photo albums, sketch books… it’s a graveyard for things I was once compelled to do but never allowed myself to indulge in. I’ve caught myself becoming someone who can only do an activity with an end goal in mind, rather than just enjoy the activity. Since then, my understanding of the word ‘meaningful’ is changing. We need a mixture of all three types of activities in our lives to feel fulfilled: of course, we must do what we need to do to survive and we should always encourage ourselves and others to expand our knowledge and awareness, but we must also need to make time to stop, and smell the roses. We need to reward ourselves for doing all the things we need to do, bask in all the growing we’ve done and just be who we are, doing what we want to do for a while.
The other thing I rediscovered is the concept of trust: I am learning to trust myself. If I say I want to sit down and write a poem, then that’s what I need to do for myself in that moment. Often the battle with myself over whether something is meaningful or not takes just as much time as just doing it would have taken. I sit there on the edge of my bed, fighting with myself – while I could have been at my desk, letting my imagination go wild.
Living For Now
Part of this trust is also allowing yourself to be in the moment because we never know what something will lead to. Maybe that time you spent teaching yourself how to use a digital camera leads you to discover a new talent that changes your path. Maybe it just means you can satisfy a thirst for beautiful pictures. Maybe allowing yourself to cut, glue and draw on a big canvas leads to a piece of art someone wants to buy, or maybe it just makes you smile whenever you see it.
The point is: we don’t always know what is going to be meaningful. We can go to a café to buy a coffee (meaningless) and end up bumping into our future partner (meaningful). We could get on the train for our journey to work (meaningless) and overhear a conversation that changes our perspective (meaningful). We never know, and we never know when something we thought was meaningful turns out to be meaningless. It’s important we stop labelling things as this or that, and just concentrate on doing what it is we want to do, right now.
My pledge to myself this year is to do more of what I love, whether it will help me get my dream job or dream body… or not. I want to make more time to do the things my mind is drawn too and I want to allow myself to finish these projects, just for the sake of the project and not in order to elevate myself somehow. Maybe I’ll make time for these activities by procrastinating less and ‘wasting’ more time on the meaningless but necessary activities in my day. Maybe I’ll just do them, without guilt and without clock watching. This year keep telling yourself: nothing you loved doing was wasted time. What will you allow yourself time for this year?