I was recently hired as a consultant/Creative Director for a company that tasked me with reinventing the aesthetic of their existing marketing materials, along with transforming their brand identity. I was somehow duped—or way too idealistic—in thinking that the somewhat stodgy corporate atmosphere would be welcoming to such changes, but jobs are hard to get in NY and I needed the money so I took the position. Everyday in the office felt laborious, and I quickly learned that everyone on the team that I was assigned to manage was bi-lingual – they spoke negatively as much as they could. People routinely used disparaging words to wither any flourishing idea that was presented, with the catchphrases in their vernacular being, “You can’t do that”, “We’ve never used that type of font”, “Trust me, they’re not going to like that”. It all came to a head one day when my direct report looked over concepts for a project I submitted and exclaimed, “I think you’re too creative.”
Like, really? Too creative? And you hired me to do what again?
A week later I tendered my resignation.
After sharing the conversation with a close friend of mine, he said something that really stuck with me. “Wayne, it’s good that you didn’t allow them to make your creativity atrophy”. It resonated like a thousand lightning bolts striking at one time. I realized quickly that this indeed was happening. That context was degenerating my talent and malnourishing my creativity.
My departure from that company was not instigated by cowardice; I was unwilling to have my creativity sequestered and learned quickly that change was not welcomed at any level there. Also, I’ve become comfortable with not allowing myself to be anesthetized or unfairly edited by people who would rather huddle around contemplating what can’t and hasn’t been done instead of lunging toward the possibilities of the future. The past is often only useful to inform us how to be better in the future, but oftentimes leaders are plagued with optical atrophy and their lack of vision causes a shortsightedness that confines and does not compel. Their cataracts cast the type of opacity that only allows one to rely on the images in their memory instead of seeing what can be.
Common causes of this type of atrophy occur when a group of people decides not to be stretched intellectually, emotionally and spiritually. These people avoid tough questions, hate to consider new things, and are comfortable with decreasing responsibility and activity. In a family, it could be sugar-coating obvious dysfunctions. In a company or organization, it could be a play-it-safe approach that nurtures status quo. In a church, it could be the weightlessness that followers experience because they are not attached to the gravitational pull of the mission of the kingdom. In all cases, aging occurs and becomes painfully apparent, resulting in fragmented marriages, stalled growth, and an absence of vibrancy. As a pastor, I know that this is why many churches are ineffective. Have you ever seen atrophied toes? All disfigured and crazy looking? How antithetical that is of the picture Isaiah 52:7 gives us of a people who are on mission with the gospel,“How beautiful on the mountains are the feet of the messenger who brings good news, the good news of peace and salvation, the news that the God of Israel reigns!”
If you feel yourself quickly antiquating in a culture that has long lost its elasticity and its reflex, I’m not suggesting that you bail. I’m not saying leave your family [don’t you dare do that!] or leave your job [weigh the cost]. To change, you must acknowledge that you don’t have to be strangled by negativity that cripples you till you can only hobble toward an exit after mustering enough passion to shift toward living more resolutely. Maybe what you face today just requires a conversation, a hug, an extension of forgiveness, or a few more weeks of simply smiling to relax the stiff atmosphere. Or, it could require you to calculatedly do something more drastic, as I did.
Perhaps it’s time for you to model Caleb in the Scriptures, who never atrophied in what we’d now consider the geriatric age of 85. It may just take getting a ‘different spirit’. Why run for the hills when you can have enough vision to ask for the mountain? [Joshua 14: 6-12] So loosen up okay?