Creativity is allowing yourself to make mistakes. Art is knowing which ones to keep. – Scott Adams
I just came across this quote, while poking around various blogs. I had intended to write something else… but I forgot what it was, so I’m going to go with this idea.
On the loooooooong road to mtbi recovery (which seems like it is never over), I have made plenty of mistakes along the way. It sorta kinda goes with the territory. I mean to say one thing, but then I say another. I mean to do one thing, but then I do another. I mean to accomplish one thing, but then I mess it up and it doesn’t get done. Along the way, it’s easy to get turned around and confused and lose my place. I do it all the time.
So, why am I not worse off in my life? Okay, I admit, my life is not a template of the American Ideal. I don’t have the perfect spouse and perfect 2.4 kids in a perfect house with perfect cars with a perfect job and a perfectly fat wallet. I don’t drive a Prius or a Hummer or a pickup truck or a motorcycle or any other vehicle that would indicate I am a Person Worth Knowing. I don’t have a closet full of tailored clothes with different well-polished shoes for every occasion. I don’t have many of the signs of success that one would expect from someone who is Doing Extremely Well For Themself, and frankly, some days it’s just a constant struggle to get by.
But in spite of all my struggles and screw-ups and messes I’ve made, I’m doing okay. I’m happy, I have love in my life, and I like what I do for a living. In spite of all the jobs I’ve totally messed up, the situations I’ve blown to hell, the relationships I’ve trashed, the money I’ve lost, I’m still standing. And my life — oddly enough — keeps getting better.
I think it’s because I don’t let the screw-ups keep me from pursuing my version of success. I learn from my mistakes — actively, intentionally, regularly — and since I make lots of mistakes, I tend to learn a lot. And since I’m so friggin’ tenacious and indomitable (bad days notwithstanding), I never stop, till I get where I’m going. Sometimes it takes an awfully long time for me to get where I want to go, but eventually, I get there… even if my definition of “there” changes along the way.
For years, I’ve focused on what I call “the art of living” — making my life into an intentional expression of my individuality, rather than abiding by some standard-issue cookie-cutter stereotype. Long before I knew why I couldn’t fit into the “norm”, I realized it wasn’t a good fit for me, and I resolved to find other, better ways to live my life, in spite of my oddness. I’ve made a point of not forcing myself into a narrow definition of success, and I’ve really worked at taking what good I could find from all the wreckage of my life around me.
There have been intense internal conflicts, to be sure, and I’ve been lower than low many, many times. But when the dust has settled, time after time, I’ve always managed to figure out a way to use what I learned for my benefit.
When I was younger, I was bound and determined to be a writer — to be the best writer of my generation — and I channeled all my energies into being open to the full range of what life had to offer me. I didn’t care so much about achieving and accomplishing and being The Best in others’ eyes. It was more about being the best in my own eyes. I kept open to the full range of life experience. I didn’t worry so much about whether or not things turned out the way I’d planned. For me, it was all about the experience. Learning what it meant to be human, so I could write believable stories about believable characters.
Of course, a whole bunch of mild TBIs kind of put a damper on my literary aspirations – it’s difficult to get published, when you can’t figure out how to communicate with publishers and editors and you alienate just about everybody who reaches out to help you without understanding how or why you’re doing it. And I’ve had to seek out alternative ways of getting published, essentially letting go of that childhood dream. I realize now, it’s probably not as plausible as I once thought it was.
But my orientation towards life remains the same — it’s an experience to be had, not a task to be completed. The full range of what life throws at us is a smorgasbord of sensations, a veritable feast for all five senses — six, if you count the one you can’t put your finger on. All of life is this amazing cornucopia of events to be lived, experiences to be had, lessons to be learned. For me, it’s less about specific outcomes, and more about the quality of the experiences I’m having. Quality of life… that builds quality of soul… and character.
It talks about how folks in the mental health field used to think that once traumatic damage is done to a person, they’re damaged for good. But that ain’t necessarily so. A person who is abused as a child isn’t necessarily going to be either an abuser or a perpetual victim as an adult. Human resiliency also plays a role, and people can — and do — overcome nasty crap all the time.
Given the course of human history, I have to say I agree. If everyone who got beaten up and mistreated as a child turned out to be either a perpetual victim or a perpetrator for the rest of their lives, I think we’d all be dead by now. There would be no one left, for all the killers would have killed the victims… and then wiped each other out.
No… that hasn’t happened (yet).
Yes… there’s more to the story than our past.
And there’s more to screwing up than making a mess of things.
Sometimes, the mess can be quite instructive.
Sometimes, a royally mucked up situation can be even more valuable than total success all the time.
Which, for someone like me, means that my chances of ultimate success are actually better than for someone who gets things right all the time.
Think about it –
as Winston Churchill said, “Success is the ability to go from one failure to another with no loss of enthusiasm,”
I have been uniquely shaped to not only go from one failure to another, but also keep going, keep diving in, keep forging ahead, no matter what (due at least in part to my head-injury-diminished aversion to risk and danger, as well as my intensely stubborn streak)
it stands to reason that I am uniquely positioned to have a very successful life, despite my injuries, despite my deficits, despite my history, despite my muck-ups.
In fact, one might say that my injuries and deficits even contribute to my success.
Not that I’m saying that mild traumatic brain injury is a ticket to the Good Life. Far from it. But if I can figure out a way to make it work for me sometimes, instead of constantly against me, then things don’t necessarily have to turn out badly.
Ultimately, getting back to Scott Adams’ quote above, creativity is not about never making mistakes, it’s about allowing myself to make lots of them — and art is about being able to tell which “mistakes” are worth keeping.
Personally, I’d rather have an artful life than a carefully checked-off list of t0-do items.
But that’s just me.
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