When I think creativity, I think about making something. A collage, a podcast, an essay, or — if I’m feeling really ambitious — a novel.
But this quote, which I found today, reminds me that the most profound and difficult thing you can make is a life. Or, as my therapist would say, a self.
And I’m not talking about a career; a career is about what you do, and it’s a privilege of those of us with skills and education. I’m talking about the idea of yourself moving through time, gaining skills and power, and maintaining some kind of throughline. Something that connects it all. And, if you’re lucky, that throughline trends up.
But for all kinds of reasons, career is usually what pops into my mind when I think about my future. My self worth comes all too much from achievement in the outside world, and when I think that my power in that outside world is ebbing, when I can’t think of my “next move” — mainly for reasons of age — I get depressed.
But then I remember that life is more than this. Life is getting calls from my children when they want advice. Life is throwing dinner parties and attending dinner parties. Life is fighting for justice. Life is reading good books, binging on a great series on Netflix, finding a great scarf for 50 cents in a thrift shop. Life is (if you’re lucky) growing old with someone.
And career should be just a part of all that, right? Isn’t the whole idea of career just a side product of capitalism? And isn’t our obsession with it a reflection of how competitive our economy has become?
As much as I like to think that I’ve created a life and a self — that this work is done, as I tell my therapist whenever I leave therapy — creating a self is actually work that never ends.
It never ends because our throughlines are more than our careers. Our throughlines include dramas with our families, our communities, our country and the world.
For people like me, our throughlines changed dramatically when we woke up on November 9.
And so the process of inventing a self, and imagining a future, begins again. It’s the most creative process there is.
This post was first published as “Our Biggest Project Is to Create a Self” in Debbie Galant’s blog The Courage to Create. Debbie Galant is also founder and editor of Midcentury Modern, an online magazine for the generation that ducked and covered.