The other night I was laying in bed desperately trying to fall asleep. To my dismay, it wasn't going to happen.
You know how it is, your mind moves from the things of the day to the things you might have in your day tomorrow, and then it sticks itself on one of those things. Then that thing reminds you of something in the past and you start to analyze that and wonder this, and that takes you somewhere else. And on and on it goes.
Well, one of the things that I got caught up on was that I worked in the accounting department for 8 years at my last job. That was a long time. Then I started to wonder if working with something as rigid, finite and restricted as numbers for so long could have affected my ability to think creatively. I made a mental note to research it and report about it on my blog. I'm so glad I remembered!
I quit that job about four years ago and feel like my creativity has returned to a degree, but not completely like it was before I started working solely with numbers. Prior to that job my husband and I owned our own business and it not only let me be creative, it demanded it. Today, even though I feel I'm a fairly creative person, I just don't feel like I have the same level of creativity I had before.
One of the reasons I think it hasn't returned for me is that for the last four years I have run my own business selling products on Amazon, and quite honestly, I don't think it demanded much creativity.
Numbers Versus The Written Word
A few months ago I started this website where a lot of my focus is on creativity. Much of that is in making the graphics and another, even larger part, is in writing blog posts, sales letters, emails and everything else “written” that's needed in an online business.
And I'm starting to feel like, just in the last few months, that a lot of my creativity is starting to return. And not just that, I'm finding I have more enthusiasm, alertness, eagerness, passion, desire, joy, ambition, and just plain ole love for what I'm doing. I honestly think that's because THIS business allows me to be creative, in fact, it demands it.
So, that makes me wonder if working with words versus working with numbers has an effect on a person's creativity. My logic is that numbers are final, you can't shape them into something different. Words, on the other hand, can become anything you want, it's only limited by your imagination and creativity. So I started digging around.
Why Do We Lose Our Creativity?
I found a lot of things that take away from creativity, including:
- Focusing on a job
- Fear of failure
- Not getting enough sleep
- Too much TV
- Our Smart Phones – see my blog post – The Boredom and Creativity Link
- Social Media
- Constantly evaluating and comparing yourself
- Thinking that there's only one answer to every question
- Fear of uncertainty and confusion
- Lack of confidence and discouragement from others
- Information overload
- Being trapped in your comfort zone
I'm sure if I kept looking, I would find even more things that erode your creativity but I never found anything that specifically spoke to numbers versus words. Nonetheless, I'm convinced, even though it's just my opinion, not scientific fact, that spending 8 hours a day, 5 days a week, in a “numbers job” for 8 years zapped mine. And I know that running my Amazon business kept it from coming back (basically my Amazon business is just a numbers/routine job).
This article at Huffpo helped me solidify my conclusions. It's a good article and well worth the read.
The article lists 18 things that creative people do that differently. I've listed them below with an explanation as to why I think each was missing when I worked full-time (long days) and solely with numbers.
- Creative people daydream – I can't say I didn't daydream, actually, I daydreamed day in and day out of quitting that job until finally, I did. But, was I daydreaming creatively? To a degree, since I was imagining my future, but it wasn't as creative as it could have been, I just wanted anything that would get me out.
- Creative people observe everything – Hmm, it's hard to observe anything other than a computer screen, spreadsheets, and the ERP system when you work full-time with numbers. It's hard to find anything creative when you know the outcome will always be dictated by the numbers.
- Creative people take time for solitude – This is a tough task for people employed full-time. Time for solitude is minimal when you're at work, that is, if you're doing what you're paid to do. Then many have family and once at home, solitude is fleeting.
- Creative people turn life's obstacles around – Working with numbers brings its own set of obstacles but the answers are always in the numbers, they are very rigid, black and white, not gray. You can't be creative with the numbers (well, I guess you can but you might end up in jail).
- Creative people seek new experiences – Accounting has cycles, every month a new cycle, every quarter a new cycle, every year a new cycle but the cycles do not create new experiences, in fact, we often looked back to make sure things were done exactly like the last cycle. Hard to find a new experience there and I'm sure other jobs that are numbers-centric are basically the same.
- Creative people “fall up” – Working with numbers flat out does not allow you to come up with a better, more creative idea, either the numbers balance or they don't.
- Creative people ask big questions – The only questions you can ask is how to handle a process better or faster and at some point, you're doing it as fast and with as much precision as you can. There are always questions about how to change the numbers, but if you're in accounting, it's after the fact, you're dealing with what is, not what can be. Others are in charge of that.
- Creative people watch people – Hmm, people watching is not something you can equate to the numbers but working in a corporation where there are large departments, you'll find a lot of people watching the goings-on. This naturally leads to gossip and gossip is a creativity killer. If you're talking about others, you're probably worried that others are saying about you. When that environment invades your thoughts, playing safe is the only avenue and creativity doesn't reside there.
- Creative people take risks – You can't take risks when you work numbers. Numbers do not have leeway, they do not give in. Risks are saved for outside of work time.
- Creative people view all of life as an opportunity for self-expression – This isn't going to happen in the accounting department, self-expression isn't allowed, there's a protocol for everything.
- Creative people follow their true passions – Again, when working with numbers there are set processes and policies. I was a manager so I had some leeway in how things were handled but even then, policy dictated. And honestly, it was a far cry from what I would call “passion.”
- Creative people get out of their own heads – This probably doesn't have much to do with numbers and is more about working in a job. In a job, everyone is worried about what everyone else thinks of them, with the boss being at the top of the ladder. You're always in your own head and it's very difficult to get out of it.
- Creative people lose track of time – I have to say, every time I got into a situation where the numbers didn't balance or add-up and I had to find the problem, I'd always lose track of the time. Searching for a way to find the error was probably the only time I could actually be creative.
- Creative people surround themselves with beauty – I suppose some think numbers are beautiful, black and white, no room for interpretation, always balancing. But you have to consider the surroundings and cube farms are not beautiful. There was one time when I was surrounded by beauty, for about 4 years I had an office on the 10th floor (top floor of our building) that had big windows looking out over a massive reservoir. When you walked into my office, it took your breath away, absolutely gorgeous. Then, one day, someone higher up decided that the accounting department belonged on the 5th floor and “poof” my beauty was gone. After that my windows overlooked the highway on the other side of the building and it wasn't long until I decided to leave the job. I guess if you have a creative person in a job and want to keep them, this is something to consider.
- Creative people consistently shake things up – I'm sure if a creative person was working in a numbers job, they would try to shake things up, I know I tried. You can't really shake-up numbers, you might try to shake up a process or change a policy but that's about as far as it can go.
- Creative people make time for mindfulness – I confess, I could have been better at this. I could have had a meditation practice or some way to unwind. But I didn't. Probably should have.
- Creative people follow their true passions – I just don't see any way to follow your true passion when working with numbers unless numbers are your true passion. Most creative people lean toward words or art instead of numbers to find their passions.
- Creative people work the hours that work for them – Not in a job, numbers or not. If you have your own numbers business and want to keep your creativity alive, keep this one in mind.
The article above at Huffington Post from where I got the list above. will help you identify what's missing if you think your creativity might be in decline. If you must stay in your numbers job, try to incorporate more of the items above in the hours you are away from the job.
I really think I'm finally on my way back and learning how to again be creative. The writing really makes me think and coming up with new things to write about and actually doing the writing is a problem that I have to solve. These are creativity builders and I hope I'm in recovery mode.
What do you think? Does working with numbers instead of words cause your creativity to decline? I'd love to hear your opinions, leave a comment below.