When you look at the behaviors of creative geniuses such as Leonardo Da Vinci, Thomas Edison, Albert Einstein, Pablo Picasso and so on throughout the history of the world, you will find that, like the patterns of the trees, the form and contents of their behaviors are inextricably connected and can’t be separated. Creators are joyful and positive. Creators look at what is and what can be instead of what is not. Creators, instead of excluding possibilities include all possibilities, both real and imagined. Creators choose to interpret their own experiences and not let others interpret the world for them. And most importantly, creators are creative because they believe they are creative.
Can you imagine a Vincent Van Gogh bemoaning his failure to sell his paintings as evidence of his lack of talent, a Thomas Edison giving up on his idea for a light bulb when he had difficulty finding the right material for the filament, a Leonardo Da Vinci who is too embarrassed to attempt much of anything because of his lack of learning, an Albert Einstein who is fearful of looking stupid for presenting theories about the universe as a low level government patent clerk, a Michelangelo refusing to paint the ceiling of the Sistine chapel because he had never painted fresco, a weeping and wailing Mozart blaming an unfair world for his poverty, a Walt Disney giving up his dreams after being fired from his first job as a newspaper editor because he lacked imagination, a Henry Ford giving up his goal of being an automobile manufacturer after his first two companies failed, a Fred Smith who gave up his dream of Federal Express after every delivery expert in the U.S. doomed his enterprise to failure because, they said, no one will pay a fancy price for speed and reliability, a depressed Picasso shuffling down the street with his head down looking at the ground hoping no one notices him?
You may not know Richard Cohen. He is the author of Blindsided: Lifting a Life Above Illness. He lives a life defined by illness. He has multiple sclerosis, is legally blind, has almost no voice, and suffers chronic pain, which makes sleeping difficult and leaves him constantly exhausted. Two bouts of colon cancer in the past five years have left him with impaired intestines. And though he is currently cancer-free, he lives with constant discomfort.
Cohen worked as a producer for CBS until he was physically unable to continue. Because his chronic illness and physical disability precluded him from engaging in many activities, it initially left him feeling worthless. Friends and relatives encouraged him to seek professional help from a psychologist, but he refused. He felt psychologists always focus on what’s wrong with you and explain why you feel worthless. Like the emperor moth, Richard decided to use his struggles to become truly alive.
Cohen recognized the inevitable consequences of his illness, but he also recognized that he and he alone controlled his destiny. Cohen says, “The one thing that’s always in my control is what is going on in my head. The first thing I did was to think about who I am and how I could prevail. By choosing my feelings on a conscious level, I am able to control my mood swings and feel good about myself most of the time.” He cultivates a positive attitude toward life by interpreting all of his experiences in a positive way.
He said his life is like standing on a rolling ship. You’re going to slip. You’re going to grab on to things. You’re going to fall. And it’s a constant challenge to get up and push and push yourself to keep going. But in the end, he says, the most exhilarating feeling in the world is getting up and moving forward with a smile.
We do not choose to be born. We do not choose our parents. We do not choose our historical epoch, or the country of our birth, or the immediate circumstances of our upbringing. We do not, most of us, choose to die; nor do we choose the time or conditions of our death. But within all this realm of choicelessness, we do choose how we shall live: with purpose or adrift, with joy or with joylessness, with hope or with despair, with humor or with sadness, with a positive outlook or a negative outlook, with pride or with shame, with inspiration or with defeat and with honor or with dishonor. We decide that what makes us significant or insignificant. We decide to be creative or to be indifferent. No matter how indifferent the universe may be to our choices and decisions, these choices and decisions are ours to make. We decide. We choose. In the end, our own creativity is decided by what we choose to do or what we refuse to do. And as we decide and choose, so are our destinies formed.
Michael Michalko is the author of the highly acclaimed Thinkertoys: A Handbook of Creative Thinking Techniques; Cracking Creativity: The Secrets of Creative Genius; ThinkPak: A Brainstorming Card Deck and Creative Thinkering: Putting Your Imagination to Work.