Adulting is Hard.
I’m going through a period of transition.
I’m not tipping my toes in the waters of adulthood – I’m frantically splashing around, attempting to swim.
But I’m not dead yet, so that’s a good thing.
The most miraculous thing about adulthood so far is that I’m realizing more about myself than I ever knew – by trying to understand my present self, and by realizing how different I am now than I used to be.
The change that’s been on my mind lately, in a word, is creativity.
I was a wildly creative kid. I doodled all over the place (notebooks, walls, my skin…). I spent hours wandering through the woods creating adventure and fantasy stories. I even created an entire universe, full of romance and drama and betrayal, acting out scenes with my crayola markers as characters.
I was a never-ending stream of creative thought.
And that creativity stayed with me throughout my transition from childhood to my teenage years. But it also started to change.
A Walking Contradiction
As I grew up, my creativity was channeled into my schoolwork. I put all of my creative efforts into projects and volunteering. I made miniature models of Roman houses from Popsicle sticks. I sketched. I used my scrapbook supplies to make intricately decorated anthologies for book reports.
In high school, I dove into the world of literature head first. My freshman English teacher recognized my insatiable curiosity and my fascination with literature and writing. She watched me flourish as I was read and analyzed creative ideas of the past.
She was astounded when she learned that I was going to college for science.
She was unaware of my other half – that my boundless curiosity and thirst for knowledge didn’t only apply to the arts. I was also intrigued by the world of science.
I found it thrilling to learn how exactly the world worked. To me, it didn’t take the wonder out of life – it enhanced it. I could look at a plant on my kitchen table and diagnose why it looked a little less bright and a little more wilted– and I could appreciate its beauty and complexity even more.
And so, I went to school for science.
My mind was overcome by the scientific field. Logic, math, psychology, chemistry, physics, biology. I reveled in it. I found so much wisdom and knowledge in those years.
But I lost something, too.
For classes, I needed measurements. I needed precision. Accuracy. Perfection.
In this world, there was no room for creativity and wonder – so I put them on the back burner. I stopped exercising my creative muscle, and it weakened.
I didn’t need it or miss it until, months after graduating, I started working at a coffee shop.
Coffee Shop Life
The first day I steamed milk, my store manager and friend was teaching me the basics. How to hold the pitcher, where to place the steam wand, the ideal temperature the milk will reach, sounds to listen for during the process.
I peppered him with questions. I was unsure of the whole thing, and was easily frustrated my lackluster results. I wanted a foolproof system for a perfectly steamed latte, every time.
Quickly spotting the futility of this mindset, he chose his words wisely. “Here’s the thing,” he said. “It’s an art – not a science.”
That stuck with me.
Everything was a science, to some degree. Cooking requires an understanding of heat, pressure, and moisture retention. Baking is sugar-coated chemistry. Driving is a real-world physics problem. Education is based in psychology.
Even art, in my mind, has some science in it. We can study what makes a painting aesthetically pleasing.
But my scientific method didn’t help me in the least when I had drinks to make and impatient customers at the counter.
Creativity; the contagion
After awhile, I did start to figure it out. I am proud to say I can now make hearts and ferns. No bears yet, but maybe someday.
My success didn’t come from my scientific mindset, though. It came from practice. In my hours staring at swirling milk, trying to unlock it’s secrets, milk became my craft.
It was through this practice that I began to understand how you can work on something tirelessly, with no clear direction or guarantee that it will work, and still get something out of it. I meditated on craftsmanship, wonder, art, and random chance.
Above all, I nurtured my creativity.
My rediscovered creative process started to leak into my personal life. I picked up my brother’s guitar and started teaching myself to play, with no instruction or any prior knowledge about music, simply because I wanted to try. I got an Instagram and used it as a creative outlet for pictures. I knitted hats. I wrote poems. I experimented with new ingredients in the kitchen.
I created things.
My sense of wonder was returning, and the more I created, the more wonder took over my mind.
My relationship with creativity is still strained. I still have trouble starting something if I don’t know if it’s going to turn out well, or if it’s going to become anything at all. I also have trouble committing to things over the long term.
But it’s a start.
I’m realizing, in my naive early years of adulthood, that science didn’t kill my creativity; it was simply a distraction. And life is full of distractions.
Do laundry, go grocery shopping, exercise, make a budget.
Adulthood has a lot of worry associated with it. And all that worrying is a choke collar for wonder.
I’m not saying ignore responsibility and fully indulge your creative self (or, maybe that works for you. Everyone is different.). I’m just saying that distractions will always be there; you’ll never get everything done necessary, so that you can say “ah, at last I have time to create.” Something else is always going to come up and try to steal your attention. The key, I think, is to find a balance between the two.
Nourish your creativity by spending time with it. Every day, indulge your sense of wonder.
Whether it’s dancing, cooking, exercising, writing, playing music, making clothes, or any other sort of creative adventure. Just get into it.
Eventually, life will demand your attention, and you’ll have to switch gears for awhile.
But always come back to your wonder.
Life is an art. Not a science.