chapter 8 - the later years
- until very recently, creative persons tended to learn their craft by apprenticing to a master, or by teaching themselves the elements of a domain through trial and error. Higher education was open to very few, and until two centuries or so ago, it was mostly reserved for scholars and clergymen.
college and profession
- for many of our respondents, the years in college and graduate school were a high point - if not the high point - of life. this is the period when they found their voice, when the vocation became clear.
- for some individuals it was also in college that they could first assert their independence.
- even in college, the performance of the future creator is rarely off the scale.
- after curiosity, this quality of concentrated attention is what creative individuals mention most often as having set them apart in college from their peers. without this quality, they could not have sustained the hard work, the "perspiration." curiosity and drive are in many ways the yin and the yang that need to be combined in order to achieve something new. The first requires openness to outside stimuli, the second inner focus. The first is playful, the second is serious; the first deals with objects and ideas for their own sake, the second is competitive and achievement oriented. both are required for creativity to become actualized
- if teachers help or hinder the development of creative individuals in high school, they do so even more in college. college teachers are important in two ways. first, they can ignite a person's dormant interest in a subject and provide the right intellectual challenge that leads to a lifelong vocation. second, they often exert themselves in various ways to make sure that the student is noticed by other important members of the field.
- entering a career requires a great deal of determination and a good dose of luck. in fact, the majority of the people we interviewed mentioned luck most frequently as the reason they had been successful. being in the right place at the right time and meeting the right people are almost necessary to take off within a field. and unless one becomes visible in a field, it is very difficult to make a creative contribution to it. this is true even of those individuals who seem most isolated, most alienated from their culture.
- the individuals in our sample had, as a rule, stable and satisfying marital relationships.
- but the majority conformed to a more sedate sexual pattern. recent studies suggest that the amount of dallion, marital infidelity, and sexual experiementation is much less than ealier estimates had suggested. when explaining what enabled them to accomplish what they had achieved, several pointed to the indispensable help of the their spouces. and these answers did not reign perfunctory
- inevitably there were also badly strained marriages. achieving a creative result in any field is stressful enough for one person to bear; it is much harder on one's partner. in fact, it is surprising what a strong sense of responsibility these individuals generally felt for keeping their relationship stable
the women's view
- the married women in our sample also felt that their husbands had freed them to concentrate on their work
- in addition, husbands often served as mentors to their wives and helped them to get started on their careers
- but the unequal gender roles also inhect strong ambiguities into the married life of creative women
- because of this tension between two usually strong individuals, the relationship sometimes cannot take the strain. yet most of the time the divorce is amicable, and the former spouses keep seeing each other on friendly terms
- these accounts of the relationships of creative individuals are so diverse that they cannot prove any one point. but they can disprove a generally held notion that people who achieve creative eminence are usually promiscuous and fickle in their human ties. in fact, the opposite seems closer to the truth: these individuals are aware that a lasting, exclusive relationship is the best safeguard of that peace of mind they need in order to focus on their creative pursuit. and if they are lucky, they find a partner who dills that need
the making of careers
- most creative achievement are part of a lont-term commitment to a domain of interest that starts somehere in childhoold, proceeds through schools, and continues in a university, a research laboratory, an artist's studio, a writer's garret, or a business corporation
- there is one sense in which the careers of all creative individuals are similar: they are not careers in the ordinary sense of the term
- in contrast, creative individuals, usually are forced to invent the jobs they will be doing all through their lives. so creative individuals don't have careers; they create them. in addition, these pioneers must create a field that will follow their ideas, or their discovery will soon vanish from the culture
- although all creative persons, in breaking new ground, must create careers for themselves, this is especially true for artists, musicians, and writers. they are often left to their own devices exposed to the vagaries of market forces and changing tastes, without being able to rely on the protection of institutions. those who persevere and succeed must be creative not only in their manipulation of symbols but perhaps even more in shaping a future for themselves, a career that will enable them to survive while continuing to explore the strange universe in which they live.
the task of generativity
- according to the dvelopmental psychologist Eric Erikson, the defining task of a person's middle years is to achieve generativity. this involves being able to pass on both one's genes and one's memes. the first refers to leaving children, the second to leaving one's ideas, values, knowledge and skills to the next generation. it is much easier to come to terms with one's mortality when one knows that parts of oneself, will continue to live on after one's daeth
- there is often a presumption that these two ways of being generative - the physical and the cultural - are at odds with each other. the Romans had a saying: libri auit liberi (books or children). referring to how difficult it was to have it both ways
taking a stand
- again, these trends certainly don't suggest that creative individuals are inevitably interested an involved in the world around them and that they are willing to pay a heavy price for their beliefs. but these accounts do disprove the often-voiced opposite conclusion, that exceptional artists and scientists are too selfish, too wrapped up in the work, to care much for what is happening in the rest of the world. if anything, it seems that the curiosity and commitment that drive these people to break new ground in their respective fields also direct them to confront the social and plitical problems that the rest of us are all to content to leave alone.
- as creative individuals begin to be known and successful, they inevitably take on responsibility beyond the ones that made them famous, even if these do not involve radical activism. there are two main reasons why this is so, one internal, the other external
- the internal reasons some into play when the creative person runs out of steam or runs out of challenges
- the external pressure to diversity comes from the demands the environment places on the individual
- creative scientists are sooner or later drawn into the politics and the administration of science, and if they are any good at it, they will have a second or third career "doing god's work" rather than their own
the question of succession
- for those who have build an institution during their lifetime, one of the consuming concerns becomes the issue of succession
- institutions are fragile things, and when they are build around a creative person, their survival is more threatened than usual
the matter of time
- one thing such people don't have too much of is time on their hands. it is difficult to imagine any of them being bored, or spending even a few minutes doing something they don't believe is worthwhile
- the majority of people in every culture invest their lives in projects that are defined by their society. they pay attention to what others pay attention to, they experience what others experience. at the same time, a culture can evolve only if there are a few souls who do not play by the usual rules. the men and women we studied made up their rules as they went along. combining luck with the singleness of their purpose, until they were to fashion a "life theme" that expressed their unique vision while also allowing them to make a living
the slings and arrows of fate
- as is obvious by now, creative people are certainly not immune to the disappointments and tragedies that cast shadows on the lives of everyone else. they are fortunate, however, to have a calling that makes it possible for them to dwell as little as possible on what might have been and go on with their lives.