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Learning as a Way of Life: Foster Creativity

To survive in an era of great disruption, we need to be nimble, flexible, resilient and open to new experiences. But how do we accomplish this?

Aug 08 , 2017

Image of child speaking into a tube

Learning as a Way of Life: Part 2
Reimagining Yourself: Fostering Creativity, Play, Curiosity and Imagination

Last week’s “Learning as a Way of Life” post explored how we are navigating an era of exponential change.  Today, Cathy Maris, Director of Community Programs, considers how creativity, play, curiosity and imagination can help people of all ages flourish in a rapidly changing world.


"Improvisation, composition, writing, painting, theater, invention, all creative acts are forms of play, the starting place of creativity
in the human growth cycle, and one of the great primal life functions. Without play, learning and evolution are impossible.”

– Stephen Nachmanovitch, Free Play: Improvisation in Life and Art

I’ve become more and more convinced that to survive in an era of great disruption, we need to be nimble, flexible, resilient and open to new experiences. But, how do we accomplish this when tremendous change threatens our understanding of how the world works, our sense of where we belong and perhaps our livelihoods and even our identity?

I believe the answer is to heed the writer Anna Quindlen, who advised the 1999 graduating class of Mount Holyoke College: “Remember yourself, from the days when you were younger and rougher and wilder, more scrawl than straight line. Remember all of yourself, the flaws and faults as well as the many strengths.”

Having spent much of my career in lifelong learning working with young children and families, I have observed that we come into the world equipped to handle the unknown beautifully. When you are young, much of life is unfamiliar. Yet most children navigate it with enthusiasm and surprising competence given the short of amount of time they’ve lived on the earth. Children are naturally playful. They are curious. They are joyful explorers who can spend vast quantities of time studying things that pass the notice of adults, like bugs and clouds and bubbles. They tend to have outstanding imaginations, readily envisioning themselves as astronauts and princesses and monster-vanquishing heroines. Playfulness, curiosity and imagination are all important facets of creativity. If allowed to flourish and if coupled with skill-building and scaffolding from adults or peers, these traits can feed into a rich adult creative life. These attributes are also at the heart of deep, meaningful learning.

Creativity, playfulness, curiosity and imagination also have another incredible power. Even as an adult, I have noticed that when I am curious about something; when I feel a sense of enthusiasm to know more; when I am moved to deepen my understanding through creative expression like writing, drawing or taking pictures; when I engage with something in a spirit of open-minded inquiry; uncertainty and discomfort begin to melt away. In my experience, creativity, playfulness, curiosity and an imaginative spirit vanquish the fear of the unknown.

And yet, so many of us lose touch with these qualities as we become adults. This is concerning because creativity, playfulness, curiosity and imagination can bring great meaning and joy to life. They may also help people succeed professionally. For instance, experts in fields as diverse as education, business, psychology, medicine, engineering, design and the arts have argued that creativity is among the most important attributes needed to thrive in an uncertain world where we cannot predict the jobs or challenges of the future. So how do we awaken and grow these facets of ourselves?

If you seek to add more creativity, playfulness, curiosity and imagination to your life, I encourage you to re-envision these traits not simply as the domain of the young or of a small subset of talented adult “creatives,” but rather as an inherent part of being human. Recognize that creativity can be expressed in every area of life from art to music to science to cooking and parenting. Step out of your comfort zone and seek unfamiliar experiences that will make you pay attention and wonder. Ask questions and question the answers. Experiment with new ways of doing things, whether walking down a different path with your dog or approaching a work challenge from a new angle. Immerse yourself in an activity for the sheer joy of the experience, rather than for any goal. Try something you are a complete novice at and pay attention to what it feels like to not know. Study with the masters of play and creativity, the young children in your life. Find a community of people who share your commitment to creative exploration, like the many instructors and students at the Glasscock School.

Re-envisioning yourself as more creative, playful, curious and imaginative requires facing discomfort, risk and a fear of being vulnerable. However, it is enormously rewarding and may be one of the best strategies you can embrace for surviving and thriving in a rapidly changing world.

I also believe that the ability to reinvent oneself throughout life is essential to flourish amidst great change. In my next blog post, I will explore how to embrace the art of reinvention.

•    Learn more about the many courses we offer that foster personal creativity and professional creativity and related traits across the lifespan (including play and creativity in early childhood education through our School Literacy and Culture Department). We offer opportunities to boost creativity, playfulness, curiosity and imagination at every stage of life.

Image above, courtesy of C. Maris

Cathy Maris, Director of Community Programs, Glasscock School of Continuing Studies

Director of Personal Development, Cathy Maris