The Seasons of a Creative Life
Seasons are so crucial to human existence that it is impossible to imagine a world without them. We have constructed religious holidays around the solstices. Astronomers look to the skies to predict the future and gaze at the past. Built into our bodies are circannual and circadian rhythms, ensuring we balance productivity with rest.
We readily accept that some seasons are for sowing, others for reaping; we recognize that we are not powerful enough to change the cyclical nature of our world. At the same time, we refuse to accept the possibility that our own lives follow similar patterns.
Imagine what we could accomplish, collectively and individually, if we respected that our lives are made up of distinct seasons—seasons of gathering, seasons of growing, and seasons of harvest.
Instead of striving for the frankly impossible goal of maintaining a constant level of activity, as creatives, should we instead be looking internally for a reflection of the seasons all around us? Should we live radically, counter to the fast-paced and chaotic culture around us, by leaning in to our natural rhythms?
Psychologists have begun to uncover evidence that this might be the healthiest way to live, theorizing a cycle of four seasons of transformative growth in our emotional lives. Science is starting to back up what we have always known intuitively: rest, reflection, and resilience are all equally important stages of the same creative cycle.
In 1974, one researcher in New York City observed decreased motivation and increased feelings of resentment and apathy towards clients among volunteer workers in a free clinic.
Workplace burnout is now a medically recognized phenomenon, and many experts believe it is becoming a public health crisis in most industrialized nations. Nevertheless, as creative professionals, we face a lot of shame in admitting we are overworked.
A certain level of ambition, of course, is necessary to achieve success in a competitive creative industry. Those who possess talent are not likely to be recognized for it unless they have a strong work ethic. It’s not enough to dream. You must also have a certain amount of drive.
However, it’s inaccurate to believe that we are only capable, or deserving, of success if it comes after relentless, painstaking hard work. In fact, as we can see by the increased rates of physical and mental health conditions arising from long hours on the job, workaholism is deadly.
Creative expression, in its purest sense, is joyful, spontaneous, and liberating. If it’s starting to feel restrictive, or a project feels more like a burden, take a step back and reflect on what season you are in—and if your current attempts are working within the constraints of said season, or against them.