Is Isolation a Necessity for Creativity?
“Knowing your own darkness is the best method for dealing with the darknesses of other people.” -Carl Jung
The man looked at the Master’s degree framed above his desk.
He had dedicated his whole life to academia, and on paper was successful. But as he sat there staring at the degree, the man felt that something was missing.
So instead of racing towards a Ph.D., he paused and decided to explore the world on his own. He scraped together some money and traveled from place to place exploring the things he and his peers had only read about.
After years of travel, the young man decided it was finally time to go back to school to pursue his Ph.D. But when he submitted various proposals, he found himself at odds with the faculty. The man was an all-star student, but he had something that the faculty did not. He’d not only read books, but he had gone out into the real world and had experiences and adventures. Now he wanted to study the things he’d found that were calling to him. But the faculty rejected proposal after proposal for his Ph.D. focus. Finally, he mustered the courage to leave his graduate studies behind.
The man felt ostracized, but now he had freedom and spare time. What’s more, his ideas were beginning to peek into the corners of his mind. He was being called to search for or create… something…
(Scroll to the bottom to read the rest of The Story!)
AJ Jacobs is a New York Times bestselling author and journalist who is best known for his extreme lifestyle experiments.
AJ joined Chad on The Mission Daily to share his challenges as a writer and journalist, the power of acting “as if”, and his creative approach to marketing.
Chad and AJ also discuss a question many of us creatives ponder: Is isolation a necessity for creativity?
“It’s easier to act your way into a new way of thinking than to think your way into a new way of acting.”
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The Story (continued)
…As he ventured into the American landscape outside of academia, the world was bleak. It was 1929, and the Great Depression had begun. The young man carefully weighed his options. All of the traditional paths to success were crumbling. So he purchased the books he would need for self-directed studies and headed to a nearby farm that had a small shed for rent.
For the next five years, he dedicated his life to reading. He maintained the same routine every day:
“I would divide the day into four four-hour periods, of which I would be reading in three of the four-hour periods, and free one of them… I would get nine hours of sheer reading done a day.”
The young man isolated himself from the world and continued to follow the thread of something he couldn’t quite fully articulate. He was following what he felt compelled to do, and eventually, his ideas came to life in the form of a storytelling framework.
The man had studied myths and stories from around the world. In his analysis, he discovered a structure for storytelling that fit every. single. one.
After 5 years, the man emerged from his isolation and found a job as a professor. He began to write down and share his findings in books.
A young director happened upon one of these books and read it in awe. The book laid out a framework that all great stories across history followed — and the structure that he would use to tell his story.
That young director was George Lucas and the master screenplay he wrote using the man’s framework was Star Wars.
Soon, the world was beating a path to the man’s door. He’d gone about life quietly, but now the world was beginning to discover the significance of what he’d uncovered.
What he had found were paths and patterns that ran through thousands of different myths. He found the meta-story emerging again, and again. The faces of the hero or heroine in the story might change, but the underlying path had recognizable, chronological stages. He’d discovered an operating system for storytelling and human achievement.
That professor was Joseph Campbell. The storytelling framework he’d found was the infamous Hero’s Journey.
Heroes can emerge from anywhere at any given time. You have no idea how much potential you have if you never make the necessary sacrifices. There is no telling what will happen if you’re courageous enough to enter the forest at the darkest point. The hero you’ve been waiting for is you. Revitalize yourself, begin the hero’s journey, choose the call to adventure. Meet your mentor, endure the trials and tribulations of your quest. Face your demons, find your mission, and you’ll lift up all those around you.
The hero’s journey is the path to save yourself. If you’re brave enough to follow that path… you might help save the world.
But your ideas won’t come to fruition overnight. Joseph Campbell spent 5 years of focused study before he could articulate and share his discoveries. To learn more about the creative process, we talked with author and journalist, AJ Jacobs. Oftentimes, innovation requires our undivided attention. And sometimes, following that creative path even requires our isolation.
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