For ten days I’m writing about what it really takes to be Highly Creative and whether greater opportunities make for greater Creativity. Yesterday I wrote Working Wherever They Can–When They Can.
Highly Creative people try to figure out the grand themes of life, even as children.
I took my children ice skating at a local indoor rink, one Tuesday morning, a few weeks ago. They had the ice pretty much to themselves–except for a young figure skater, practicing her sit-spins to perfection, just south of the rink’s center. I sat on the sidelines and took in the scene of my happy, rosy children, pushing themselves to master the very basics of ice skating.
When I turned my attention to the figure skater, I did a double-take. The girl’s eyes where barely open. She was breathing hard, deep, and fast, and either sweat or tears flew around her head. When she slowed down, she stood and glided slightly closer to her mother, who also sat on the sidelines. The mother scowled and yelled at her daughter in a language I could not understand. The child sobbed loudly, now. The mother shook her head, No.
I don’t know if the girl wanted to stop altogether or just wanted to quit spins, but her mother shook her head fifty times, determined to not give an inch. I watched the girl spin again and could find no fault in her technique. Obviously, her expert mother did and so her expectations were set higher than mine. I never got the girl’s name, but I can see part of her future. I think I’ll be able to pick her out of an Olympic hopefuls line-up in 2018.
The girl is clearly talented. But if skater-girl is to Create, she’ll channel her energy towards thinking about her predicament and using her skills to show the world her truth.
Highly Creative people think a lot about the paradoxes of love and death and fear, specially when they’re young. They wonder how the world works and why adults get angry. They think about why some children cry a lot or why someone loves them.
Highly Creative people aren’t always so easy to spot as children. Creativity researcher Mihalyi Csikszentmihalyi says,
How creative [people] eventually become bears little relationship to how talented they were as children.
What might be easier to spot in the childhoods of future Creators is glimpses of complex thought.
Matriarch of the Peace Studies field, Elise Boulding, pondered on her fears as a child. She says,
The fear of war in my childhood was the fear of being gassed, from the stories and movies of world war I.
I had a fantasy as a child that if there should be another war I would go to Norway, which is where I was born, and go into the mountains and live in a cabin and be safe. All my mother;s stories were of Norway being the good place.
The problems Boulding saw in the world as a child, drove her work the rest of her life.
How did I end up a scientist? By all logic, I should start with Gilligan’s Island, a sitcom that entranced me when I was an eight-year-old growing up in Brooklyn.
Sapolsky wanted to be just like the show’s character, the Professor.
The professor can do anything…[but] what really got me was his presumed connection to Mary Ann, the pretty farm girl in flannel shirt and pigtails. This connection I derived soley from the show’s theme song, which went “there’s Gillian, the skipper, a millionaire and his wife, a movie star, the Professor and MaryAnn…” Because their names were linked, I assumed that the two of them must have had something going. In my prepubescent fog, this involved a lot of hand-holding. So it was only natural that I wanted to grow up and be the Professor and spend my time out in some remote field site.
Sapolsky is now a professor and spends half his year in Africa, studying the love-making and war-mongering habits of primates in the wild. He also researches how social status affects stress responses and life happiness in humans and African monkeys.
Sapolsky thought about love and status as a child. Boulding thought about fear and war as a child. They came up with simple plans back then, then spent the rest of their lives thinking about the grand problems all humans live out.