I’m in the middle of reading The Count of Monte Cristo, when I stumbled onto an interesting paragraph. The book, for those of you who aren’t aware, is about Edmond Dantes a young man who is falsely imprisoned in a dungeon for fourteen years before escaping and plotting his revenge on the men who took his life away.
In prison, the young Dantes meets the abbe Faria. A man who has used his isolation in prison to write entire books and use his sparse materials to create elaborate tools. When Dantes meets the abbe he is astounded by what he has accomplished while behind bars:
“I was reflecting, in the first place,” replied Dantes, “upon the enormous degree of intelligence and ability you must have employed to reach the high perfection to which you have attained. What would you not have accomplished if you had been free?”
“Possibly nothing at all; the overflow of my brain would probably, in a state of freedom, have evaporated in a thousand follies; misfortune is needed to bring to light the treasures of the human intellect. Compression is needed to explode gunpowder. Captivity has brought my mental faculties to a focus; and you are well aware that from the collision of clouds, electricity is produced – from electricity, lightning, from lightning, illumination.”
Constraints and restrictions are more important than choices when it comes to creativity. Putting restrictions on yourself doesn’t need to be a sacrifice. Restrictions can be the very means to get new creative output. Having more resources, choices and options can cause you to be “evaporated in a thousand follies.”
I think this is an important reminder for the next time your inner dialog turns to complain about how you don’t have enough money, good looks or raw talent to succeed in an area. Sometimes having abundance can help, but often it is the restrictions themselves that force more creative solutions.