A friend recently lent me a copy of the book How Google Works (because yes, I select my company based wholly on the integrity of their personal libraries and their willingness to share with me). This exchange coincided with my reading of #GIRLBOSS by Sophia Amoruso, the founder of the (ironically bankrupt) Nasty Gal brand.
Cracked out on inspiration and cold brew, I schizophrenically switched between books, storing mental notes in my brain’s color-coded filing system.
Anyone who’s interacted with me for longer than 10 seconds knows I’m as “type A” as they come. I’ve joked in the past that I’d “rearrange my organs in alphabetical order” if I could (it just makes more sense!). But as I read further into both of these success stories, I noticed a disturbing theme: the advantage of the messy, hapless creative.
Messy? Hapless? I make my bed every morning and schedule my day in 30-minute increments. I journal daily, practice hippie-dippy “intention-setting” yoga and make lists to keep track of my lists. There is nothing messy, hapless or coincidental about my approach to life.
I have been a perfectionist since my early days in private school when I realized the smart kids got preferential treatment and the pretty girls had more friends. (To be clear, I absolutely did not fit into the latter category--I had a lazy eye, red-framed plastic glasses and a bowl cut that would have made a young Macaulay Culkin jealous. Started from the bottom, indeed.)
Am I too much of a control freak to be a good creative? I wondered. Does my obsessive-compulsive drive to organize the world around me doom me to a life of traditional conservatism?
This realization flustered me so much that I doodled a little in my journal and then--gasp--left the markers scattered on the ground around the notebook. I stood over them, left eye twitching, as the demanding Molly Maid that sits in the cockpit of my motor control shouted, “Pick them up! That’s not where they go!”
No, I defied, being messy will make me creative! As if leaving three highlighters on the ground would somehow conjure Larry Page and Co.
But a funny thing happened: nothing.
I wasn’t struck with a sudden intense compulsion to code a program or start a company or write a book. Honestly, all I was compelled to do was clean it up (and consider a low-dose Prozac prescription).
And--plot twist--I ended up picking them up and putting them away, frustrated by inability to even temporarily adopt the creative spirit that Google told me I needed to be worth my weight in blond hair.
The thing about messy creatives, though, is that the mess isn’t what makes them creative. The mess (proverbial or otherwise) is the byproduct of their exploits.
Being creative, I think, is about understanding yourself well enough to know how you work best, and then tirelessly curating that environment.
Some people feel most stimulated in a chaotic environment (I’m picturing my roommate Kylie’s room--she’s a graphic designer who embodies the messy creative shamelessly). If I had to work in that space, I’d be convulsing between keystrokes.
My initial response to How Google Works was hilariously counterintuitive. I was treating it like a prescriptive manual to creativity--the very attitude that Google tells you to chuck out the window and disregard like Bing search results.
The real takeaway from a book about the world’s most successful startup is to find whatever it is that you’re passionate about and unapologetically throw everything you have at it, work-life balance be damned.
To quote one of my favorite movies, “Anything in life worth doing is worth overdoing. Moderation is for cowards.” I apply this mantra to work, exercise and my donut consumption.
Thanks for reading.
The fine print: