You are what you create

“You must go to a lot of festivals, don’t you?” I got asked today again. Now that I work from a coworking office, this happens all the time. Because of my flashy multicolored clothes everyone thinks I’m a crazy old hippie who only likes to party.

Now a part of me is indeed a crazy old hippie, and I have nothing against festivals. I’ve never been to one, but it’s certainly on my bucketlist. It just struck me how everyone asks about the most commercial aspect of hippie life. No one ever said “You look like someone who paints a lot”, or “Do you write poetry?”, or “You must wonder a lot about what it all means”.

The same thing happens when people talk about themselves. It’s almost never about something they did, made, or created, and almost always about something they saw, bought, or listened to. I’m lucky to work in a startup accelerator where everyone creates new things for a living, yet even there, people mostly talk about the movies they’ve watched, concerts and festivals they’ve been to, or books and articles they’ve read.

Yuval Noah Harari observed this trend already a few years ago

In his book Sapiens, he wrote:

In recent decades, national communities have been increasingly eclipsed by tribes of customers who do not know one another intimately but share the same consumption habits and interests, and therefore feel part of the same consumer tribe – and define themselves as such.

Yuval Noah Harari, Sapiens

This quote might have reminded you of Apple fanboys, lining up for hours to be the first one who buys a new phone. But it goes much deeper than this. A lot of people who make fun of Apple fans will happily line up for the stadium to see Metallica or Real Madrid, or for the cinema when a new Star Wars movie goes out. They will wear the same clothes as everyone around them, exchange the same inside jokes, and feel a sense of belonging in a crowd of people they’ve never met before, and will probably never see again.

I don’t think any of these is a bad thing. My phone, tablet, and laptop are all Apple, I loved Star Wars ever since I was a kid, and I was delighted to sing Nothing Else Matters in a stadium along with 40.000 other folks. I recently stopped aspiring to be a minimalist and sometimes buy clothes I could live without only so that the company that makes them doesn’t stop existing.

It’s perfectly fine to consume, but it can’t alone make your whole identity

If who you are is only what you consume, you might feel like something is missing. I know this was the case for me. People are born to create, and there’s a need in us that only creating can fill, no matter how many latest gadgets you buy. It’s not just about art or poetry. To create also means to figure out your own way to do things, to propose a novel solution to some problem, to combine elements that weren’t designed to work together.

It’s inherently satisfying to work this way, yet it won’t happen by accident. In hunter-gatherer tribes people had no choice to improvise all the time, their own lives depended on it. Now the default option is to go straight from a cookie-cutter university course to a cookie-cutter office job where all rules and responsibilities are clearly defined. At school and in many corporate jobs creativity is punished, and it makes everyone miserable.

It wouldn’t be that much of a problem if people could counterbalance it with creating before or after work. But this time fills up automatically too before we even notice. Unless you deliberately stop it, the default choice is always one more Netflix episode or YouTube video to watch, one more funny picture to laugh at, one more advertisement to click on.

Modern world doesn’t give us much space to be creators. We can only consciously create this space ourselves. It is totally worth it, and gives a kind of satisfaction that’s hard to find otherwise.

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