A beautiful constraint.
I’ve loved this phrase since I first came across it as a 2015 book title by Adam Morgan and Mark Barden. It invites me to take a fresh look at what intuitively feels negative. And then explore the possibility of more than ‘making do’. How can I resist?
Children’s stories often include the poor hero or heroine in dire circumstances finding something of real worth. And that changes everything. But I don’t think our opportunity is just about finding the spot marked X on a buried treasure map.
This is much more profound. It invites us to see our circumstances differently, to value what is not rather than only what is. Or what we think needs to be. And in doing so releasing creativity which has the scent of wonderfulness…
However, I recognise that too often my response comes from a sense of lack: “I can’t because…” This has been partly shaped by the tough years we have been through as a family. But also by our world of apparent abundance with the meta-message of “If only I had…then…”
So I want to dig deeper, to release a fresh expression of abundance, which I suspect we all need.
Challenge our assumptions
Paradoxically, it is when we are faced with constraints – what we don’t have, what blocks us, what hems us in – that we have the greatest opportunities to really see clearly. If we’re brave enough to look.
Facing adversity forces us to ask more searching questions. To open up our underlying assumptions about ourselves, what’s really important, and what it would take to get where we need to go.
Second century Roman Emperor and Stoic writer, Marcus Aurelius, wrote “The impediment to action advances the action. What stands in the way becomes the way.”
Eighteen centuries later psychiatrist and Holocaust survivor Viktor Frankl published Man’s Search for Meaning . This crucially identified our inbuilt drive to find life’s “potential meaning under any conditions”. He realised that circumstances, however horrendous, didn’t need to define us.
So why do I think as I do? How real is it anyway? And how much have I inadvertently taken on board from the sea of values in which I swim every day?
Stripping this away can be amazingly liberating. My perception of reality subtly shifts and I find myself starting to breathe more deeply. What was a glass half empty now looks a lot more full…
“Out of loss, there can be creative gain.” The insights from Scott Barry Kaufman and Caroline Gregoire in Wired to Create are worth studying. The quality of creative output of artists and others suffering significant adversity is breathtaking. Not that we should look for suffering, but the inspirational fruit can be remarkable.
Having to push through means we have to dig deeper inside ourselves. It’s there.
We do have the capacity to search for more creative solutions than maybe we currently believe. In going beyond our current boundaries we find fresh insights and potential for genuine innovation.
This is the space of real creation, where we experiment with ‘what happens if…’ without being wedded to the outcome because we have nothing to lose. In reality we probably wouldn’t go there if we didn’t have to. But then we’d miss the abundance we weren’t expecting…
So perhaps its worth embracing constraints that offer us a creative space to go beyond the obvious. This invisible gift is the central message of A Beautiful Constraint. The book’s subtitle How to transform your limitations into advantages, and why it’s everyone’s business tells you it’s really practical. Enjoy – even if you only carry the title with you!
Yes, it takes more effort and emotional labour. Sometimes I have longed for a nice easy solution to some of the challenges we have faced… But then I look at the clarity, focus and creativity that has been released along the way. And smile.
After all, you are reading this today…