Pressure may boost productivity. Creativity, however, comes from a different place.
For example, when looking for ideas for a book cover illustration or an advertising campaign, time pressure or the pressure to succeed can fire us up. It bundles our concentration. We are focused and don’t allow distractions.
It’s not the case, however, that creativity strikes us precisely because we’re under pressure. Ideas are not born out of pressure but with it.
“Creativity is intelligence having fun.” Albert Einstein
Creative thinking arises from the urge and joy of discovery and creation. It originates from silence, being alone, and spending time with our thoughts. That’s why brainstorming sessions in a group are far less effective than if each participant works quietly on their own at first. We can find compelling examples in the book by Jake Knapp “Sprint – How to solve problems and test new ideas in just five days”.
What we can develop, however, is the ability to access creative, solution-oriented thinking under stressful situations. But this is only possible because we have practiced it before in a pressure-free environment till it becomes an unconscious habit (thinking of Mr. Miyagi: “wax on, wax off”).
When I decided to start freelancing as an illustrator over ten years ago, fear was a constant companion for a long time—the challenges of making a living doing what I love most seemed enormous.
After turning down a permanent contract with a global fashion brand and thus financial stability, I started from scratch. I had no personal illustration style, no portfolio, no contacts, and of course, no clients. All I had was my savings, which would only keep my head above water for a few months with a modest lifestyle, on the one hand, and my dream, on the other. This dream had stuck, and it would not let go of me now.
During these months, I woke up several times sweating and breathing heavily. In my dreams, I had given up on my goal. I found myself in a job interview or the office at one of my past jobs. It was a nightmare. That doesn’t mean that working there was a nightmare—quite the opposite. But the feeling of having given up my deep desire made me panic.
Those nightmares, and the fact that my savings were melting away over time, really chased me out of bed to my desk early in the morning. Who knows if I could be living my dream job as an illustrator today without that good dose of anxiety?
Looking back, I appreciate the pressure and value it for the future. Feeling fear can be a sign that we are right on track. It means we are serious, and it matters to us. Instead of paralyzing and blocking us, what scares us now can give us the last bit of motivation to get exactly where we want to go.