// 14 mins read
Hey friends – as we all weather these uncertain times, we’d like to introduce you to a friend of ours by the name of Jessica Carson. You may see her pop up at our Assembly Required series, and today we want to give you a sneak peek into her passion for mental health, specifically as it relates to creatives.
Enjoy her guest post below and please don’t stop reading. There’s a follow-up webinar that you’re invited to join at the bottom of this article!
Botticelli’s Primavera — painted during the Renaissance, shortly after the Black Death ended.
Pandemics are nothing new. Bubonic plague, smallpox, yellow fever, cholera, and other diseases have danced their way through our ancestral bloodstream for millennia.
And yet, the spirit of humanity has persisted. Through the darkness, isolation, and fear, the wheel of creation has not only continued to turn, but hum. Indeed, illness may not be an inhibitor of innovation, but an invitation for innovation.
History has spelled out, time and again, the catalytic effects of darkness on the creative process. The Black Death (1347-1351) devastated Europe and Asia—but was promptly followed by the Renaissance, an inimitable epoch for art, architecture, literature, and culture.
The Great Plague of London (1665-1666) hit while twenty-something-year-old Issac Newton was studying at Cambridge, forcing him to retreat to his parent’s country home. During this period of quarantine, Newton experienced the most intellectually fruitful years of his life, creating his theories of calculus, optics, and gravity.
When we look at nature, we witness this same recipe for creation: add a seed to a dark, damp, cool environment, surround it with blackness, separate it from others, and give it time. What emerges in relatively short order is a brightly colored sprout—quite in contrast to the black soil from which it emerged—spindling up toward the light.
The fertility found in darkness and isolation cannot be underestimated. Whether we like it or not, are now being invited to take the same journey as our ancestors – the journey into darkness to emerge with what will be the next generation of creation.
Here are three ways the Coronavirus will affect creators and entrepreneurial activity:
1. Coronavirus as a forced collective depression
Like the incubators that develop companies, the Coronavirus is shepherding us into a literal incubation. In a way, it’s as if we are all entering a collective depression—and that may be exactly what we need.
Evolutionary psychologists propose that depression has not been weeded out from our collective gene pool because it can confer an adaptive advantage onto its carriers—it can be viewed as an energy conservation mechanism. An individual in the midst of depression will socially isolate, assess their environment, and think deeply about the most pressing problem at hand.
While depression can obviously have maladaptive consequences, it can also offer adaptive advantages in the form of deep, analytical thinking, like writing a book, coding an app, or engaging in other contemplative activities. Many a creative mind has been touched by depression for this very reason—when harnessed properly, it can become a creative catalyst.
For example, I experienced depressed affect and low energy during a significant stretch of writing my book, Wired This Way. While I had little interest in happy hour or yoga class, I was infatuated with the hypothesis I was developing around the book—it was all I could think about! While my social capital took a hit during the book writing process, the energy I conserved by focusing exclusively on the book resulted in a beautiful creative output.
- Reflect on proactive problems, ideas, or creative projects you would like to “stew on” in this downtime.
- Model the slow routine of your favorite historical creator—like walks in the garden, tea time, afternoon nap, artistic contemplation, and the like.
- Work on one or two new creations during quarantine that you would otherwise not have the time or energy to create.
2. Coronavirus as a natural innovation stabilizer
The 2010s were characterized by breakneck innovation. Gleaming, blazing, catch-me-if-you-can innovation with few safeties, breaks, or checkpoints. But like the lush yet invasive Kudzu vine that’s overtaken the south to devastating environmental consequences, the process of untamed innovation will invoke a natural course-correction.
In nature, the theory of ecological balance proposes that natural systems prefer homeostasis, and that any dramatic changes to balance will be corrected by a negative feedback mechanism. This isn’t to suggest that Coronavirus is here to punish innovators, but it will serve as a corrective force—urging us to stop, slow down, prioritize, and proceed in a more intentional, sustainable manner.
Whether this process of innovation stabilization results in a change to your core product or a simple work process (many a meme has trickled across the internet lamenting “all of those meetings could have been emails”), we should welcome these organic invitations for homeostasis. As I type these words in my pajama pants, I can’t help but think of the things that have become unnecessary: make-up, shaving cream, and work meetings. Fortunately or unfortunately, the unnecessary will be eliminated, but it will also give us the opportunity to purge, clarify, and re-align—whether that’s to your closet or your business is up to you.
- Consider what is necessary (products, processes, etc.).
- Consider what is not necessary (products, processes, etc.).
- Visualize how your company, work product, or culture might look different on the other side of this quarantine.
3. Coronavirus as a invitation for creative self-study
The past few years have been littered with examples of “creators behaving badly.” From misfired tweets to hellacious festivals to bald-faced lies, creators have been so understandably swept up in this era of innovation that time for self-reflection ironically seems like a narcissistic luxury. As a result, many of the individuals creating the next version of reality are blind to their own truth.
In a way, this quarantine is inviting us into a period of navel-gazing. Though the term self-study may induce squirmy fidgeting in some, we’re nonetheless being invited to turn our attention inward and ask ourselves some long-overdue questions: Who am I? How do I want to lead? Why am I doing this work? What mark do I want to leave on the world?
I’m pleased to announce that I’ve published a book, Wired This Way, on this very topic. While I was rather discouraged at first to be launching a book in the midst of a global pandemic, I have come to understand the timing as uncannily perfect. I firmly believe that we will come out of this with more intentional creations and heightened self-awareness as creators—and in a way, we couldn’t ask for a greater gift.
Wired This Way is a call to self-study for creators. It’s a nurturing, compassionate guide to the entrepreneurial spirit, and makes the case that the light and dark within entrepreneurs are two sides of the same coin. The mental, emotional, physical, and spiritual distress among creators is not an indication of brokenness, but of a rich inner complexity that’s prone to imbalance—and the solution doesn’t come from without, but from within. I share my own messy story, as well as the stories of those I’ve had the honor of creating alongside, and have concluded that there is nothing wrong with any of us… we’re just wired this way.
To explore the practice of self-study as a creator, purchase Wired This Way as your quarantine reading.
Jessica Carson is a writer, speaker, teacher, innovation executive, and author of Wired This Way. She is currently an Expert in Residence at Georgetown University and Director of Innovation at the American Psychological Association as the first person to hold each of those roles. Previously, Jessica worked in startups and venture capital, and was a Neuroscience & Psychology Research Fellow at the National Institutes of Health. She lives in Washington D.C. with her cat, Cleopatra.
Join The Webinar
As a continuation of this conversation, ThreeSixtyEight and Jessica Carson are planning to do a joint-hosted webinar expanding on the above topic. Please join us April 2nd at 12pm CT, where we will be covering, “Creators in the Time of Coronavirus” and discussing the following below:
- Learn the historical context of creators in times of crisis, sickness & isolation
- Explore the parallels between coronavirus & depression — and how this can work in your favor
- Gather learnings & practices that can help you emerge from this time even stronger