Posted by: Liz Massey | January 20, 2008

Mapping, and repaving, the roads not taken

I read an interesting New York Times article on Friday, published on New Year’s Day, about the very human tendency to reflect on what psychologists call our “lost possible selves”–both ones stemming from “mistakes” we have made or things that did not work out, as well as those generated by our not acting on an opportunity.

Creative people have a special relationship with their lost selves, given the difficulty of working full-time as an artist in contemporary society.  Plenty of people study art, or film, or music in college, only to find themselves five years later doing something completely different to earn a living.

Some are content with the choice they had to make, and happy with pursuing their creative passion as a hobby, or their part-time gig, indefinitely. But I know that the household I grew up in had its cadre of lost possible selves, as at least two members of my immediate family had aspirations of working full-time as musicians, but were unable to.

As it turns out, my own life’s course–in which it took me nearly a decade and a half to get to the point where I was working full-time in a job related to my college degree and artistic aspiration (magazine journalism)–took me through a process which is described in the NYT article: I went from blaming myself entirely for my lack of “success” to seeing what was happening with an increasing appreciation of the complexity of the situation, and the interplay between the decisions I made and changes and opportunities presented by the world around me.

My stints working in public relations jobs gave me the skills to work successfully with publicists when I became an editor. My “detour” spent proofreading at a bank’s form-letter department–and then being “downsized” a year later–led to being available when a friend of mine invited me to write and produce training videos at her company and essentially learning videography from the ground up.

As Benedict Carey writes in the NYT article,

(The skill of) complexity reflects an ability to incorporate various points of view into a recollection, to vividly describe the circumstances, context and other dimensions. It is the sort of trait that would probably get you killed instantly in a firefight; but in the mental war of attrition through middle age and after, its value only increases.

All of those abilities also make for nuanced, thought-provoking art. Perhaps gaining this skill is also a pre-requisite for maturing creatively?

 

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