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Surviving Creativity: Finding Fulfillment

I was going to call this post “Defining Success” because to answer the question, “How can I be successful while being creative and doing what I love?” we need to define what success looks like. But as I thought about it, I realized I generally dislike the word “success.” For me, with my background in Human Resources, it carries corporate-ladder-climbing, creativity-restricting connotations. Really, what I want is a word more like “fulfillment” or “realization.” For creatives, what we are constantly reaching for is that elusive feeling of completion.

By the way, if you missed my first posts in this Surviving Creativity series, take a minute to read through the introduction post, the one on setting priorities, and the latest one about time management. They will give you a little more context for this one.Finding fulfillment can be difficult for Creatives.

See, the problem with creative work is it’s very difficult to know when your work is done. When I was a payroll clerk, I’d know when I was done with a project, because all the numbers would line up. When I was a cashier, I’d know I had done a good job when my drawer came out even at the end of the day. When I was a student, I’d get a grade that would tell me if I’d done the assignment right. But in my new job of “being creative” I never know. A painting may never feel done because it’s not perfect. Ever. I could always add a little to that blog post, or tweak that project that I’m working on for the home.

So how do I know when I’m done? And in the big picture, how do I know when I’ve achieved success?

In pondering all this, I came to understand that my definition of success has left me feeling like a failure most of the time, so I’m redefining what success, or fulfillment, means for me.

Finding Fulfillment

So now that we’ve sworn off the word success, how do we define what fulfillment looks like for us? Conventional wisdom says that we should set “smart” goals so that we can achieve measurable results. What are “smart” goals? Glad you asked. I’m about to lay some HR training on you. (Put some of that corporate ladder climbing to good use here!)

S.M.A.R.T. is an acronym for:

  • Specific
  • Measurable
  • Achievable
  • Relevant
  • Time-bound

Ick. I’ll be the first to admit that this model is a great way to get stuff done. If you have a project that is overwhelming and you can’t figure out how to get it done, I really do recommend working through each of these concepts to break down the project and give yourself a realistic timeline. However, most creative goals can’t be so easily summed up.

The problem with the “smart” model for creatives is that creativity cannot always be measured, or tied to a timeline. And who’s to decide whether it’s relevant?

Here’s the answer. You are.

You get to say whether what you’re working on is relevant. If artists measured their relevancy by their sales or critical acclaim, most would never feel successful or fulfilled in their lifetime. So unless you plan on enjoying your success long after you’re dead, I suggest we find a better way to define ourselves.

Answering the Call

Here’s what I suggest instead. Let’s recognize that what we are doing is actually a calling. We did not choose to become creative entrepreneurs, parents, teachers, artists, musicians, writers, or photographers. We were created to be creative. All we need is an outlet, or two or three or fifteen. When we see ourselves as a creative person, we become free to explore that creativity in any variety of expressions.

The other implication of a calling is that it cannot be easily revoked or denied. You know when you have to go for long periods of time without a creative outlet, you feel a little (or a lot!) restless. This just means your creativity lives inside you, waiting to be let out.

Creativity is not something we put on, although it can be enhanced and encouraged. Creativity is something we answer to. We must create in some way or we feel a little bit lost.  The more we answer that creative calling in our lives, the more we are given. The more ideas flood our brain. The more songs come to mind. The more solutions bubble to the top.

Because of this calling, it is neither indulgent nor selfish to spend time on creative endeavors. It is the fulfillment of who we were meant to be, and those endeavors will bear fruit, the more we practice our art. So keep practicing! Keep working. Keep giving yourself permission to be creative and you will start to see how what you create can impact someone’s life for good.

Instead of using smart goals to define what we do, I’d like us to describe ourselves using this acronym:

C.R.E.A.T.I.V.E. means you are:

  • Called to
  • Re-imagine,
  • Express,
  • Assist,
  • Teach,
  • Inspire,
  • Visualize,
  • Encourage.


Sharing your Gift

Finally, for a creative person, we need to feel like our art is somehow impacting people. The end goal is not merely in creating something beautiful. That creation must go on to have an effect on someone. That is its completion. That painting doesn’t have to be perfect in order to brighten someone’s day or make them think in a new way. And it doesn’t even need to be sold in order to have that effect.

It just needs to be seen.

The act of sharing your art, no matter how it is received, is an act of generosity, of vulnerability, of relationship.

[bctt tweet=”The act of sharing your art is an act of generosity, vulnerability and relationship.”]

Chances are, the people who are being impacted by your creativity are those closest to you, not the elusive “audience” that you are seeking to reach. How are your family, friends, co-workers, students, clients, and neighbors being affected by your work?

Your neighbors and friends might feel the benefit for your welcoming decorating style every time they visit your home and feel comfortable. Your children are definitely learning something from you every day. Your spouse may not mention it often, but he or she is literally consuming the results of your creativity in the kitchen. Continue to share your art, even when you feel like you’re just going through the daily motions of your routine, and take a moment to think about how your creativity is helping someone close to you.

I believe that when you can identify who you’re impacting with your art, you will find the creative fulfillment that you are looking for.

For your homework this week, think about how your particular creative gifts may fit into one or more of these categories (re-imagine, express, assist, teach, inspire, visualize, encourage), and who could benefit from the creative things you do.  Then try to answer this statement for yourself, as specifically as possible:

I feel most fulfilled when I: _______________________________.

Please leave me a comment and share with me what you’ve learned about yourself so far. And stay tuned for one more post in this Surviving Creativity series!


Sunday 1st of November 2015

What an inspiring post! Thanks for sharing with us at Merry Monday.


Wednesday 4th of November 2015

Thank you Sherry! I love visiting Merry Monday.


Saturday 31st of October 2015

For many years before I began blogging - dating back to my 9th-grade English class - I kept a traditional, personal journal. That journal was organic and freewheeling and contained plenty of stuff I would never want to air in public. In contrast, my blogs today are exercises in fastidiousness run amok. Was I somehow less creative back in the day when no one could see my writing output? To ask the question is to answer it, and that answer is "No". (Indeed, I would say I'm probably less creative now because I find I become more self-conscious about what I write as time marches on.)

I agree that being a creative type is a calling of sorts and I like your C.R.E.A.T.I.V.E. acronym, but we will have to agree to disagree about the "we need to feel like our art is somehow impacting people" business. In my book, the impetus to create lies wholly within and is moreover continuous, never reaching completion.


Wednesday 4th of November 2015

I love this argument! We could go on forever but I do completely agree that putting our creative efforts out there in front of people causes us to self-edit. Sometimes that can be good and sometimes not. I guess the question is what are you creating with your blogs that makes you publish them and not just keep your thoughts to yourself?

Beth Niebuhr

Saturday 31st of October 2015

I love your question because it made me realize that it makes me so happy not just to help women become entrepreneurs but also to help them discover their own creativity! Thanks!


Wednesday 4th of November 2015

Thanks Beth, it's seems you've found a career that perfectly matches your creative calling!


Saturday 31st of October 2015

i feel most fulfilled when i have completed a task. That sense of 'well done' and well accomplished feeling. The feeling is great and positive and makes you want to do more and push forward. A great post Meredith! We need reminders to keep us creative and i really enjoyed reading the post. Thanks for sharing x


Wednesday 4th of November 2015

Thanks, glad you enjoyed it! I think we all need those reminders from time to time, when life feels a little too "results oriented."


Friday 30th of October 2015

I love the idea of chasing fulfillment over success. It is so easy to feel that what you are producing is never enough. I've been a creative my entire life and I've gotten overwhelmed at times by how others model success. I love this approach.


Wednesday 4th of November 2015

Thanks Erica! I'm sure everyone defines success differently but I struggle to find my own definition, especially when compared to others'.


Creating a color-filled life. Conquering my little world one DIY project at a time. With lots of coffee and chocolate. Albuquerque NM. Pinterest ~ Instagram ~ Facebook