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The Power of Creativity and Play

In 2012, George W. Bush started to pursue a new hobby: oil painting. He hired a teacher. He converted his home office —what Laura called his ‘man cave’— into a studio. And, he went for it. It was a purely private endeavor, until a journalist got wind of his efforts in 2013. I find his portraits quite moving.

Interestingly, George is in good company. Many world leaders, people who literally carried the weight of the world on their shoulders became painters in their spare time. Winston Churchill, General Franco, and Jimmy Carter just to name a few.

I am suggesting that attention to creativity and play which is predominantly right-brained in nature does far more than merely providing a break to our routines. Creative pursuits are fuel for our brains, our mental health, and ultimately our effectiveness as leaders.

Creativity and play are nutrients for our well-being.

They transport us out of the logical, reasoned, data-driven realm of our left brain, and usher us into the curious, intuitive, relational territory of our right brain. Time spent exploring creativity literally strengthens our capacity for all of the soft-tissue work of life and leadership. These activities make us healthier, more resilient people.

Today is the beginning of Labor Day weekend. For most people it’s a three-day weekend, famous for family gatherings, final summer fiestas, and a little break from work. (Here in the US anyway.)

So, how could you take advantage of a little break like this?

As leaders, we work hard. We are competitive and passionate about achieving important goals. When we scan the horizon, we see huge need and compelling opportunity. We have people who depend on us. And, most of us struggle with the length of a to do list that dwarfs our time and energy. Taking time off can be tough.

But, life-giving time away from work means more than just not doing stuff. It calls for more than binge-watching the shows we missed. If we want to pour gas into our leadership engines, one of the most fruitful things we can do is to spend time and energy on play and creative pursuits.

As someone once said, we are human beings NOT human doings.

So, consider this a dare. I dare you to block some time and spend some energy this weekend or next weekend to do something highly creative. I have no idea what that could or should look like for you, but as a way of getting your juices flowing, let me offer some possibilities.

  • Paint something—beside the fence. Seriously, pull out some watercolors and play with paint.

  • Pull out your camera and go make some beautiful photos.

  • Sit on the floor and spend an hour building a Lego universe with your favorite little people.

  • Dust off your guitar or whatever musical instrument you’ve neglected. I have a good friend who keeps a harmonica with him at all times and will just go outside and enter a private retreat space as he plays it.

  • Cook a beautiful breakfast. Go beyond toaster waffles and try to MasterChef something tasty and beautiful to share with your family.

  • Make homemade sausage. Or cook burgers that belong on a magazine cover. Or create homemade pasta. Food can be super creative, plus you get to eat it.

  • Write some really bad amazing poetry.

  • Re-awaken that hobby you used to love. Whether it’s building model ships, collecting hubcaps, (does anyone still have those?) inventing the world’s best chili recipe, quilting, or restoring antiques.

Creative activity awakens new neural activity. It strengthens the neuroplasticity of your brain. If your painting looks like a 3-year-old's drawing of a storm, outstanding. Have fun creating it then throw it away when you’re done. You don’t have to post your work on the kitchen fridge.

The point is not what you produce! The creative endeavor is the outcome.

I am reading an amazing book right now, Rare Leadership, and, while I’ll write more about it in the days ahead, one concept from the opening pages has captivated me. “Joy is the ultimate jet fuel of high-performing leaders and teams.”

Instead of tanking up on unleaded, this weekend refill your tank with jet fuel through creativity and play. Don’t get stuck in thoughts of another life-long commitment, just give yourself to a little experiment. Worry about your next steps later.

“Because so many people were coming and going that they did not even have a chance to eat, Jesus said to them,

‘Come away with me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest’.”

Mark 6.31

Photo Credit: Grant Miller/George W. Bush Presidential Center


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