Maker Hacker

Creativity and Discomfort

Halloween dates back to an ancient Celtic festival that has some interesting implications for creativity.

“Life starts all over again when it gets crisp in the fall.”

The internet loves this Fitzgerald quote come sweater weather and it speaks to our collective association of autumn with new beginnings. Fall always brings to mind the start of the school year—new classes, friends, fresh books, and a general sense of possibility. But it is also the time of year when days get shorter, trees lose their leaves, and the world looks a little darker and colder. Fall is an interesting mix of new and old, rebirth and decay.

It’s when we celebrate Halloween, a holiday that underneath the candy and costumes, invokes the death of the summer and the impending dark months ahead. Halloween dates back to the ancient Celtic festival of Samhain, traditionally celebrated from sunset on October 31st to sunset the next day and falling approximately halfway between the autumn equinox and the winter solstice.

Origins of Halloween

Some scholars suggest this was the Celtic new year and it marked the end of summer and the harvest and the beginning of the long winter, a time of year that was often associated with death. Celts held the belief that on the night of the celebration, the boundary between the worlds of the living and the dead blurred, and the spirits of the dead could return to the world, potentially wreaking havoc and destroying crops. They believed that during these special periods when ghosts roamed the earth Celtic priests were better able to predict the future and many rituals were held to do so.

The festival, Samhain, was seen as a liminal time. Liminality here refers to a magical transitionary period recognized in many cultures when one is suspended between two points. It is at such times when magic is most effective and most dangerous: dusk, midnight, dawn or times in life like birth, the eve of marriage, or one’s deathbed.

Transitions and Change

For adults whose school days are long past, fall undeniably still holds some kind of significance. Is it this sense of transition? Does the spookiness of Halloween maybe mirror something we feel during a period that conjures uncertainty, perhaps even fear?

This idea of liminality is fascinating. The place between an end and a beginning, when a person tries to predict what might come next. The truth is transitions are uncomfortable and uncertainty is scary. But being uncomfortable is essential to creativity. Even misery has its merits. As Marcel Proust put it, “Happiness is good for the body, but it is grief which develops the strengths of the mind.”

It’s easy to get stuck in routine, following the monotony of our scheduled lives. But the end of one thing is the beginning of something new. So maybe this fall, make yourself a little uncomfortable. Put yourself in a position you’re unfamiliar with. Get in a little trouble and find your way back out. You never know what might happen or what you might make.

Got you hooked? Here’s more:


The Most Overlooked Way to Motivate Team Creativity
Harvard Business Review talks creative discomfort


What Fueled the Project
Foo Fighters on the exercise of breaking down familiarity


Creative Uncertainty
Teachers’ uncomfortable encounters with ambiguity and risk





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