Why does creativity generally tend to decline as we age? One reason may be that as we grow older, we know more. That’s mostly an advantage, of course. But it also may lead us to ignore evidence that contradicts what we already think. We become too set in our ways to change.
Creativity is something I often think about as I get older. Even David Bowie did the same on his shrinking album “Low” (my favorite, by the way) at the apex of his ongoing fights with identity, depression, and addiction:
Don’t you wonder sometimes about Sound and Vision? Pale blinds drawn all day, nothing to do, nothing to say… I will sit right down, waiting for the gift of Sound and Vision. And I will sing, waiting for the gift of sound and vision. Drifting into my solitude, over my head.
It’s comforting, in a way, to realize that even Bowie had crippling moments of doubt about his ability to channel his inner voices and creativity, right?
The Times article above hits on something that causes me much consternation throughout the day whether I’m interacting with my children or I’m solving a problem for a client (or trying to hook up a new Chromecast to our home network but having issues like I did at midnight last night). I often wonder, as I encounter problems or things to be solved, if it takes me “longer” to solve problems that would have come with easy solutions just a few years ago. I wonder if I’m being too cautious with client solutions because of what I know and the experience I have.
I wonder if I’ve lost the “sound and vision” of creativity that made me who I was when I was younger.
Have I lost it? Or, is “it” still there buried under experience and accumulated knowledge and necessary caution?
Where is / are the line / lines between being creative and being responsible?
I imagine those are definitely common old-man questions that many people share if they are being completely honest with themselves.
I was often frustrated with John Lennon and Paul McCartney as a teen (even more so with Kurt Cobain who killed himself at the height of what I thought was his period of creativity). I loved the Beatles and knew every lyric and melody and bass lick by heart by the time I went off to College. But why did they stop with Abbey Road, whose B-Side is arguably one of their most creative endeavors. How could they explode from “Love Me Do” into “Strawberry Fields Forever” in just five years and then the White Album and the audacious Magical Mystery Tour and Let It Be and Abbey Road and then break up the band? McCartney and Lennon would go on to solo projects and bands like Wings but they could never outshine what they accomplished in their 20’s in The Beatles.
Are we all doomed to similar fates? Do our complex internal algorithms of choices and perceived responsibilities and knowledge push that creative spark into a corner to be locked up while we go about the business of doing “adult stuff”?
As I watch my almost 10 year old and 7 year old and 21 month old children learn to function and operate as unique individuals in the world, I’m often sensitive to the notion that I’m here as a guide but not a dictator. Parenthood makes you obsess over details like the radius of a hotdog section and the weight limits of a swim float to the point that it’s easy to miss the every day mystery of a child realizing a new concept, especially when they can’t fully communicate with language yet.
Our monkey brains are fantastic specimens that have pushed us to conquer the world and build iPhones. We haven’t solved climate change and cancer and hunger yet, but I imagine we will. What we won’t conquer is our own insecurities, especially as we age. That’s on display in our current President, for instance. It’s something I’ve encountered all of my life when dealing with teachers, professors, pastors, bosses and clients… “Woah woah woah! Slow down there, Sam. We can’t move too fast on this. Just step back and let’s let time be a part of this process.”
There’s comfort and security in owning the time table of a process. But perhaps that’s where creativity dies.
I need to be more creative with my professional work. I need to be more creative with my children. I need to be more creative with my partner. I need to be more creative within my own palace of the mind … you get the point.