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Keep Looking, Stay Curious

by 5 Oct 2019Culture, Education

For this parents letter I have decided to share something from my recent graduate address, as it has become somewhat of a personal motto for me as we are preparing to enter the next decade of the third millennium. A large part of the courses I teach venture into the art (the overly complex and challenging art) of ‘adult-ing’. Interrogating how one can build and develop a well-balanced, self-sustained, happy, healthy professional adulthood. In fact, it is precisely this front-row access to the live-action growing-up of students that forms the most exciting part of our day-to-day jobs as lecturers.

It is unfortunate, however, that our broader culture celebrates and promotes only one particular type of growing-up. A specific growing-up that is relentlessly driven by Performance – measuring ones worth only by the amount of overtime you work, the amount of all-nighters you pull and the amount of social and family gatherings you miss due to the ‘importance’ of your work. It is driven by Success that persistently pushes towards so-called ‘perfection’, resulting in a scarcity mindset in which nothing, not even ourselves, are ever good enough. This type of growing-up tends to be silencing and diminishing as it constantly pressures us to pretend, perform and please others by prioritizing acceptance far above self-love.

When looking critically at this particular way of growing up it becomes clear that what we are growing is merely but Ego. An Ego that is outward-facing, knows all the answers and never dares to be wrong. By growing this impenetrable armour of Ego we impair our capacity for learning, curiosity, discovery and exploration. While growing-up into Ego we are sacrificing the valuable tools we require for dealing with uncertainty.

It is this Ego-drive, specifically, that presents the biggest challenges facing creatives. For if there is one thing certain about the creative process, it is that creativity ONLY flourishes in uncertainty and ALWAYS grows from a place of not-knowing. As opposed to Ego, creativity and innovation demands vulnerability, curiosity, courage and a willingness to be wrong.

When future-proofing our creative selves it is vital to shift our focus away from this type of growing-up and to rather hone in on a purposeful sense of growing down. Just as a tree can only grow as big as its downward root system allows it access to deep, nourishing soil, so too one’s ability to grow into greatness requires the hard work and dedication to grow down into one’s authentic self.

Growing down means asking questions, even if the answers might not be simple. Growing down means staying in the present even when it is filled with discomfort. Growing down means putting a stake in the ground at the risk of standing out or being different. Growing down means growing congruency, purpose, true connection, self-awareness and self-acceptance. Growing down, however, is no simple task, especially in a world that is fuelled by distraction and avoidance rather than engagement.

As communities of learning, family and friendship it is our shared duty to remind each other of the importance of growing down. The poet Roger Keyes does so by evoking the memory of the 19th century Japanese artist Katsushika Hokusai in his famous poem Hokusai Says (2015).

Hokusai says Look carefully.
He says pay attention, notice.
He says keep looking, stay curious.
He says there is no end to seeing.
He says Look Forward to getting old.
He says keep changing, you just get more who you really are.
He says get stuck, accept it, repeat yourself as long as it’s interesting.
He says keep doing what you love.
He says keep praying.
He says every one of us is a child, every one of us is ancient, every one of us has a body.
He says every one of us is frightened.
He says every one of us has to find a way to live with fear.
He says everything is alive –shells, buildings, people, fish, mountains, trees.
Wood is alive.
Water is alive.
Everything has its own life.
Everything lives inside us.
He says live with the world inside you.
He says it doesn’t matter if you draw, or write books.
It doesn’t matter if you saw wood, or catch fish.
It doesn’t matter if you sit at home and stare at the ants on your veranda
or the shadows of the trees and grasses in your garden.
It matters that you care.
It matters that you feel.
It matters that you notice.
It matters that life lives through you.
Contentment is life living through you.
Joy is life living through you.
Satisfaction and strength is life living through you.
Peace is life living through you.
He says don’t be afraid.
Don’t be afraid.
Look, feel, let life take you by the hand.
Let life live through you.

As an institution we are realizing now, more than ever before, our responsibility to foster a learning environment in which caring matters, in which feeling matters, in which noticing matters immensely. While primarily concerned with preparing students with the appropriate skills and knowledge demanded by the future needs of the creative industries, our task is guided by an awareness that we can only do so through holding a space that offers safety and support required by growing down. We do not take this safety and support to mean that learning should be comfortable, or that assumptions should remain unchallenged – on the contrary this responsibility demands us to often sit in spaces of discomfort, suspended in more questions than answers. Yet we firmly believe that when we manage to replace our fear of the unknown with curiosity, there is no end to the potential depth and value one could acquire through learning.

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