As Courtney Kennedy writes in her new book, Creating Space to Thrive: Get Unstuck, Reboot Your Creativity and Change Your Life, “Creativity is the missing ingredient for many of us.” Sometimes a reminder of its importance comes to us when we are most in need. As it did for my step-father Ted, a military man diagnosed with cancer and given only three weeks to live. How did he choose to spend his precious time? Surrounded by the wife and family he loved. And immersing himself in the world of water colour—a passion and talent we never knew existed.
One of the most treasured memories I have of our last weeks together was the time we spent painting, and my sharing with him what little I knew of this alchemical technique. Water colour, like life, flows where it wishes, seeping into the crevices of the pages of the stories we create and adding colour to our lives.
What drives us to create, and why—when it is so good for us—do we leave it so late?
Kennedy suggests, we just haven’t cleared some space— this may be physically, mentally, emotionally or spiritually. Ted, like so many people had been waiting for the days when he retired. While he found comfort, peace and a sense of purpose in his creativity— and a legacy in the many memories (and the few paintings) he left—as I watched him paint, a soft smile on his lips, light dancing in his eyes, I couldn’t help but wonder—”what if” …What if he had begun earlier? What if he’d had more time? What if creativity could’ve scare away cancer? In some ways it did. Three weeks became two precious extra years we all shared.
My daughter, a naturally gifted writer and intuitive healer, shared with her friends:
“3 years ago today the world lost one of its earth angels. He reminded me a lot of how I envision the Archangel Michael. Someone who was always there. Extremely patient, kind, wise and mysterious.
I was going through some of his medals that Grandma still has the other day. I know his job was always a bit of a mystery but I was taken aback to know that he was the Chief Information Officer for the New Zealand Defence force.
The importance of having a good male role model in a girls life is paramount. This man made so many things possible for not only me but for our family. He married into our family and treated us all like his own.
There’s not a day that goes by that I don’t think about him…when I hear “Hit the Road Jack” on the radio. When I see a sail boat on the harbour or when I go about my day and realise the woman I am becoming today is so greatly shaped by his influence.
Most girls see a hero in her Grandfather more often then not, but this man was like a second father to me. Cancer is a dreadful disease and Ted I’m so sorry that you were taken from us so early. It still brings me to tears every time I think about the moments we could have continued to have with you that were robbed from us.
Thinking of you especially today. I’ll never forget you Edward John Knowsley.
Hannah’s heartfelt sharing reminded me of several things—the power of creativity to leave a legacy and, importantly the power of speaking from one’s heart. And also of the way natural gifts, so readily apparent in our childhood, if nurtured can blossom and bear many, many years of fruit. Clues to passion and also to your soul purpose can come in many forms—in rekindled memories of a hobby loved in childhood, as it did for Ted. But also other people’s unsolicited praise, as feedback Hannah received below, shows. I’m not so sure it was I who taught Hannah to write, as much as it was I who gave her some space and encouragement to write. But what really matters is not who encourages and shapes your creativity. What matters is that you loved the healing arts enough to spend time with them. And that you cherished them enough to devote yourself in some way to your gift.
As the Brazilian author of The Alchemist, Paulo Coelho shared on Tim Ferris’s podcast in 2016, he creates a very strong shield around him when he creates.
“…so I can really use my time to do what I think I should do to fulfil this blessing it has been bestowed on me which allows me to live my personal legend, to become a writer against all odds Because Brazlilans don’t have a strong tradition and there are very few authors who can make a living out of writing, not in the US but over the world. However I was so committed to my work that it was my dream, it was my dream from the very beginning. I really enjoy what I do. I don’t work. In fact what I am doing is to have pleasure, and fun and social responsibility towards my readers towards myself, towards the world in what I live.
Courtney interviewed me in for her book and asked how I’d managed to be so prolific in the last few years. For me, as it is for Paulo my creative gifts are my purpose and I show them I’m serious by devoting myself to them.
But creativity doesn’t have to be about your soul’s purpose. It may just be a friend in times of need, a comfort when other elements are stripped away, a meditation and distraction when everything else seems out of control.
Why do we create? Because innate in all of us is the desire to create something of beauty, tranquility, joy. Creating pictures, for example, allows us to put into words what we feel but cannot say. What we value and which we savor. What we yearn for, but may no longer be able to possess. We don’t have to possess the genius of Leonardo da Vinci—we just have to be true to ourselves
For Ted, his illness called time on his cherished days on the sea—but in his art he sailed again, into the endless horizon, carried on a gentle wave of tranquility. We were all happy that when painting he found so much peace.
Cancer provided Ted with the space to paint. We wish it was his well-deserved retirement that had provided the impetuous. But then he loved his work so much he may well have never left. His work, dedicated to protecting lives, was his passion and provided deep purpose.
As Courtney shares in her book, the opposite is true for so many others.
Many of us work jobs we don’t like. Less than half of U.S. workers said they felt satisfied with their jobs overall according to a 2016 report by the Conference Board. 2016 Gallup figures are worse; they found that only 32% of U.S. employees are engaged with work, and only 13% worldwide. Consider that we spend 10,500 days at work (assuming five days a week, fifty weeks a year between the ages of 23 and 65). Said differently, we work 36% of the total days that we’re alive on this planet should we live to be eighty.
We spend a huge chunk of our lifetime at work, yet one out of every two of us hate our jobs. No wonder many of us feel stuck on repeat—living each day without much thought.
That’s the situation I found myself in a few years ago. I was unhappy. We all have bad days; that’s a fact of life, but it was more than that–I was deeply uncomfortable with my situation and the path down which my life was heading. It wasn’t about regret, rather something important was missing.
And, despite feeling unsettled, there was much to be grateful for—good health, loving family, my husband, friends, and living in a peaceful time. I had built a good career, but I wasn’t happy with my job anymore. Something was missing.
I lived for the weekends. Sunday nights were the worst because it meant going to work the next day. I became a bucket of angst thinking about the coming work week and all my obligations.
Then, a close family member died unexpectedly and saw friends get cancer at young ages. And I realized the stuff I’d been told all my life: “Work hard, save all you can so you can afford the big house and retire comfortably,” was not guaranteed to come true for everyone.
I started wondering what would give my life more meaning.
My WWII-generation grandparents worked hard and scrimped most of their lives, only to sit in front of the television day after day in their elder years. After retirement, when they could have traveled, they no longer desired to or even had the energy for trips. That’s not how I wanted my life to be.
I was lucky to have supportive, career-minded friends. Many were passionate about their careers and loved their jobs. But many were like me—showing up at a job they didn’t enjoy. I was nearly vegetative on weekends after a long week spent at the 9-to-5 job and hours of unpaid overtime.
“There must be more than this to life,” I said to myself. What gives your life meaning?
Why not discover what makes you happy now? Why not reconnect with the activities that drive your passion and energy so you can move toward a life where you spend time in your happy place?
How many of us wait for “someday”‘ or for some external encouragement? How many of us make the mistake we’ll have more time? Whether you dream of being a writer, a sculptor, a photographer, a painter, a carver or a gardener, or yearn to create in any shape, colour—why wait?
Pick up your tool of choice and feel happier today. As Courtney shares in her book, Creating Space to Thrive: Get Unstuck, Reboot Your Creativity and Change Your Life, “research suggests creative people are happier than everyone else. Disregard the mental image of the starving, depressed artist toiling away in a studio. Anyone can be creative.” And being creative, she adds, will change your brain, enabling you to become more resilient to stress when being creative and making art.
Ted found his happy place creating. When he died, I asked for nothing, only the unfinished painting he was working on before he passed.
For my mother, and his daughter Lisa, I framed some of his paintings. We placed them around the room where his funeral service was held. All his army comrades were astounded to learn this great mind, also yielded such artistic sensitivity and talent.
I have Ted’s paints, and his brushes, and the beginnings of a new picture—like a still life, caught in a moment of pulsing time. We shall leave Ted’s painting for him to finish, but it is as though this is the view he foresaw—never knowing that one day my partner and I would call the Bay if Islands home.
Always in our hearts (and now also on our walls 🙂
Always in our hearts (and now also on our walls 🙂 Rest in peace darling Ted—until we all see your again
Edward John Knowsley, 11 ApriI 1947 – 22 Feb 2014
Sometimes we need a mentor to encourage us to follow a more creative path. Coco Chanel and Leonardo da Vinci share how creativity can improve your happiness, health and success in The Art of Success: How Extraordinary Artists Can Help You Succeed in Business and Life
To read a free excerpt or purchase your copy and learn more from Leonardo Navigate to here: getBook.at/TheArtofSuccess
To read a free excerpt or purchase your copy and learn more from Coco Navigate to here: getBook.at/CocoChanel