books, creative, creative process, creativity, theatre, time

Leap: Learn to Love Your Constraints

From Pinterest

“You break out of the box by stepping into shackles.” ~ Jonah Lehrer, Imagine: How Creativity Works

It’s a bit of a morbid visual but Jonah Lehrer’s quote made me pay attention.

Have you ever had the thought that goes something like this: “If only I had (blank), my life would be so much easier?” I have this thought several times a day, and when it pops into my mind I stop, breathe, and keep going. I’m sure somewhere in that breath there is a silent prayer for help to someone somewhere. Most of the time I don’t get that (blank) that I wish for, but to quote the Rolling Stones, I do get what I need. And often what I need is constraints. (No shortage of those lying around!)

Jonah Lehrer, and many other creativity researchers, make the case for loving constraints. Some go so far as to ask us to feel grateful for them. Why? They light a fire under us. If we had all the time, money, and resources in the world, would we really use them wisely? There’s at least the slight possibility that we would squander them to some degree.

I’ve seen this happen in many large companies. We get used to big budgets and flexible launch dates. Too used to them and it’s ultimately a curse.

When I worked in theatre, we were constrained in almost every area, especially by the hard deadlines. If there was going to be an audience on Tuesday at 8:00pm, then there was no way we could launch late. It forced collaboration, cooperation, and dedication from all parties involved. In theatre, the good of the many always outweighs the good of the few or the one so the few or the one had better get on board or exit stage left. That might sound brutal, but the curtain rises. The show goes on because of constraints, not in spite of them.

Maybe you’re working on a project right now that has constraints you wish you didn’t have. Rather than resenting those shackles, take a moment to recognize what they give you rather than focusing on what they take away from you. Creative work is a series of trade-offs. We get something and we give something. It is a sacred exchange.