The Bounty to Be Found in the Unglamorous

Seeking clarity in the creative struggle

"Cigarettes and chocolate milk
These are just a couple of my cravings
Everything it seems I like's a little bit stronger
A little bit thicker, a little bit harmful for me."

—Rufus Wainwright, "Cigarettes and Chocolate Milk"

When Rufus Wainwright wrote those lines, he, perhaps unintentionally, wrote an anthem for the majority of the creative community. As a collective, we're prone to indulgence—in our work, in ourselves and sometimes in the things we know are bad for us. Creative types are intricate characters—hiding behind the passion and drive is often a skin that is delicate and thin, or hardened and desensitized.

It's a consequence of the vocation. A necessity. To be "creative" is to want to be as human as possible, and no human endeavor can ever be of value without exposing and exploring one's own vulnerabilities. No important idea can be conceived without mustering up the strength to root around the subconscious and cattle-prod emotions into action.

I'm romanticizing, of course. Glorifying the struggle. But you have to. Otherwise, this creative life will grind you down. Don't get me wrong, I'm not here to perpetuate the myth of the tortured artist, but instead to acknowledge what we all know—that if left unchecked, the creative life can take an emotional toll.

To bare your soul on a daily basis, to plunge to the depths of your creative mind and heart, only to see your ideas fall to the floor with a sucker-punch of rejection. Or worse, diluted beyond recognition—well, it's a mind-fuck in a daily dose.

So how do we protect ourselves from the madness, arm ourselves against despondency and develop the stamina to push past frustration? 

We approach this vocation like prizefighters.

Here's the thing I've come to realize: As we age, and the day-to-day takes its toll, we need to bring the resolve and dedication of an athlete. It's become ever more apparent to me that, in order to love this job and do it well, we have to shun the usual self-medicating and hedonistic tropes so often associated with our industry and opt instead for good old-fashioned grit and—I hate myself for saying this—self-care. This road we're on is a windy one, and to weather it we need to look after ourselves, physically and mentally.

Without a doubt, creativity is the healthiest drug there is, and arguably the most rewarding. But to feed our addiction to it, we have to find the bounty in the unglamorous; we have to embrace those lonely lunchtime runs, the boredom of a salad sans dressing, and the not-so-terrible taste of 0.0% beer. On the surface, it might seem like self-inflicted misery, but it's through the unglamorous that we, ironically, retain our optimism, find innovation and ensure clarity.

It was Asics that said, "Sound body, sound mind," and no truer words have ever been spoken. By acknowledging and embracing the correlation between the two, we unlock a resilience. A buoyancy that enables us to outrun the ghosts of ideas past, pummel a brief into submission, and discover a focus that keeps us getting back up every time we get knocked down.

So, as we battle against the slog of the new year, it seems a good time to remind ourselves that, as creatives, there are clear benefits to be found in the resolutions we pinky-promised the world just a couple of weeks back. That there is greatness to be found in the repetition of good behavior. That, in embracing a challenge, we can silence the noise, make way for inspiration, and feed our curiosity.

Let's approach the hard yards not as a chore, but as an opportunity for indulgence—in ourselves—the best and most rewarding kind. 

See you out there.

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Kalle Hellzen
Kalle Hellzen is executive creative director at 180 Kingsday.

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