Aussie expat Ben Yabsley: Jack White and mastering the art of creative fulfillment

Photo Sep 16, 1 43 31 PM.jpgBy Aussie expat Ben Yabsley (left), ex-The Monkeys and M&C Saatchi, now a senior copywriter at Anomaly, New York.

There's a story about Jack White that pops into my mind whenever things are getting tough at work. I read somewhere that he likes to make things hard for himself when he's on stage. He likes to set his equipment up just a little out of reach. It means he has to strain to get back to the microphone in time for the chorus, and you can hear that tension in his voice. It's what gives him his trademark, strangled tone.
Creative departments are no strangers to tension. Jack White has to construct it, but we're in no short supply of the stuff. Our job is to bring about change. And when we run into obstacles that hinder our ability to bring about this change, it creates tension. How you deal with that tension determines the success of your creative career, and your overall creative fulfillment.

So, no biggie.    

So how do we manage this stressful but necessary evil? How can we ensure that tension doesn't ultimately undermine our creative pursuits... or lead us to become raging alcoholics?
180626_JW_London-74-web.jpgWe can't just give up on having goals. We can't just retreat to a cave, meditate, and accept the world as it is. The very nature of our job requires us to be dissatisfied with the status quo. Without change we are nothing. We need our goals. Without them we wouldn't have our shiny awards or things we can point at in our portfolios at job interviews.

This creative tension, it seems, is inevitable. But if you're aware of the factors that create it, you can employ strategies to manage it. And when you've got your stress under control, you might just make it through to retirement with your health, family and sanity intact.

On the surface it might seem a little strange for an advertising professional to look to Buddhism for answers. How can a religion that is all about accepting the status quo be compatible with an industry that exists solely to burn it to the ground? Well... there's actually a bit of common ground, which can give us some valuable tools when it comes to managing creative tension.

There is an element of play to the creative process that requires you to be totally engrossed in the moment. When we stop focusing on the goals that we've set for our work, and allow ourselves to become completely engrossed in the actual act of creating the work itself, the experience can become almost meditative. People paint and draw for the fun of it. It could even be how you got into this industry in the first place. There's joy at the heart of the simple act of creation that gets drowned out by the louder emotions that placing goals on our work creates.

Eckhart Tolle argues in his best seller "The Power of Now" that all happiness comes from focusing your mind into the present moment, and depowering thoughts of the future and the past. And if you think about it, that kind of makes sense. All the activities that we associate with pleasure are ones that require us to be completely in the moment. Fishing, playing music, surfing, hiking, yoga, sex (if you're doing it right) all focus the mind and offer a reprieve from thoughts of the past or the future.

His theory also explains why drinking makes us happy. Alcohol literally makes your mind less active and therefore makes it easier to keep your thoughts present. It's no surprise that this is the stress management tool of choice for the advertising industry.

The great news is that by understanding all this, you can take more control over your emotional state and avoid becoming one of those jaded creatives who fly off the handle at every single client change.

When you start to feel the stress building, realize that it's probably because you're focusing too much on the outcome of whatever it is that you're doing. Try bringing your mind back to the present by concentrating on the actual task at hand. It doesn't matter if it's constructing a sentence, finding a song for a manifesto rip, or designing a logo... give that task your complete attention. The specifics of the task are actually irrelevant... it's the task's ability to focus you into the moment that brings peace.

This doesn't mean the requirements of your job suddenly vanish, and your goals cease to exist... but sometimes you just need a way to defuse a particularly stressful moment. Or maybe you'd just like to enjoy what you do every day a bit more.

It sounds a little contradictory, but by concentrating less on the outcome of your creativity, and more on the process itself, you'll ultimately have more energy to keep creating, and therefore increase your chances of better creative output and fulfillment.

Advertising can be a stressful game. With so many links in the chain between concept and creation there are a million different hurdles to clear before we can achieve our creative goals. And every single one of those hurdles creates a little bit more tension.

So next time you feel like you're about to blow your top, remember that Jack White would give anything to feel what you're feeling right now. Channel that passion back into the task at hand and lose yourself in the music.


Stress Bunny said:

Wise words! Just the perspective shift I could use right now. Thanks.

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