I gave a talk on Commitment at Creative Mornings in Oslo earlier this year, and as I went through the slides, I suddenly felt like a little hypocrite. I was talking about how commitment had been the foundation of my creative career and achievements (still true), and I said that “commitment is more than just a word—you have to make a plan on how to stay committed” (also still true). I tried to answer questions such as “why do we seem to succeed in some commitments while we fail in others?” and “can we really choose our commitments? If so, how?”I went through a long list of all the goals I’ve made and achieved, before I suddenly heard myself speak, as if I was sitting in the audience myself, and I didn’t believe the words that were coming out of my mouth.
I said some something like this:
“But remember, life’s about more than just goals and commitments. In the end, it’s not the goals or awards you win that will make you happy. So instead of committing to a career, we should commit to happiness”.
I mean, what I was saying is definitely something to live by, but I was far from living by it myself, so it was obviously me that I was so desperately trying to convince. Why couldn’t I just tell them the truth? That I had been feeling lost for the past twelve months because of one reason only: I had reached all my previous goals, and without something to strive for, I wasn’t happy at all. Instead, it felt as if my whole life had fallen apart. Like an addict who’d run out of drugs.
Being addicted to goals is being addicted to success, small or big. To reach a goal, even as small as checking something off on your to-do list, gives you a great sense of accomplishment. I did this. Michael Neil, author of the book Feel Happy Now! explains why some people are addicted to success, by pointing at the release of dopamine and serotonin in our body. Dopamine is what he calls the “motivation chemical”, and it increases our ability to focus and motivates us to act. Serotonin is described as the “feel-good chemical” and is as soothing as dopamine is energising. It’s our reward and we receive it whenever we win anything or get public recognition for a job well done, amongst other factors. Neil sums it up as, “together, the interplay of dopamine and serotonin makes the world go around. Higher levels of dopamine move us forward; higher levels of serotonin provide feelings of safety, satisfaction, and curiosity”.
Sounds nice, right? And as it’s a way of moving forward, I’ve always cherished my own determination. I’ve always admired the ones who dare to dream big and the ones who work hard to reach their goals. But, as I realised that without a goal, I was nothing but a lost creative trying to make sense of the world, this goal-driven lifestyle started to leave a bad taste in my mouth.
After a longer period of the cliche “who am I? I have everything I’ve dreamt of and more, so why am I not happy?”, I became so desperate that I decided to take a month off work to become a yoga teacher in India—which turned out to be the worst month of my life, btw (I mean, at one point, I found myself doing a shake-meditation in an overheated shala trying to “let go of the mind”, but instead it was yelling “what the hell are you doing here? You’ve truly lost it now, sister!”). But the month went by and things did get clearer, and eventually, it lead me to the ultimate question:
Why am I so addicted to success? What am I trying to prove?
Michael Neil says that psychologically, our need to succeed can be understood through our self-image. “Our problems do not arise because we want things—they come about because we link our self-image to our attempts to get them. After all, “score” enough goals and I’m a winner; no goals at all and I’m a loser”. And who wants to be a loser?
Not me, and (this lies at the core of all my commitments) I think I’ve spent all my life trying to prove it—to all the people in my hometown who used to think I was a weird kid, to my parents as an attempt to make up for the fact that I was a bit different, and ultimately, to the toughest critic of them all: myself. It was obvious. My self-image had been built on these goals, commitments, and achievements, and when I lost them, I felt worthless. What a tristesse, right? But here’s the cherry: when I realised this, I had the ability to change. Or at least try.
I started doing yoga every day, I started reading an actual book before going to bed, I travelled more, and I cut back on the time I spent at the office and started spending more time with friends and family. I tried different hobbies: started painting, started jogging, and started cooking very fancy dinners. This was rewarding for sure, but at work, I was still without direction. I told myself that it was good: I was finally relaxed, I had found my place, and instead of striving for something, I was living in the moment. I woke up, did my yoga, went to work, socialised, went to bed. It was lovely for a while, but after some time, I couldn’t fight the feeling anymore: something was missing. I wasn’t relaxed, I was lazy. I needed a challenge. The rush of a new commitment. A new goal. A new success. Dopamine. Serotonin. I had tried it all, except the one thing that scared me the most: quitting.
So I did.
This is my last issue of A New Type of Imprint, a magazine that I founded in 2014 together with the lovely people at ANTI, who have grown to become my family. I grew up as a creative surrounded and supported by many of Norway’s greatest designers and thinkers, and I’ve learned so much. Most thankful am I to Kenneth Pedersen, CEO at ANTI, who dared to believe in a 23-year-old Art Director newbie with a lot of attitude and big dreams.
Thank you, my beloved Imprint-team: Andris and Markus, and to everyone who’ve played a significant role in making this magazine: Andreas, Henke, Gaute, Urda, Maja, and everyone else at ANTI. A big thanks to all our contributors and the creatives who’ve shared their work and stories. You’ll find a list of all the names on the last pages of this issue.
It’s been a pleasure, and it’s hard to leave. But letting go of one big commitment means making room for a new one.