I am beyond excited to share with you a big project I've been playing around with for several years now. For the moment, I'm calling it the Creative Constellations Project and it is both a framework for understanding what kind of creator you are and a toolkit for designing a life that honors your awesome 'intricate wholeness.'
One Purpose or No Purpose? Really?
Like most multi-modal creatives, I have spent more time than I like to even admit feeling confused and defeated by the Big Question “What’s My Purpose?” I’ve often felt like I’m in a messy snarl of possible identities, turning my combination of different interests and gifts over and over in my head, asking myself: “Ok, but what am I really?” "What do I love the most?" "If I had to do just one thing, what would I choose?" As I've moved through different jobs and roles - teacher, advisor, artist, writer, editor, actress, writing instructor, curriculum designer, creativity coach, organization development consultant - without ever stumbling over a unified burning passion, I've wondered “What is wrong with me? Why can’t I just commit to something?”
For a while, I tried out the idea that perhaps I am a pathological commitment phobe. Is it possible, I wondered, that I’m no different from those people who can’t commit to a relationship, only the relationship I am avoiding is with a career? Am I some twisted version of Matthew McConaughey in Failure to Launch, for God's sake?
Great-Sounding Unhelpful Advice
When we multi-passionate people look around for advice that might help us figure out what we ought to be doing with our messy, complex selves – like when we attempt to get our shit together to go after a job or go back to school, or even just try to get a grip and choose a project to focus on - the standard advice sounds something like this: Follow your bliss! Find your passion! Follow your heart! Listen to your inner voice! Do what you love!
And it all sounds so great! Of course that’s just what we want to do! Exclamation points fly everywhere as our wildly creative hearts leap at the thought of someday getting to do just what we most want to do; a mere whiff of the belief that we deserve to live lives of passion and purpose – as opposed to, say, meaningless tedium - makes us want to weep with joy.
We earnestly peer into our hearts expecting that if we look hard enough, we will surely find a single, powerful, beacon of light. That one bright star that will indicate to us, finally and without a doubt: I must write a novel, or I must dance, or I must teach, or I must start a goat farm and make artisanal cheese, or I must organize a campaign to save the pygmy slow loris’s…That one undeniable thing, that single compelling passion which will propel us forward into our right choices, our next steps.
More than One Star in Our Hearts
But many of us, after excruciatingly close examination of the vast inner spaces of our hearts, find not one star, one passion, but many different ones. There are whole galaxies of interests we haven't even touched on yet, but imagine we might someday like to explore!
So, instead of discovering a single, bright-and-shiny North Star to guide our life choices, we discover only what we already knew - that we are complex and messy, and changing. We are irreducible, multi-dimensional beings: we love multiple ways of working, have many different passions, create in many different ways. And, when the rush of slogan-driven excitement wears off, we are left back where we started …feeling overly-complicated, a little ashamed of our greedy vastness, and deeply confused.
The Real Question
Given that so many of us have hearts and minds full of stars, it seems clear that the well-intentioned question "What's your passion?" is just never going to serve as the guidance system we are seeking. For those of us humans - I believe MOST of us humans - who are wired to get joy from many different interests and passions, the real question we need answers for is this: HOW DO I ORGANIZE A LIFE AROUND MANY DIFFERENT WAYS OF CREATING?
And that’s really the question that led me to the metaphor of the creative constellation. I started wondering, what if our creativity is not a single guiding star - one we either have or don't have - but a specific cluster of stars that fit together as a system, like a constellation?
And what if our job is not to try to reduce that constellation back to a single star, but rather to investigate the relationships between our different passions, our different ways of being creative? What if the constellation as a whole is the guidance system we’ve been looking for?
Creating a Map to the Stars
In order to map our creative constellations, I realized that we were going need to have a sense of what the "stars" are - in other words, we'd need a workable list of the different ways in which people are creative.
I started by looking back at Carol Lloyd's wonderful 1997 book Creating a Life Worth Living in which, I recalled, she offers a list of what she calls "creative profiles." I was delighted to discover that not only did her list offer a wonderful starting point, but that in her introduction to the profiles she (bless her) extends an explicit invitation to her readers to expand and reshape the list. Thank you Carol!
Building on Lloyd's work, I spent over a year tuning into people in my immediate community, and in the world at large. I subjected everyone I knew, met, or heard about to my questions: how is this person creative? what creative modes is she or he working in? And even as I was testing to see if I could come up with a workable list of the distinctly different kinds of creating that people do, I was curious to test my theory that it is not whether or not a person is creative that gives shape to her or his life, but the combination of ways they are creative.
What I started to see was amazing!
I noticed the Japanese rock musician who is into figuring out how to encode his songs into dna; the doctor who travels the world, collects rare books, and cooks at a professional level; the fiction writer who is also a technology geek and a climate change activist; the app inventor who teaches energy healing on weekends; the master gardener who organizes her whole community around urban horticulture; the professional violinist who fixes cars and does his own plumbing…
By the time I was done, I had identified 25 distinct creative modes, and then I clustered them into 5 easier-to-remember clusters (tied to a model of creating as a cyclical process - a spiral galaxy of sorts). Then I took another year and explored each mode in greater depth by illustrating it with a mixed-media collage and writing a short 'mode profile' about it (obsessed much?) and now - AND NOW - the Creative Constellation framework is on the verge of ready to be shared and tested out in the world beyond my own head. (They tell me that there's some exciting things happening out there, and I'm anxiously willing to give it a whirl...)
As I start offering talks and workshops on Finding Your Creative Constellation in the coming year, I'll be testing out activities and tools - looking for the ones that do the best job of helping people not only discover their creative constellations, but also use them as a navigation system for making the kinds of choices that add up to a satisfying life-design.
I'll also be blogging in this space about all kinds of project-adjacent issues, like why knowing what kind of creator you are is a pretty good idea in our current economy, what it means to have a 'life design' anyway (hint: life is bigger than career), and how you can stop playing small and start owning your complexity as your greatest strength.
Here's how you can play along:
- Let me know how all this grabs you - does the Creative Constellation resonate with you? Do you have ideas and suggestions for ways to bring it out into the world? Email me or leave a comment!
- Read more about the Creative Constellation project at sarasaltee.com/aboutproject
- Follow me on Facebook at facebook.com/salteecreative
- Share with your friends and encourage them to go to www.sarasaltee.com and sign up for the Diving In news so they'll get future posts by email
I wouldn't have come this far without incredible support from some amazing friends and helpers, and I darn sure won't get any farther without the support and engagement of many many more! In gratitude and with eager anticipation for the next steps of this journey,