What Fuels Creators?

I am pretty much unemployable – in the traditional sense. In fact, most fulfilled writers, creatives and entrepreneurs eventually come to this conclusion either the easy way (never getting hired because they don’t follow rules, instructions, directions or orders and want to do things their own way) or the hard way (hating their employer, job, workplace, life enough to quit despite the risk of personal and financial ruin).

In between this beginning and end, they work their way through a slow and miserable death of the soul, suffering the tyranny of corporate life until they develop either the realization that there must be more to it all than this, or the balls to venture out on their own.

What is Ferocious Autonomy

What makes creatives and entrepreneurs so flighty when faced with the security (enslavement?) of a regular paycheck, clear directives and regular timing?

It’s the need for autonomy.

Autonomy or ‘the ability to make your own choices’ is a key factor in human happiness. It is so powerful that it’s benefits have been proven in medicine, business, relationships, education and parenting just to name a few.

It’s not just creatives, entrepreneurs and outliers (can we call them CEOs?) who crave autonomy. Everyone craves autonomy to a certain level, or in certain areas of their lives. CEOs though have more of an ability to stave off the terrifying possibility of failure, the desperate need for security, the crushing desire for routine and the aching loneliness required to see their vision through. The successful ones find themselves in a space of ferocious autonomy. The unsuccessful ones find themselves in creative desperation.

In ferocious autonomy, you have the power and the authority to make the things you want to happen a reality. Thoreau made the heartbreaking statement that

“The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation.”

So many would-be creatives live stifled, frantic lives in a place of little authority and little power. The space where sustainable creativity lives is ‘Ferocious Autonomy’, where both power (taken) and authority (given or created) are yours. To really make it in a world breathless for more successful creatives, entrepreneurs and outliers, you have to claim your power and command authority.

How to develop it  

Some smart scientists found out that the amount of motivation you have is directly related to the amount of autonomy you enjoy. To be highly motivated you have to be truly autonomous first, not the other way around. To make matters worse for us CEOs, motivation is one of the determining factors of creativity.

For example, I love writing and used to write constantly until I went out and got a job as a writer with a magazine. I wanted to write things I was interested in. The moment someone started telling me what to write and how to write it I would have preferred to jam a screwdriver in my eyeball than write another word. I quit.

No autonomy means no motivation. No motivation means poor creativity. It’s not a good place for us to be. That’s why the first rule for CEOs is not ‘Do what you love,” it’s

“Find the autonomy to do what you love.”

That’s why I write my own blog!


Autonomy is a fundamental requirement for motivation and creativity, and yet, to gain autonomy, you must either

  • master some level of skill and gain the power and authority to have autonomy, or,
  • you must be able to create the financial, physical and mental space to get out on your own and do your own thing.

In what areas of your life does autonomy matter most to you (no you can’t have it all!) and what level of autonomy do you have right now?

Do you have authority over your projects or are you a robot that operates when someone pushes a button? Likewise, do you give your people enough authority for them to be motivated in what they do or are you breathing heavily down their neck like a midnight stalker? Is your creativity being tortured to death by ‘have-tos’ and ‘shoulds’ or do you get to just ‘play’ every once in a while?

Where It All Goes Wrong

The tight-rope that CEOs must walk is this one: being self directed and playing to your own tune is key to your creative success but mistaking autonomy for complete and total independence from everyone and everything leads to isolation. What you end up with is too much of a good thing backfiring in your face.

Autonomy is also not anarchy or chaos. It’s not defying all the rules, regulations and laws to make things happen your way, it’s making choices within the boundaries that exist. If autonomy is the sane and functional bride that makes choices about dress color and seating arrangements, independence is the A-type overbearing Big Brother that you don’t talk to and Anarchy is the Crazy Uncle that nobody invites to the party.

Without a conscious effort for connection (more on that next week), you start out with autonomy and motivation and end up with loneliness and lousy relationships, that’s like pouring sugar in the trash to sweeten your tea.

2 thoughts on “What Fuels Creators?”

  1. Autonomy is a big factor, mostly due to the freedom it provides. Here’s another one that is highly relevant to me – Impact (on self and on others). On self, I need to do work that constantly grows and develops me. On others, I need to go to do work that results in strong impact on the things that matter to me, in other words, I need to do work that is purposeful and is aligned with my values. Most importantly, this impact needs to be tangible and measurable – I need to be able to directly feel it and witness it. This is what fuels my creativity.

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