“You don’t have to stay anywhere forever.”
Edwin Payne, on leaving hell, in Sandman – Season of Mists
The right environment is crucial. As Sartre said: “Hell is other people.” — or as I would rather say: “Hell is the wrong kind of people”. As a tongue-in-cheek posting (kinda) and as the anti-thesis of a muse: The 7 deadly habits of highly destructive people. Things other people can do to seriously undermine your creativity — at work, in your private life, or anywhere else. I’ve included links to comic strips which exemplify the issue, although I have one or two real-life examples for each deadly habit (unfortunately):
- Undermine your self-efficacy and self-worth (e.g., destructive feedback or no acknowledgement at all).
They get you to work harder for them and make you more easy to influence in the future. Makes you thankful even if they give you negative attention or little scraps of positive attention.
You stop having fun working, yet you work more and harder than ever — until you burn out.
- Waste your time on worthless tasks.
They have someone who deals with their little little annoyances, allowing them to focus on the relevant/joyful work. Another frequent issue is being the target of their lack of emotional control, allowing them to get attention and cope (in a very bad way) with the situation they are facing. Worthless because there is never an end to the drama and actually changing anything is not desired (would not allow them to be the center of attention anymore).
You do not learn anything useful or do something meaningful, like creating something and your resources get drained.
- Frequently change their mind (and forget that they had a different opinion earlier).
They can flexibly deal with whatever problems they have in the future by using you as a wildcard who must fill their current need.
You have zero planning dependability and have to redo the work frequently. Makes it difficult to invest effort into something as it might be all for nothing (who wants to work for the trash bin).
- Steal your ideas/contributions or overplay their contribution (if any).
They reap (part) the rewards of your work — for zero investment of their own.
You become fearful of having/sharing/realizing ideas/projects and show self-censorship. Insecurity increases and motivation to create drops severely. For me the #1 killer of creativity in any environment, but then, I’ve got a fetish for creativity.
- Instead of admitting they don’t know, they overplay their lack of knowledge with overconfident advice.
They feel good about themselves giving advice, while ignoring the issue that they have no idea what they are talking about. But hey, it’s nice to think one has helped other people and is ‘wise’.
You trust them when they confidently send you in a totally wrong direction. You doubt your instincts/better judgment. Trust can kill here.
- Make you believe the place where you are and the people you are with are better than anything you could ever hope to find.
They keep you trapped and can bleed you out.
You do not seek other, better suited environments. Leads to learned helplessness.
- Cannot be reasoned with.
They can follow their agenda undisturbed by reality — esp. when you give up reasoning, which they take as sign that they were right all along or have convinced you.
You give up and fall into learned helplessness.
So, essentially the habits are beneficial for those who show them — at least in the short term — while they are highly destructive for you if you want to find meaning in your actions, if you want to create something, if you want to enjoy the work.
In some work-related cases, documentation might work (e.g., send an eMail to document what was discussed and saving them, esp. the confirming replies), but only in some cases and not for everyone. In case you encounter these people — the best solution is probably to avoid them. If you cannot, because they are, for example, your supervisor or CEO, then it’s a bit like Chris Taylor in “Platoon“: “Somebody once wrote: ‘Hell is the impossibility of reason.’ That’s what this place feels like. Hell.” In these cases their power poisons the whole environment (for you), not matter whether other aspects are good, and it’s probably best to adhere to the quotation in the beginning of this posting: “You don’t have to stay anywhere forever.” Especially in circumstances that are hell for you and for your creativity.
After all, people value performance independent of the situation. They do not take into account whether the circumstances you are in might make any performance extraordinary. The look at the end result only. And if you cannot perform as much because of the situation you are in, they ask why you chose to be there in the first place, or why you did not leave when you found out about it.
I am curious — do you know other habits that really suck the joy out of your life, burn the creativity from your soul?