Two passports, sunglasses, and a camera spread out on a map.

Of Passports, Dreams, and Creativity

Have you ever had a dream that confirmed the progress you were making in a certain area? I had such a dream regarding creativity earlier this week. I share it here, along with its broader context, because I think it could help others navigate the frequent tension between authority and creativity.

A Love of Travel

I caught the travel bug early in life, and one of my most vivid memories from childhood was going to the World’s Fair in Vancouver, British Columbia. The organizers had created passport books so that the little visitors like me could collect the unique stamp from each country’s pavilion. I loved learning about the different cultures and then getting the stamps in my little passport as a sort of official approval of what I had learned.

Later, my family became involved in a foreign exchange organization, and we hosted students from around the world. I eventually became a high school exchange student myself and spent a year living with a family in a Spanish territory in north Africa. I have loved travel ever since those formative experiences.

A Recurring Dream

Even though I have enjoyed traveling ever since childhood, I frequently have had a disturbing dream that involves this activity that I love so much. Each time I have the dream, it is a slightly different variation of the following scenario. I am at the airport and about to undertake an international journey. I suddenly realize that I don’t have my passport, and the rest of the dream involves me frantically trying to resolve this dilemma.

An Interpretation

It doesn’t take a psychologist or an expert in dream analysis to conclude that this is an anxiety dream. But because I have never gotten anywhere close to an airport for an international trip without my passport, I am certain that the dream is not literally about travel anxiety. It has been a mystery, until recently, what causes the worry that provokes the dream.

An airport interior with people in line and an airplane outside the window.

In the waking world, the international community has agreed that a passport is the official document that signifies that you are allowed to travel outside your home country. It is a physical manifestation of the authority of international law over your movement across borders. This is the function of a passport in the real world.

I have begun to realize that the passport in my recurring dream represents authority broadly speaking. In the dream, my desire is to travel, but my trip is denied because I don’t have the approval of the authorities. But what are the authorities in my daily life, or in any of our lives, that could be producing anxiety for approval? They could be our parents, our teachers, our bosses, our religious figures, our officials of various kinds… in other words, any cultural entity that exercises sway over us.

Creativity and Culture

A broad definition of creativity is the ability to make new connections that are somehow useful. Making new and useful connections seems like a good thing, so why aren’t we doing this all the time? Asked another way, why aren’t we always creative?

The primary reason is our cultures. Throughout our lives, experiences, and interactions with authority, we are taught that there are certain ways that things are supposed to be done. Much of the time, this is useful information. Our cultures provide us lessons learned over generations: ways of preparing food, ways of dressing, and ways of furnishing our houses. Because of these very useful lessons, we don’t have to reinvent all aspects of our lives from scratch. However, when we want to break out of preestablished patterns, “the right way to do things” can be a hinderance to our creativity.

A businessman sitting alone in an orange and yellow interior.

As much as I would like to think of myself as a creative person, I admit that I have often paid too much attention to “the right way to do things.” Sometimes I have had an inkling of an unusual solution, perhaps a more creative one. At other times, I have simply felt a dissatisfaction with the way that things have always been done. Instead of going for the more creative option, I have often chosen the way that my culture (as represented by its authority figures) would designate as “the right way.”

As I have become more secure in my creativity, I am less susceptible to the pressure of doing things the ways they have always been done. I trust that I can make new connections and devise new solutions that are useful, if in no other way than that they are pleasing to me.

Creativity as a Passport

Earlier this week, I had a new version of my recurring dream. I was at the airport for some reason, but with no intention of traveling. In an instant, I decided that I would like to go on an overseas trip. I realized that I had my passport and a credit card, and that the rest could be taken care of upon arrival. I boarded a plane and was happily on my way to an exciting destination.

A man in a colorful outfit holding a passport and airplane tickets. He points upwards.

In this new version of the dream, I have come to realize that my creativity is my passport. The pressure of “the way things are supposed to be done” doesn’t seem so limiting. I am now confident that I can create the life I find most fulfilling, which will certainly involve as much international travel as is pleasing to me.

I wish these things for you, too. May you always have your passport of creativity on hand and be open to the experiences it affords. Bon voyage!

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