See more in Rants

Please Tell Me Stress Doesn't Actually Make Us More Creative

3 min read

I'm Jeremy Carson, and this is everything I wish I knew about the advertising and creative industry when I got started. And everything I'm discovering as a Creative Director today.
LinkedIn Instagram TikTok 

I hate pitches.

If you were to compare it to a relationship, it's like taking a year's worth of dinners, dates, inside jokes, fights, sex, and experimentation, finishing it off by meeting the parents, where you either get married or break up, then, cramming the whole year into a few weeks.

It's great. It's horrible. It's exciting. And it's stressful.

But, the creative you get out of pitches is some of the most interesting that you'll ever do. In fact, it's so good that I even worked at an agency where one of the leadership tried to get us to operate in pitch mode constantly. Two-week briefs, late nights, mad rush, great work. That idea burned out quickly. Luckily, before we all did.

Maybe it's the urgency. Maybe it's the singular goal. Maybe it's the lack of time to overthink your ideas and go with what your gut feels is right. Who knows?

Well, some psychologists think they know what makes us creative. It's something we didn't expect: stress.

Passion isn't Always Positive

Well, it's not just stress. But that's part of it.

We're in a passion profession, meaning we do it because we love it. But, as the Broadway musical "Avenue Q," says, "The more you love someone, the more you want to kill ‘em." Because with love comes hate. And we all know Yoda told us that leads to suffering, right?

But do we have to suffer to be creative?

Being able to be happy means being able to be stressed, too.

There's this psychologist named Zorana Ivcevic Pringle Ph.D. who talks about how "highly creative [people] mentioned being happy" when asked about their lives. But she also said that "frustration and stress were prominent" in those creative people.

The simple fact is, passion leads to opposite extremes. Joy and frustration. Elation and depression. Excitement and exhaustion. So, it's no surprise that, as creatives, we live on an emotional rollercoaster that energizes us and drains us.

Balance Makes It Work

So, that means that we can't just be happy-go-lucky creatives. Of course, we want to be happy, we should be happy doing what we love. However, being able to be happy means being able to be stressed, too.

If you saw Pixar's "Inside Out" then you know what I mean. The main character could only grow when she recognized you couldn't be happy all the time. That you have to embrace the negative emotions in order to understand the happy ones, too. Trying to constantly be happy, when you may not be, means you're faking it. You're not being authentic. And great creativity, great ideas only come from authenticity.

Use stress to make great work. Use great work to lose stress.

That stress you're feeling is natural. It's part of the balance of being a creative. It's what you feel when you're working towards the thing that will make you elated. It's what you experience on the path to happiness. It's (hopefully) what leads to great work.

Finding the Good in the Bad

Any good creative knows that great ideas, great stories have tension. That tension requires us to create a bit of discomfort. Or rather, becoming comfortable in that uncomfortable world.

Because, when you have discomfort or tension, you get invested in one side or the other. You get into fight or flight mode. Your adrenaline rushes. Blood goes to your head and your heart. You think clearly and move quickly. You look for solutions to resolve the discomfort. And that's what we do as creatives. We look for solutions. And sometimes those solutions mean working through tension. Working through stress.

We may need that stress to be creative, but it's only because we're passionate. If you lose the stress, you lose the joy. And you may lose the passion, too.

Use the stress to make great work. Use great work to lose the stress.

IMPORTANT: If you're feeling like that stress is leading to depression, don't ignore it; call someone who can help. If you're in the US, SAMHSA’s National Helpline is 1-800-662-HELP (4357). Remember, it's just advertising. It's not worth your life.

Thanks for reading!

If you enjoyed this, say hello @thejeremycarson. LinkedIn Instagram TikTok