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Real Work Is About Creativity. Introduction to The Undercurrent


Growing up I used to think creativity was about drawing something pretty, writing something catchy, or some other form of creating something special.

When I wasn’t good at these things, I assumed I wasn’t creative. I spoke about this in the last article, This Is What Failure Looks Like.

Lucky for most of us creativity is much bigger than this. For those of us who don’t consider ourselves creatives, I call our creative place the undercurrent.”

“The undercurrent” is the best side of ourselves. It may be a bit subdued at first, but it’s wiser, deeper, and usually the place from where our best work originates. It’s expansive imagination. It’s the zone.

Accessing and working from the undercurrent is important for many reasons.

First, it simply feels good. It’s fun.

Second, working from this creative place improves the lives and experiences of those around us. Not only because we become inspiring to others, but because we’re sharing with others our true capabilities, and as a result enriching their lives and experiences.

And finally, great success, although a culmination of many things, is often achieved when we’re working from this place.

Do you want to work from your most creative place? I do. I believe this should be the true definition of work.

To demonstrate the biggest lessons I’ve learned about finding and accessing our creativity, I’m going to speak about my good friend Erin.

Erin is a creator, a storyteller, an open-minded, and passionate person. Currently a producer, Erin  has worked in television for the entirety of her career.

Below are, key lessons I’ve learned from one of the most creative and brilliant people I know about accessing and living in your creative place.

First, Tune Out The Noise

After graduating college and getting her M.A. in television, radio and film, Erin moved to New York City and launched her career in television.

Despite her obsession with film and television, Erin didn’t move to the big city and become a big producer and director right away. She also didn’t jump into making her own movies.

Erin started traditional with a suit, a briefcase and a cubicle working in television research. She immediately struggled. From the awkward suit pants, to the stifling office and cubicle where excelling at excel was top priority, Erin wasn’t in her element.

During this time, Erin  was often moody and going through the motions, arriving at work at 9 a.m., and then running out for a few hours of freedom at 5 p.m.

Less than one year later, Erin  left the TV research company to become a freelance production assistant in film and reality TV.

This wasn’t an easy decision for her. The job she had was a stable 9 to 5 with a set salary and a straight path to somewhere. She had her foot in the door to something. She could explain the job to her parents and her friends, and that’s a very big deal…isn’t it?

She decided it wasn’t.

The well-meaning noise from family, friends, and co-workers can get overwhelming. From parents expressing their pride to bosses offering us raises and promotions to keep us where we are, these positive reinforcements can stall the decisions we really want to make.

The reinforcements feel good. We feel pride. It feels like we’re on the right track, like we’re doing something right.

Tune it out for a moment.  What do you want?

Then, how do you fight this noise? The first step is to recognize that it’s there.

Erin has always tuned out the noise. She hears it loud and clear, but she turns away from it rather than toward it.

Then, Brace Yourself for the Shi* Storm

Taking the plunge is a big step, but that doesn’t mean it’s smooth sailing from there.

After leaving her first company, Erin joined I Am Legend as a production assistant.

This was exciting. She’d wake up at 3 a.m. to arrive on set by 4 a.m. and work 16+ hour days.

Her job? Stop angry New Yorkers on the street so the crew can shoot a scene, grab coffee for the talent and crew, and run other errands. Very sexy.

After I Am Legend, Erin transitioned to shows like Project Runway, Rescue Chef, and the Fashion Show. (As a close friend of hers, this was great for me. I got to walk on the Project Runway stage and hear about Bethenny Frankel’s wedding.)

Nevertheless, freelance life was difficult for Erin .

With the long hours and days, burnout was often right around the corner.

Add to that questions from well-meaning family and friends who didn’t understand why someone would subject themselves to such long hours for such little pay. Also, there was always the “what do you do again?” and “what’s your career path exactly?”

She also hit many other roadblocks. Although, reality television provided great opportunities to advance from production assistant to associate producer to producer, freelance work also meant working on a show for three months then being off for several weeks.

Other times it meant traveling to the middle of the country away from family and friends to work in the middle of nowhere.

How can you be your most creative self in these situations? Maybe you can’t.

But then why keep going?

Most people would have thrown in the towel, signed up for another master’s degree, and joined the rest of us working in cubicles.

But despite the challenges, Erin kept pushing forward.

She’s made changes to the parts of her work that were causing her stress, transitioning out of reality TV to other areas of production that not only expand her experience, but provide her more stability.

Running away wasn’t the solution despite the continued noise and additional challenges. Making adjustments to the current situation was.

Overall, doing work she loves has allowed Erin to stay true to herself. As a result, she’s able to access and share her creativity in other ways, both in her work and outside of it.

Redefine Art. It’s Unique to You

Although television, film and entertainment is right where Erin belongs, it’s not the only place where she practices her creativity.

Erin takes the time to zone out and live in her own world, and this is the brilliant side of her that’s taught me so much.

Erin accesses the undercurrent during long drives. As her friend, this is to my disappointment and complete boredom, because she’ll be completely silent and will barely talk for hours.

But, during this time, Erin comes up with movie ideas, characters, far away lands that I can’t begin to describe, and more.

She doesn’t always share her ideas, instead she lets them marinate. I like this approach most of the time. Your ideas are not there for others to approve. They’re there because they feed you first.   

It’s critical that we take time to ourselves to zone out. We need to check out and check in with ourselves. What’s hidden deep down? Where do our minds go? We should do this mostly because it feels good. It’s expansive imagination expanding.

But, where do these ideas even come from?

Erin spends time with her passion, watching documentaries, horror films, adventure films, comedies, and reading historical fiction, science fiction, biographies, and more. She feeds her curiosity.

Other times, Erin is a lot more social with her creativity and becomes completely focused on creating experiences.

Let’s flashback to Erin’s 32nd birthday.

Erin created a murder mystery experience, an elaborate game where she assigned each person attending the party a role. She filled the party with clues, a personalized video, appropriate decorations, and necessary props. It was amazing.

Other times, she opts out of the traditional board games to make up her own. I hosted an epic New Year’s party four years ago, and for that party Erin created an interactive game with balloons that allowed everyone to socialize more, eat more, drink more and generally just have more fun.

What’s the Lesson Here?

Learn to get in the zone. Find your undercurrent. Use it wherever and whenever you can.

Maybe you hate your 9 to 5, and you’re in a rut. Or maybe you’re frustrated because your side hustle isn’t successful. Fine.

But maybe when you get home, you enjoy making dinner. Explore that a little more if it feels good.

How can you bring better work into your life? The work is better when you’re accessing your art, the undercurrent.

Find the noise, then ignore it. Don’t give up during the most difficult times. Push through by finding solutions instead. And finally, take the focus away from the result, and enjoy the doing. Explore your passion little by little.

If you have a friend who believes she’s not creative, I’d love for you to share this post with her. Also, I want to hear from you! Do you consider yourself creative? If you don’t, why not? Are there moments in your day, week, or life when you do feel creative? Share your story in the comments below!

Belma McCaffrey

Author Belma McCaffrey

More posts by Belma McCaffrey

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