Midlife can be a period of profound self-discovery if you let it be. It’s also a time that has the potential to be creatively robust even if you’ve never thought of yourself as creative. I think for many, this call to creativity stems from a desire to make meaning and connections.
For some people, midlife is a time to try new artistic pursuits like painting, drawing, crafting, pottery, dance, etc. But being creative is different from being artistic, and not being drawn to making art is no reason to think you can’t be creative in your daily life.
Creativity can go into the most minor daily actions and the most significant life decisions. It’s a way of approaching everything you do.
“Choosing itself is a creative act.”
Here are nine ideas to help you expand your creativity in midlife.
- Press Pause on Autopilot: By midlife, we can get used to routines and habits that run practically without input or decision-making. Your invitation is to look at your routine with fresh eyes. Think about the most creative person you know or know of. Imagine you’ve paid them to consult you on where you could inject creativity into your daily routine, whether that’s the food you eat, the way you dress, the way you lead your team, take care of a loved one, or how you plan a vacation. What does your day look like through the eyes of your favourite aunt, best friend, or even a creative icon like Taylor Swift? What might they suggest? Somewhere in you, you have new and fresh ideas and seeing your choices through the eyes of someone else is a way to unlock them.
- Interrogate Your What-ifs: Most midlifers are familiar with the question, “What if?” It keeps us up at night worrying about everything and anything that might go wrong but those very worries can be a signpost that leads us to clarity about what we care most about. Uncover the core of these concerns and shift the narrative from potential worries to opportunities. What if things could go right? This shift in perspective can unlock creative solutions and pathways. Listening to my friend Jenn Arthurton’s podcast the other day I was introduced to her guest Stephanie McLaughlin who came on to talk about something creative she did to celebrate her 40th birthday. She had 40 drinks with 40 people and her life changed as a consequence. Please listen to the episode to hear the details. What I found really interesting about this idea was born in response to her worries about what it would be like to have a 40th birthday party. For reasons she explained in the episode, it just didn’t feel right to her and her exuberance as she explains this idea is quite contagious.
- Embrace Your Originality: In the first half of life, so many of us tried to do everything possible to blend and fit in, I know I did in many ways. But by midlife, it’s time to own what makes you unique. What makes you who you are? What’s your story? Your quirks? Your strengths? Nurture and nourish those things, and you’ll soon start to see creativity emerging in surprising places. I recently came across Cassie Voss on TikTok. She’s a hair stylist with a mane of bright red curls and she got into the hair industry because she wanted to know how to tame her own wild locks. For years her answer was to bleach and straighten it and she did the same with all her curly clients. Then one day she realized that she was ready to stop blending in. She let her hair go curly and let it return to its natural colour. Now she’s a curl expert helping her clients and millions of TikTok viewers embrace their curls and feel amazing. Her waiting list is over a year long and part of what makes her so appealing is that she’s unapologetically herself in every way. She might not be for everyone but she’s having a huge impact. Fighting what’s true about you takes a lot of energy and that energy can be used more creatively and joyfully as illustrated so beautifully by Cassie Voss.
- Try New Things: Creativity thrives in the unexplored. Venture into the unknown by trying something new and slightly challenging. Rather than seeing this as “getting out of your comfort zone”, think of it metaphorically as leaving your neighbourhood. You always get to come back home, but the idea is to explore new places and try new things. This doesn’t have to be a physical leaving of your house. With so much now available online you can explore the world from your couch if that’s what works for you. What would be a “leave your neighbourhood” kind of choice for you? What would feel bold and maybe even a little radical? With each bold act, your identity expands, and you think differently. If you’re interested and able to physically leave your neighbourhood, try being a tourist in your own town. Looking for new opportunities, exhibitions, cafes, galleries etc is a way to do this. It’s also a fun way to have a date with yourself or someone you care about. Who might want to join you?
- Move Your Body: Physical activity isn’t just about health; it catalyzes creative energy. Whether it’s a dance class, swimming, or a simple daily walk, moving your body can increase your focus, ability to retain information, and interest in learning, all of which stir the creative well within. I just watched an interview with Greta Gerwig where she said that she walks whenever she feels stuck creatively and I laughed when she said that means she’s always walking because she always gets stuck. So relatable and happy to know that this woman who is such a visionary feels the way I do so often. When I don’t move my body I stop feeling like myself and my creative energy gets trapped. You can experiment with what feels good to you.
- Pay Attention: Imagine that everything is a clue and notice what you feel excited about, what topics come up often, and what you see or hear over and over. It could be the weirdest thing that makes no sense to anyone else. It could be a Netflix reality show you’re embarrassed to say you watched. It could be a podcast, book, TedTalk, or documentary. It could be a conversation with your neighbour in which a sentence or two sparked your interest. Follow that interest. Let yourself metabolize it and see where it leads you. The most creative ideas and choices are born out of what truly interests you, not what you think you should be doing and being a noticer means that you increase your opportunities for creative choices.
- Partner on a Project: You might want to give back to your community, curate a vintage pop-up store, write an article on a topic you’re interested in, start a podcast, or create a new committee at work. Consider who might be a blast to make this with and if they want to collaborate. Finding a like-minded partner can amplify creative energy and bring fresh perspectives.
- Join Creative Communities: By creative community I don’t necessarily mean a group that does art together. It might be a group that cleans up the park (an act of creating the clean and safe world they want to live in), it could be a group that is learning a new skill together, or have similar interests. When you put yourself in a space that prioritizes creativity as a way of life, it becomes a well of inspiration and support. No offense to anyone but sometimes the people we surround ourselves with out of habit or convenience have different priorities and can deplete our creativity energy. The right people fill you up and make you feel anything is possible.
- Read The Creative Act: A Way of Being: Sixty year old music producer and founder of Def Jam Records, Rick Rubin has written a beautiful book about living a creative life. His focus on “being” rather than “doing” is what sets this apart and makes it so special. He is a role model for anyone who wants to have deeper trust in their own instincts and intuition.
Remember creativity is possible with every choice. Choosing itself is a creative act.
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