In 32 years of my life I haven’t created anything of lasting value. Nothing that would last even during my lifetime, insignificant as it it. Have you?
I define ‘lasting value’ as having a major contribution in creating something significant that would last during one’s lifetime or some time beyond. Try to fit anything you did into that definition – for most of us the answer would be ‘no’.
You could argue that worrying about creating anything significant or leaving something after you is a harmful ego-driven thinking. I agree. I’m not happy about thinking about it and I wish I could make it go away. But I can’t. And feeling guilty doesn’t help.
My work in the army was interesting but locked inside the military complex it will slowly rot into an anonymous irrelevance. My startup hasn’t bear fruits yet, and if it will in the future, it won’t be anymore because of my work. My blog posts are ephemeral, little drops of words falling into an ocean of opinions, dissolving without ripples. My volunteering work in a psychological crisis line has helped people in distress get some relief, but limited to one-off online conversations the effect would have been temporary at best.
And so here I was – 32 and completely creatively bankrupt. But that just might have changed when I did the most unimaginative thing of all… and became a parent.
There is nothing “creative” in having a baby, no more than what a cat bearing a kitten can be credited with. Parenthood is an semi-automatic script imprinted in us by nature and culture, and played by us often due to a lack of imagination or courage to be different.
But once the child pops out and moves away from the animalistic, unconscious world of infancy and towards the human world of symbols, words and ideas we can start creating. The kind of life we build – the life that our child absorbs growing up in our care – is an absolute act of creation that will affect his memories, his personality, his basic assumptions about the world and ultimately his life. Of course parents don’t get a credit for the miracle of life. But they might get some for a child that grows into a decent, caring and happy human being.
If all goes well, my child has a good chance of living long after me. Is there anything I could create that would match this? Is there a book I could write that would still be read in 40 years? Impossible. Is there a business or an organization I could found that would still go strong in 40 years? When the average lifespan of a small business is 8 years, and of a public company 15 years, the chances for this are slim.
I’m not saying that we should abandon our creative projects and start popping out children. But as a target for our energy and creativity, at least in terms of longevity a child seems to be a pretty good investment.