Most creatives I meet are naturally independent people. They have unique ideas, strong personal vision, and a deep sense of their creative self. That independence is undoubtedly valuable…but not if it comes at the cost of interdependence. Today, I want to discuss what I mean by that, and explore the power of interdependence in creativity.
Independence vs. interdependence
At the most basic level, independence is total self-reliance, while interdependence includes reliance on (and support of) others.
The independence ideal
I have a good friend who is on a strong “independence kick” right now. She has a very “I-can-do-it-and-I-don’t-need-anyone’s-help” mindset. She doesn’t want to rely on anything (and I mean anything) external to help move her forward: no input, no validation, no help, no support. She justifies this (at least partially) by saying that her creative work needs to be her own—that if she lets other people help her, it wouldn’t really “count,” and she wouldn’t be a true artist.
I think most creatives can understand this mindset. After all, wouldn’t life be so much easier if we never had to rely on anyone else? If we could just count on ourselves to learn everything, be everything, and do everything necessary for us to succeed? We would never be betrayed, never be resentful of others, never feel like other people were holding us back.
The problem is: it doesn’t work that way.
The reality of independence and interdependence
While extreme independence can stem from any number of things (including natural tendency), I’ve discovered that it’s also very common for it to show up as a reaction to low self-esteem.
The thought process would be something like this:
“I feel bad because of what that person did or said.”
“I don’t want to feel bad because of what other people say or do.”
“It doesn’t matter what other people say or do.”
“I don’t need other people to validate or help me.”
“I don’t need other people…at all.”
This thought process is rooted in something good and helpful: the desire to be in charge of your own attitude, feelings, and destiny. But when the pendulum swings from radical insecurity to radical independence, it simply introduces a new set of problems.
The reality is that there is a place for both independence and interdependence. You can love yourself and love others. You can trust your instinct and value external insight. When you have an innate sense of both your individual worth and the pricelessness of strong relationships, you have multiple sources of strength, instead of just one.
The power of interdependence in creativity
I’ve found that the power of interdependence in creativity is based on three main benefits: knowledge, perspective, and growth.
My latest creative interest is electronic music. I love expressing myself in a whole new way, exploring new sounds and sound combinations, and just creating something that is profound and meaningful to me and (hopefully) to others.
Of course, when I first started, I knew nothing about electronic music. I still don’t, in many ways. I’m still very much in the learning process when it comes to music theory, software (and hardware, for that matter), and just about every other aspect of the industry.
Which is why I have someone to teach me.
My teacher/mentor isn’t doing the work for me. He’s just sharing his knowledge with me so that I can use it and apply it to my own creative efforts. I’m relying on him—on his knowledge, his training, his experience—to help me get to a place where I can create something I’m proud of.
Could I have just stumbled my way through and eventually figured everything out on my own? Maybe, maybe not. But leveraging the power of interdependence has made my learning much more efficient and much more intentional.
It’s okay to rely on others to give you the knowledge you need. It’s okay to admit that you “don’t know.” Someone has the knowledge you need, and they can share it with you so that you can eventually learn to stand on your own two creative feet.
Perspective is powerful. The way you see yourself, others, and the world around you colors everything you do. And sometimes, our perspectives get shaped by things we’d rather not be shaped by: mental illness, unlucky circumstances, the poor choices of others, etc. Your perspective could very easily be leading you in a direction you don’t want to go, and you might not even realize it.
Sometimes, a change in perspective is required. And there’s really no better way to do that than to listen to someone else’s perspective.
Find someone who has an outlook on life that you appreciate and would like to adopt. Talk to them about where that perspective comes from. Ask them to share their unique perspective with you. Listen carefully, and use what they say to guide your own thinking down a more productive path.
If it starts a debate, great! Conflicting ideas are nothing to be afraid of, as long as you both commit to keeping things civil and respectful, and stay open to the other person’s ideas.
A new perspective can change everything. It can fuel your creative work as it introduces thoughts and ideas that you never would have come up with on your own.
A huge part of the power of interdependence in creativity comes from its ability to support healthy and sustainable growth.
If you are going to plant a tree in your backyard, you don’t just take the young tree and stick it in the ground. You support it with wooden stakes that will help it grow straight and strong while its roots take hold.
Similarly, it sometimes benefits us to rely on the strength of those around us as we are trying to grow. Other people can hold us up when we would otherwise be knocked down. They can give us feedback that helps us course correct if we ever get off track. They can offer support, encouragement, and affirmation when we need it most.
In this way, interdependence fuels growth. When you embrace it, you allow yourself to lean on others until you’re ready to step out on your own. The more you allow others to support you when you really need it, the more help you’ll have in good times and in bad.
Bonus: interdependence, dependence, and codependency
While there is power in interdependence when it comes to creativity, it’s important to distinguish interdependence from two other, less helpful concepts: dependence and codependency. While interdependence will help you build healthy relationships and support creative growth, the other two will not.
Interdependence vs. dependence
Dependence is a stage of maturation that is necessary for infants and young children. When you are dependent on others, you do not provide for yourself. In the case of infants and young children, this is understandable and natural. But if you never break free from that dependent stage, you are unable (or unwilling) to “leave the nest,” so to speak, and make your own way in the world.
This can lead to any number of problems (personal, financial, emotional, relationship-related, etc.), and it will certainly hurt your creativity. If you can’t break free from dependence, you will have a hard time taking risks, making your own decisions, or standing up for yourself.
Interdependence vs. codependence
Conversely, interdependence requires a balance of self-reliance and external support. It is honestly recognizing when you need help from someone else, accepting that help, and then taking it and applying it to your individual work and life.
Codependence is more about control and power than it is about mutual reliance and support. Codependent relationships are imbalanced; there is usually one person who is the giver, while the other is the taker. One person’s needs are valued more highly than the other’s, and both people (whether consciously or not) work in favor of the dominant person’s needs, to the detriment of the other person. These relationships show up as very one-sided, and they can very easily become abusive or otherwise damaging.
Again, interdependence requires balance. It is both giving and taking. It isn’t expecting or demanding help from someone else, but it is being open to and grateful for that help when it comes. And, in an interdependent relationship, both people can expect to have their needs met.
Independence can be powerful, but we can’t ignore the undeniable power of interdependence in creativity. Healthy, interdependent relationships can help you get the knowledge, perspective, and growth you need to create a happy life and reach your goals.
So the next time you think you can do it all on your own — pause. Not only do you not have to do it alone, but you will be better off embracing help.
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