There’s an art to living creatively

My journey to the role of chief executive officer and steward of the Tasmanian Symphony Orchestra started as a subscriber to the TSO with my Mum, and as a graduating student of the Tasmanian Conservatorium of Music.

This month, the World Economic Forum preferenced creativity, empathy and emotional intelligence as the most valuable skills in a rapidly evolving work landscape.

To current music graduates I say the workforce of now — and of tomorrow — needs you. The world needs your insight, and everything you have learnt about connecting humans with each other through shared experience — and shared understanding.

There are some things I’ve learnt and know now which I wish I knew when I was setting out on my journey.

The first is particularly true of the creative arts: that there is a distinct lack of separation between personal and professional identity. The greatest challenge lies in learning to deal with the paradox where what you do is not who you are … when of course, for you, it is everything.

Always take time to step back and to cultivate other interests. Spend time with people who don’t do what you do and be very careful to take care of yourself and of each other.

Intimately related, receiving criticism — which I’ve been coaching myself to think of as “unsolicited free advice’’ — is part and parcel of professional life. In the wrong hands criticism can be punitive and deeply bruising, and in good hands it can be life-changing .

So when you’re on the receiving end of some bungled unsolicited free advice, please know that it says nothing of your value as a human and what you have to offer the world. Dust yourself off, own any titbits of truth, and think about how you would have delivered the message so much more constructively.

I’ve learned you need to be able to talk about what you do in language people understand . For creative artists, you need to provide a doorway into your creative practices by simplifying complex ideas and making abstract concepts tangible.

I now know you stand for what you’re prepared to put up with. In all organisations, creativity and ideas generation are correlated with a civil environment underpinned by kindness. Be kind, pay attention to small details , and create the environment that allows everybody to flourish and thrive.

I know that perfection is the enemy of good — jump before you think you’re ready. Perfection is a critical part of being an artist and a scholar, but make sure you contain it to your practice and your profession. Don’t overthink it. Trust your ability. Jump. Build it on the way down. It will be OK.

This is an edited extract of TSO chief Caroline Sharpen’s speech to this year’s graduating students of the Tasmanian Conservatorium of Music.

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