We Each Deserve (and need!) a Creative Life

AT A RECENT gathering of medical students, a talented colleague, both skilled pediatrician and avid weaver, encouraged each student to cultivate a form of creativity in their life. The wisdom of this advice has become clearer to me in the weeks since the event as I’ve reflected on my own creative adventures. As physicians, we often become stuck in a purely rational approach to work and life. We believe we can think our way through any situation. Creative pursuits help us see things outside of the lines we draw to make our lives feel safer and more predictable – we begin to think more expansively and wonder what might be possible. This enriches our lives and has the potential
to enhance our skills as diagnosticians.

An old saying suggests that “how you do one thing is how you do everything.” Many of us physicians are perfectionists. It’s how we succeeded in getting into medical school and through training, and we rely on it to ensure we don’t harm or miss anything important in our patients. Yet, its widespread application is not only unnecessary, it can come at a cost. And perfectionism impedes creativity.

As a novice musician fortunate to be playing with experienced professionals, I am the least skilled person in our band. Unfortunately, that rational assessment wasn’t sufficient to keep my perfectionistic tendencies at bay or allow realistic expectations of myself. With each mistake, I would become increasingly frustrated. Emotions are contagious, so my irritation took some of the joy out of everyone’s experience. I can also tell you, from ample experience, that it didn’t help me play better! Eventually, I was able to remember that music isn’t about perfection, and no one’s life hangs in the balance. It’s about producing a unique, creative, collaborative, emotional experience. As I relaxed into this new paradigm of allowing and even welcoming a less predictable and more playful experience in my life, it has positively affected every aspect of my life. I’m more spontaneous, relaxed, and generally happier.

As we begin this new year, we naturally consider what we hope it will hold. We may consider changes in our career, travel, development of new or existing relationships. My wish is that 2020 will be a year of greater creativity for all of us. Whatever their form, creative pursuits will challenge, stretch, and bring out parts of you waiting to be recognized and appreciated. For my fellow perfectionists, the adage that “anything worth doing is worth doing badly” helps us remember that skill only comes after unskilled practice, so our less-than-perfect beginnings are necessary steps on our creative journey. Artistic activities also help you see your life in ways you might not have considered. This sort of personal growth can be the foundation for a life – and a year - that feels more interesting, exciting, and fulfilling.