A Big, Fat Lump of Coal

Being creative is the greatest gift anyone can possess. Whether you’re a writer, artist, scientist, accountant, or nanny, the ability to look at things differently is something to cherish.

The hardest part of being creative is the mind-numbing roadblocks thrown in our path every day. So, not in keeping with the spirit of the season, I’m bestowing big, fat lumps of coal to the following types of people. (Don’t worry, if you’re on this list, there’s a solution at the end.)

Any teacher who expects students to do exactly what he says. My daughter came home from kindergarten and said, “Look, Dad, I colored inside all the lines.” I thought to myself, “Is that a good thing?” I’d rather hear her say, “Hey, Dad, I went nuts with colors and wrote my name upside down.” Let’s not stifle creativity at the age of five.

Any company that posts a false job opening to steal good ideas. It’s an old trick. They ask for written samples, URLs, proposals, and other examples of your work, then appropriate them.

Any company that brings freelance talent into the office, then shoves them in a corner just daring them to interact with the “real” employees. Guess what? If you treat freelance talent like you’re happy to have them, they’ll do better work. (Do you work better with a tight sphincter?)

Any manager who expects staff to agree with every pearl of wisdom that flows from her mouth. Just because a manager has risen to a certain rank of butt-kissing doesn’t mean he knows everything. A secure manager can take criticism, a little yelling, and a whole lot of constructive disagreements. Nothing is sadder than someone writing or designing a piece of work just so a manager will approve it.

Any company that takes 90-120 days (or more) to pay freelance talent. Do you think people don’t talk? Why should anyone help you when you treat people this way? Pay promptly. People will do better work for you.

Anyone who always presents “safe” concepts. My least favorite word in the English language is “nice.” Who wants something nice? When was the last time you presented something that made your internal client uncomfortable or got a real reaction from other creatives in your agency? I’m not advocating pulling a Sin&eacutead O’Connor on “Saturday Night Live,” but how about a little bit of grit? A bit of an edge? I’ll never forget following the Sex Pistols tour in Europe during college. Every minute, I felt alive. Not very safe, but alive. When was the last time you presented something and had to hold your breath? Isn’t that why you got into this business in the first place?

Soul-suckers. These people are everywhere. So miserable about their own existence, they make it a point to ooze their poison into your life. These Eeyores trudge their way through life spreading disapproving verbal cancer to everyone they meet. Think about the people in your life who do nothing but aggravate you. We all know them. We tolerate them, we hope they’ll get better, we make excuses… but guess what? They never change! If you’re a creative person, you need every ounce of positive energy you can get. Avoid people who drag you down.

If you think you’re a terrific writer, the battle is won. You don’t need parents, lovers, or supposed friends telling you to settle down and be an accountant. Cut out the negativity in your world, and see how much more creative you can be.

My resolution for 2002 is to get these people out of my life. Following September 11th, I had a long, serious talk with myself. I resolved to get rid of everything in my life that doesn’t positively affect my family, career, and hobbies.

How about you? Is your creativity taking a beating because of negativity? Get rid of those forces right now. Go volunteer somewhere, and make a difference.

If I sound pissed off in this column, you’re right. I’ve realized that life is short, and I don’t intend to waste it surrounded by people who aren’t there to help. Have a happy and safe New Year, keep in touch, and remember there’s no greater gift on Earth than your creativity. Protect it at all costs.

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