Ask TGD 001: Wrestling with Creative Satisfaction



Tina from TGD here. This is the perfect question to kick off our column. I think you know where we stand on this, seeing as our name is The Great Discontent. As creatives and entrepreneurs, we wrestle with contentment, thus Are you creatively satisfied? has remained one of our favorite questions to ask since launching TGD three years ago. We’ve heard many different answers, and while there hasn’t been one surprising response, there have been unexpected themes that have emerged:

1. Creative fulfillment doesn’t have to come from a day job.
If your day job is creatively fulfilling, great; if not, then figure out how to find that elsewhere. Over and over, we’ve spoken to interviewees who have turned to side projects to fulfill themselves creatively. Illustrator and designer, Sara Blake, says it best: “You’re going to have to do certain things to make money and certain things to fulfill yourself creatively and they’re not always the same thing, so don’t freak out. Make lots of work; the work speaks for itself.”

Making personally fulfilling work is its own reward, but it can also lead to unexpected opportunities. When Dana Tanamachi-Williams, a graphic designer known for her chalk lettering, started devoting time to personal typographic pursuits, she never dreamed it would one day become her full-time job: “Being on the computer all day, I didn’t want to lose the ability to draw with my hands…That actually became a very real concern, which spurred me on to pursue creative typographic outlets in my spare time. That’s where the chalk came in. Did I ever think it would become something I could do full-time? Never. Am I glad it did? Of course.”

2. Creative contentment ebbs and flows, and that’s okay.
There’s nothing like the excitement of beginning. As graphic designer Paula Scher notes, “There’s always a moment when I think a project is going to be really amazing—that’s the moment I love, and it’s what I live for. The best time is when you see what’s possible. When it’s over, it’s not possible, it just is. The future is always more interesting.”

Finishing and putting a project out into the world can also be extremely satisfying, but those feelings are often fleeting. Soon enough, the discontentment returns, driving you forward, on to the next thing. And it’s okay, because that’s often the way it works. Designer, entrepreneur, and writer, Josh Long makes a compelling point about this: “I like the idea of being creatively satisfied in the moment, but then being dissatisfied afterwards so I can keep rolling. You have to breathe in and out of being satisfied or else you can become complacent.”

3. Creative satisfaction isn’t a destination; it’s a journey.
Even when you’re satisfied with what you’ve achieved, it’s impossible to arrive at and maintain feelings of creative satisfaction. When we asked comedian, entrepreneur, and writer, Baratunde Thurston, if he was creatively satisfied, he thoughtfully replied, “No, but that’s not a negative no: it’s just an incomplete yes…I am satisfied creatively with what I have done, but I am nowhere near finished, and I doubt I’ll ever be.”

Moments of satisfaction are eclipsed by a desire for what’s next, an awareness that there is more to ask, more to do. Artist and designer Kelli Anderson acknowledges this: “There’s always an urge to move forward and do more, and it’s inevitable that each project leads to more questions. Satisfied sounds like a terminus, and it’s not like that; it’s a continuing inquiry.”

For some, creative satisfaction comes easily and often; for others, it’s elusive and scant. For most, it’s an ever-evolving journey not for the faint of heart.

Content in my discontent,
Tina (& Ryan, too)


  • The Media Messiah

    I read this and got angry. Well, not quite angry, but certainly aerated.

    IMHO, there is no such thing as creativity. The only people that talk about it and claim to be “creative” are, at worst, confidence tricksters and, at best, covering up for some shortcoming or regret in their lives. So-called “creatives” are generally late, ill-prepared, unfocused, unprofitable, volatile and/or vacuous. They also, often, have questionable piercings, hairstyles and/or “body art” — at the very least they’ll wear quirky items of clothing.

    They’ll call it self-expression; I see it as yet another indicator that creativity, for them, is purely/mainly self-indulgent. “Look at me I’m different”. Yet their output is, generally, anything but.

    To quote from this article: “Creativity doesn’t have to come from a day job”. This is just plain scary. It’s like these people who say: “I work as a receptionist by day and write poetry by night”. Or high-powered executives who retire, buy an SLR camera and various other expensive paraphernalia and call themselves “photographers”.

    Why is creativity treated as this rosy, cosy, romantic lifestyle choice/add-on?

    I certainly don’t wish to sound negative, but I’d sooner state a diametrically opposed view than say nothing at all.

    What do you reckon?

    The Media Messiah

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