There’s nothing wrong with doing your own thing but why limit yourself to what you only know when there is a room full of eager eyes, hungry hearts, and magic thinking. You have the beautiful honor of listening to others, molding new wonders and ideas, and imagining bigger and better.The essence of community is to gather all that is new and wonderful and understood—together.👇🏽 share your fav communities youre a part of
My dear friend Yetti asked me to be a part of her Self-Love series where we all wrote letters to our past selves to let them go and let them know we’re growing and safe now.I wrote to my past self from just a few months ago. Yes, as in who I was just a few months ago was a complete contrast to who I am now and she needed someone badly to help her out of her darkness.We talk about healing our inner child, our younger selves who needed the person we are now to console and comfort her, guide her and redirect her. But we don’t talk about healing our past selves just a moment ago, just a day ago, just a month ago. When we tell ourselves it’s a practice, it is quite literally not about seeing ourselves in different phases or levels to pursue (this isn’t a video game!) but rather seeing ourselves every single day. Practicing how to ask ourselves what are we feeling right now and what do we need from ourselves in this moment?
A personal think-piece on how creatives contribute in a status-structured society.
I was out one evening in Brooklyn for a friend’s birthday dinner. It was an intimate group of five and we were seated outside in a dimly lit corner. I knew some people in the group but not all, and yet, there was no doubt in my mind that this is the group I’d partake in really intellectually-stimulating conversations with that would have me craving for more because that’s the kind of people my friend, the birthday girl, reeled in. I lived for the sort of conversations that made you think deeper and want to lift under the hood of most previously-held assumptions to rewire all their intricacies. So it was no surprise that the conversation that left me wanting more that night was going to be the topic of this think piece.
Truthfully, I’m not exactly sure how we came to discuss “class” (I think it was along the lines of how money is perceived differently for each) and the political slash socio economic elements that demand further interrogation. As one comment led to another, someone brought up Ruby Payne’s "Understanding Poverty" chart, and off we went–-an entire table of five vocally-passionate individuals and with possibly a few drinks consumed by each now fully engaged in the throes of understanding class and wealth.
Following that evening, and after exchanging numbers, one of them sent a podcast episode from The Ezra Klein show titled, “We Build Civilizations on Status, But We Barely Understand It,” that related to many points of that evening’s conversation. After listening to all 40 minutes of it, and having multiple bouts of mindblown moments, I, a perpetual overthinker and analyzer, went down a mental spiral into what more this idea of “status” could mean, but specifically, what it could mean in my own life as a self-proclaimed Creative.
If status is this “fundamental human motive” that exists in our everyday lives, our every decision, the societal structures that build us, and the cultural norms that shape us, then how does this play in the context of a Creative–-someone who instinctively chooses to stray away from the ordinary path, even rebel against the social constructs?
And if status exists in the creative space, is there such a thing as determining creative status that constitutes how we contribute to society?
Status is a very loaded word. It can either mean a lot of things or be too vague and not mean anything at all, depending on the context of how it’s used and understood. I never thought about it much, other than considering it as general class distinctions (or nowadays, a Facebook announcement to your friends). But as I listened to this particular podcast episode, it widened my perspective of its meaning and made me think about what other ways “status” is unknowingly but effectively present in everything we do.
I do want to preface that I don’t entirely agree with all points made in this episode. It is not lost on me that this is a conversation between two white people that may have had privileged experiences to be able to strip the word down to its core definition, regardless of American historical context, such as the effects of colonialism and racism. It’s also difficult to maintain a bare perspective of status when wealth and class are so ingrained in American culture. One of the friends from the birthday dinner said it really well when she said, “I didn’t agree with everything, particularly how they discussed the departure of status signals being entrenched within wealth/class signifiers and how this generation is more about grassroots signaling (how informed/cultured / interesting are you)...I think class/wealth is still deeply intertwined in how we perceive status in our generation.” And to define status without these systems feels dubious. But for the purpose of this think-piece, I want to focus on the parts of the definition that explain status as a level of contribution to society, because this intrigues me particularly within the creative community.
Cecilia Ridgeway, the author of Status: Why Is It Everywhere? Why Does It Matter?, states that status is “basically the esteem that other people have for us, how we are seen by others, how we’re evaluated, the worth they attribute to us in the situation.” Even further, she affirms that “it exists in other people’s opinions of us. It’s the extent to which people in our group or community think of us as a person of worth and with something to offer.” By this definition, status is assigned to us rather than what we decide is our own role in society. It’s what is given to us based on our contribution to the greater whole and what really intrigues me is the fact that we don’t exactly have control over this. We don’t get a say in how people perceive our value to a group or community, even if we were to clearly state and know what our value is. In the end, the overall purpose of the group or community is to work together, and that is determined by all persons within this group, not our own decision alone.
By Ridgeway’s definition, values are predetermined within particular groups or communities that are not necessarily universal, but agreed upon by the majority. For example, if a particular group or community values speaking up but you aren’t someone who is comfortable speaking up, then consequently, your level of worth to this group is not as strong as someone else who is. Of course, when I first heard this I was uncomfortable to accept this fact. It seems too harsh and direct to categorize individuals by who belongs versus who doesn’t, simply for personality characteristics. However, when I really think about it, it actually becomes a mutual understanding of misaligned values and whether that is the group one is meant to belong to or not. While we can’t decide how and what a particular group values, we do get to decide how to contribute with other aligned values, or belong to another group altogether. This is where cultural norms come into play since we know that Western culture will differ greatly in what is valuable to society versus what Eastern culture deems acceptable.
Naturally, if we compare a specific quality in people as the basis of value to a group or community, then competitive tensions will arise and give way to the levels of status. The person who speaks up consistently and often will be viewed as higher in status compared to the one who speaks less frequently. The tensions will create the hierarchy of status on their own. And to gain status is to lean into contributing the values that matter within this group or community. With this point, there is power in how we use this to our benefit. We can play the “status game” to our advantage by discerning between the fact that it isn’t solely about winning over others’ perspectives and the fact that it is also within our control on what values we believe are worth contributing to this particular group. Proving our worth can be very powerful in itself.
While I’ve provided a very summed up version of my main takeaways from the podcast (I definitely recommend listening to the whole thing!), it certainly begs the question, what about status really matters? Who gets to justify its meaning? And ultimately, why does status matter to me as an individual? In the grand scheme of things, the goal is to thrive in and as a community, and what makes community work is how individuals operate together, as long as each individual feels that they are contributing something of worth. In the end, it is a matter of sense of security and belonging, and as humans, these are our natural motivators.
Now, for me to provide this additional layer of creative community, I first had to define my own social identity. Within the past year, I’ve struggled a lot with understanding my creativity and how I label myself as a “Creative” worthy enough to respond with when someone asks, “What do you do?” It’s the first time I’ve really had to confront what creativity means to me despite over six years in the space, but more importantly, how I identify as a “creative entrepreneur.” It feels overplayed, especially now in this new age of digital art and modern craft where being a creative and an entrepreneur is pretty typical for most (many would even argue that adding “creative” to any job title feels redundant or redactive). After all, creativity is a skill, not a talent. It can be learned, and through the many blends of digital platforms and mediums of expression, we all have the ability to do and be more of it. Then, what does it mean to be a Creative?
We'd like to believe that creativity exists in an ether devoid of limitations. However, being a Creative comes with much more accountability. Seth Godin, author of The Practice: Shipping Creative Work, defines a Creative as “a professional, able to conjure original thought on command.” We all can share ideas and find new ways to create change, make an impact, and use our voices (even digitally), but the main emphasis here is doing so “on command.” The key significance to being a Creative is to be able to utilize our creativity skill, intentionally and out loud.
As I thought further into this, it became increasingly challenging to validate the meaning for myself while also defining it for other people who have various understandings of the word. I kept asking myself, Is calling myself a Creative a declaration to my own work or is it a social signaling of how I identify myself outside of a job to everyone else? And who accredits my status as a Creative, if it’s not the audience that I’m sharing to? I mean, it could be other Creatives, but that feels unresolved since creativity spans many and diverse practices. Some would even argue that being a Creative should be a personal journey – “Isn’t the point of creating supposed to be a form of self-expression? Shouldn't that be enough reason to do the work?” The thing is, it’s not. Not unless it’s meant to be a title rather than a personal trait. As Seth Godin writes, a huge part of being a Creative is “shipping the work,” or in other words, publishing and putting a project out in the world. People have to see your work in order for you to show yourself as a Creative. In which case, part of the work is what you put out there and how you contribute to a greater whole. And being a Creative is essential to building community, regardless of passion or practice.
After some much back-and-forth reckoning, I now call myself a Creative in a lot of the work I do, even when the output feels uncertain. Though, it never fails to be a nagging reminder of whether or not I’m doing enough to be consistently Creative. Maybe that’s the struggle for all of us–there is no true determination of when one is a Creative and one isn’t, or whether we have to prove our value out loud or validate it for ourselves. And choosing how we ascertain our creative worth is powerful in itself.
So here we are. We understand status as the functioning structure of a civilization and we know being a Creative means sharing our original ideas and thoughts out into the world.
Funny enough, when I was trying to figure out what my first think-piece was going to be about, the idea came to me in a vacuum. After listening to the podcast, I was curious to know more and flirt with this idea of “status” further. What else could we apply the term to? How does it show up in our lives, personally? Then I thought about my own creative journey and the challenges I’ve grappled with in defining it for myself. Then it suddenly intersected: if status means the contribution to society and part of being a Creative is sharing out our work, then what does it mean to have a certain creative status? How do we contribute our Creative value to a particular group or community, knowing that it may not be received in all groups or communities? And more importantly, can we grow our own Creative worth when there are uncontrollable factors that predispose us to a certain status?
I ask all of these questions mostly to give myself a realistic expectation of what I can do versus what I can’t, and ease the pressure of constantly proving my creativity as if it were on an even level playing field as all other Creatives (because I don’t believe we’re on the same spectrum). But I also hope that by attempting to define “Creative Status,” it would help fellow Creatives understand that maybe it isn’t entirely up to us to uphold our own standards. Maybe that’s the inevitable tension between creative liberty and creative productivity–at some point, our creative value in the world only goes as far as what is considered a contribution to a particular group or community, until we’re left validating ourselves and assigning our own meaning to our Creative status. It’ll go from, “how am I contributing to the world, creatively?” to “what part of my creative work is meant for me and only me?”
I think there are a lot of intersecting elements to status and creativity that makes this a viable exploration because when we consider status as a game of coordination among individuals within a particular group or community, then we must also understand that collaboration is an essential part of elevating creative community. We have to work with others in order to share and expand on new ideas that contribute to a larger, cooperating goal. Coordination and collaboration is the song and dance for a healthy community, which means creative status is part of the process.
Then there’s the idea of “performing.” Whether we’re talking about status or creative spaces, individuals are expected to perform in some way in order to prove the value of their work. We perform because we want to contribute. We contribute because we care. We care because it is a human motive to belong and feel secure in spaces we exist in. Performance–and I don’t mean performance optics–is the means of communicating our value. Whether it’s visual or vocal, we contribute based on what and how we perform.
So what determines creative status? It could possibly be the level of output–your ability to ship and share the work, and how much it's valued within a particular group of community. Some groups will receive and respond. Some may not. But as we’ve understood earlier, being a Creative means discerning when and where this distinction matters. And if status is defined as contribution to society, then maybe consistent output is a form of elevating your creative status, whatever that may be. The point is, there is significant importance to the ways we contribute to society as Creatives, but the status structures we exist in will determine how far that contribution goes and how it ultimately matters.
And your job is to decide what that means to your own process.