Expanding My Definition of Creativity to Include Basic Math: A Semi-Emotional Recap

Financial stability (aka - the practical side of living) appeals to me mainly because it can assist with carving out more time for creativity, reading, writing, and music.

I want to do my favorite solo activities without compromising time with my family and friends.

Simplistic me thought the answer to this dilemma was more money.

As a result, I worked hard on expanding my definition of creativity to include basic math.

Money = Time

I dived down the personal finance rabbit hole.

Recently, however, I thought about my basic wants again. 

Reading. Writing. Music. 

I can give myself most of these things right now… for free. Money isn’t what has been in my way. It’s more complicated (or maybe more simple) than that.

Switching On and Off Voices (Literally)

A few years back, I went on a mission to find financial writers who tackle the intersection between creative living and financial responsibility. I found quite a few of them.

While not a die-hard business person, I constantly listen to entrepreneurial podcasts and read blogs on a variety of lifestyle topics that often get woven into this blog. 

I also work in cycles where I listen to history podcasts and seek out moving stories about creative people. (I think I’m moving into one of those cycles now.)

Either way, I’m procrastinating. I haven’t been indulging in my own creativity because I’m leaning too heavily on the “input" part of my process. As a consequence, the more difficult tasks in the "output" part are lacking (or being avoided).

Before I switch to focusing on the hard parts of artistic creativity (booking shows, recording, etc.), I have a couple of takeaways about personal finance from the past year. 

Flexible Thinking is a Survival Skill

The biggest lesson I have learned about my journey with creativity and money is the power of flexibility. Staying flexible on your life path is invaluable.

I went back to college at 26 after having a wild ride in my early 20s. I was very hard on myself about supposedly being behind and not having an exact life plan. Now I realize rigidity in thinking held me back more than any fictional timeline designed by the world.

For music, in particular, it’s a career with an expiration date for the majority of people. (A lot of people are selling how to get into the biz but not a lot of people are selling how to get out of it.)

At some point, it dawned on me I never wanted to tour with a two-year-old or stay up late, and I’m not really comfortable on a stage. I like to write songs, but I don’t like the lifestyle requirements of being a musician. 

Quitting is Hard

We all desire to be consistent. There’s a lot of old energy trying to make you stick with your own status quo even when you realize it doesn’t fit you.

My husband once mentioned the only thing that kept him going with his old band was a feeling of shame - a resistance to giving any amount of satisfaction to the people who wanted to see it fail.

Obviously, this approach of being driven to prove people wrong is a kind of a soul-destroying way to live. (I’m happy for him that he knows himself better now, prioritizes what he enjoys, and changes when he wants no matter who is watching.) Perks of aging!

Fear Still Finds Me as an Adult

For any artistic or free-styling person afraid to invest in themselves, I think examining a scarcity complex is necessary. There’s a torturous dichotomy between wanting security, wanting freedom, and thinking those two things can ever exist together peacefully.

This is especially true when the nature of your work is to move from project to project while relying on your own mind and a changing economy. (Sometimes it’s healthier to create a baseline to draw from with a day job that you love.)

Even as an adult with a steady job, I have a fear of putting myself out there creatively. (I thought I would go on the internet with some strangers and not care what anyone thought of my writing. Not true! I couldn’t pull that off!) 

Now I’ve realized most of my fear stems from caring a lot about what I do (and what I create), and caring about my impact on other people.

I also have a fear of being spread too thin as someone with a variety of interests. As a result, my message may be lost and have zero impact. Yet another fear!

The Fears Keep Coming!

Then there’s this new fear of putting money into myself and my business (even when I know I have some quality ideas). As a result, I’ve become frozen with my approach to recording music. (I procrastinate by writing blog posts - ha!)

Basically, right now I’m "trying" to draw up a budget for recording 30 songs. 

I’ve never struggled with this before. I used to dump a couple of thousand dollars into an album and watch it come right back to me.

Somehow, as a mom with the prospect of needing to save for my child’s college, it seems selfish to spend money on something like a blog or an album in order to have no guaranteed return.

I show up at my blog each day to fight this feeling and remember my passions make sense. It’s responsible to invest in myself and a well-thought-out life that includes some exciting variability.

Scarcity: A Blurred Relative Reality?

I’ve never made enough to save as much as I want to, let alone spend money on myself free of guilt. I guess my current definition of worldly success is maxing out every tax-advantaged account available (2 HSAs, a 403b, 2 Roths, 529 - am I missing any)? Well, I’m nowhere close to doing that. So I maintain a gigantic pull towards side-hustles, both for the emotional rewards and the potential to build a confidence-inducing side-business. 

Maxing out our tax-advantaged accounts is a boring goal. It doesn’t really motivate me to make more money when I’m not very driven by money in the first place

I think a lot of people can probably relate to this. (I’d be more motivated to earn more for a vacation or something - not maxing out the HSAs).

This leads me to wondering if extreme frugality is just a healthier form of self-punishment and self-deprivation for some people wired like me. I will never have enough to buy myself a treat here and there if I don’t rewire some things in my head first.

I Have Enough

Creative living is probably fueled by financial security, but for most people, life-long financial security isn’t an option. And people are still finding ways to be creative.

In fact, there are some gutsy people creating great solutions and great art while having only a dollar to start with.

Furthermore, numerous creative people throughout history battled incessant poverty. For example, I just finished reading about Margaret Fuller. Her life story will slam your soul. 

My basic needs are met. I’m in an affluent country. I’m extremely grateful to have running water, food to offer my son, safe places to walk, and school systems where children are given an education.

I know enough to start. I have enough to start. It took a while to realize, but my internal creative struggles have little to do with basic math.

Thanks for tuning into this off the cuff journal-style entry.

What keeps you from creative projects? Do you have clever ways you procrastinate?



6 Replies to “Expanding My Definition of Creativity to Include Basic Math: A Semi-Emotional Recap”

  1. you have some things on your plate right now like a house, spouse, toddler where some time is non-negotiable. as far as the money end of things, we only maxed our roths mostly in our 40’s but never did more than about 10% in the 401k/403b accounts. you have to live and enjoy your life.

    the arts sure can be expensive whether you’re a writer, musician, painter. it took us 10 years to spend the money on a studio renovation. we should have done it sooner if that helps. from reading your ramblings it seems to me you’re in a good balanced place. go record the songs. you’re not going to look back in 30 years and regret that extra 3% you didn’t put in the HSA for a few years.

    1. Thanks for offering some nice perspective Freddy. I think it’s insightful to hear how people navigate different stages of life while being gentle on themselves… I hope to peak in my 40s, 50s, and 60s while maxing out some accounts:)

      I’m glad you found the studio renovation worthwhile. I find it harder and harder to invest in my creativity. The pull towards “responsibility” is very great, especially with the online influence of the social media space we are in. You’re right though – I won’t regret not putting an extra 3% in an HSA if the rest of life is relatively stable and balanced.

  2. Wow! I feel this so much right now. I am very much trying to decide if I should quit taking piano lessons. Right now I feel like I’ve invested several years of learning how to play and have hit a plateau and it feels stale and I can’t decide why I’m doing it any more. I was also chasing FI and reading lots of success stories but then I realized I love my day job. I am really enjoying writing my own blog now but not sure how that fits in my life. And is it only fun because I write in little snippets of time I carve for myself. Like am I enjoying the time to myself or the creative writing.

    Thanks for the honesty about your journey!

    1. Seems like we are in a really similar place! Of course, you have your ginormous 3 person family (right?) and I only have one little one (at this point). To take on piano shouldn’t be such a big decision, but IT IS once life becomes very full in other ways. Plateaus with instruments are hard to navigate. I would just say don’t lose the skills you’ve gained up until this point. Whether or not you like your piano teacher probably makes a big difference too:)

      Reading success stories online is good at certain points for motivation and ideas. However, I think I may be entering a phase where I need to crawl in a hole again and keep my eyes on my own life in order to create what I want. Learning about others is one way I like to procrastinate.

  3. Thanks for sharing your thoughts on expanding your creativity definition. I wasn’t flexible in my thinking as well when I was in my 20s. I initially majored in Computer Science when I was going for my Bachelor’s degree but dropped it and switch majors after being discouraged after taking a couple of coding classes. I wanted to get back into coding in my late 20s but I thought it was too late for me and just focused on going to work at that time and being an event planner.
    Fast forward to now in my early 40s where I’m taking online coding classes and now really motivated to switching careers in being a programmer. I kind of regret not doing this earlier because I wasn’t flexible in my thinking and followed what I thought was the standard: going to school, graduate, work, get married and have a family. But now I realized I don’t have follow this so called life map everyone else does, I needed to do my own path even if it’s different because we are all unique in our paths.
    Sorry for the long story Michelle….kind of going off the cuff myself, haha!!

    1. Thanks for sharing Kris. Good luck with navigating your new career path – it sounds like you are on the right path and maybe had an inkling of it earlier on but just needed a boost through the confidence of aging to follow through. I didn’t view myself as a science and math person until I got older. Now I realize I love both subjects immensely, but I don’t plan to do much about it other than get excited about space, bugs, plant naming, and computer-geeking out with my son! I’m so excited for when he is receptive to it and curious about such things. And of course I love reading and reading connects to all of this as well!

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