We all secretly believe that we’re geniuses. Come on. Yes we do. The problem is that the rest of the world doesn’t always acknowledge our brilliance, and as a result many of us have been forced into taking menial jobs, where we push our creativity deep down inside ourselves, hiding it away so we can get through the day. The thing about creativity though is that, much like severe heartburn, it’s not easily suppressed; I’ve always believed that if you are truly, inherently creative, your weirdness will come bubbling out into whatever job you have, whether you want it to or not.
The perfect example of this is Dr. Seuss. During the Great Depression, Seuss supported himself and his young wife by drawing advertisements for companies like General Electric, Ford, Standard Oil and NBC. We’re not talking about selling the Eight-Nozzled Elephant-Toted Boom Blitzer here; Seuss’ early ads were for more “practical” things like Ajax Cups, General Electric Convenience Outlets, Essomarine Oil, and Flit Insect Repellent. And yet, despite the mundane nature of these products, Seuss produced some incredibly creative ads, pieces that displayed just as much imagination as his later, more famous work. For example, in one of his more surreal inserts, a man roasting in the pits of hell informs Satan that if he really wanted to turn up the heat down there, he should contact GE and install electricity, while in another ad, a colorful parade of germs declare “Down With Ajax Cups” as they march into a common drinking glass. Despite it’s decidedly odd nature, Seuss’ work was quite popular; his ads for Flit Insect Repellent, which contained images of people being menaced by sinister, whimsical insects, became a cultural phenomenon long before he was famous for writing children’s books.
Another artist whose eccentricities seeped into their day job was Jack White, the founder of the White Stripes. Before he ascended to the highest echelons of rockstardom, Jack was an upholsterer in Detroit, where he spent his days cutting, measuring and sewing fabric. Like Dr. Seuss, Jack brought his own unique sensibilities to bear on his work. He started his own business called Third Man Upholstery where his slogan was, “Your Furniture Is Not Dead.” Jack only used black, white and yellow in everything Third Man Upholstery did; he had a yellow, black and white uniform, van, business cards, tool belt, even his entire workshop was adorned in those three colors. Jack didn’t stop there though – he would sew poetry into the furniture he would upholster, messages for future upholsterers, and he would even write bills for his customers with crayons. As he says of this last particular habit, “I starting trying to make an art form out of giving someone a bill for my services, like writing it with crayon on a piece of paper, or having a yellow piece of paper with black marker saying you owe me $300.” Despite his unorthodox business practices, Third Man Upholstery allowed Jack to scrape together enough money to record his demo, and escape into another life altogether.
Many people also go the other way, using their creativity to channel the boredom and depression of their job into art. My favorite example of this is Kurt Vonnegut, who used to do public relations for General Electric. (Also, what’s with General Electric hiring all these brilliant artists for their marketing division?) This job influenced several of his earlier works, most explicitly the short story FUBAR, which is about Fuzz Littler, a PR man for GF&F. Fuzz is the victim of a horrible, mind-numbing job; he is consumed by despair and boredom until he is finally saved by his young secretary, the perky Francine Pefko. If anything, the story reads like the workplace fantasy of someone who is perpetually dreaming of an escape. Also, the rhetoric of General Electric, which Vonnegut was so familiar with, was a major influence on his first novel, Player Piano, which explored a version of the future where massive corporations and automated labor had supplanted human society. Part of the book’s effectiveness as a satirical piece comes from its use of GE marketing copy; the future that Vonnegut describes is what the world would look like if you took one of General Electric’s press releases from the early 50’s and literally brought it to life.
So you see, your creativity will find a way to flourish, whether it manifests itself in your job, or whether you use it to channel your anger and frustration. The most important thing is for you to not to give up. Still not sure? Remember the wise words of Dr. Seuss: “And will you succeed? Yes indeed, yes indeed! Ninety-eight and three-quarters percent guaranteed!”