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Living a creative life is one of the best ways to live fully

Updated: May 26, 2020


One of the most memorable conversations I’ve ever had as a freelance journalist is interviewing the philosopher Alain de Botton.



It was actually for a piece for The Drum magazine about whether advertising had lost its influence, but I couldn’t resist slipping in a few off-brief questions at the end.

We got onto talking about what makes a ‘good’ life, at which point he came out with the memorable but depressing phrase, which has always stuck with me, that “most of us die with the best parts of us unexplored”.

“We die with the best parts of us unexplored?” I spluttered, trying to get my head round what he had just said.


- Alain de Botton, philosopher

But it got worse. Bleaker.

“Yes, it is tragic,” he said. “Most of the time the ambulance doesn’t come in time.”

It sounded like a line from a depressing Philip Larkin poem; almost beautiful in its bleakness, describing the way most of humanity dies unhappy and unfulfilled, without their potential explored.

“What do I need to do to prevent that tragedy happening?” I urged, probably sounding a bit unhinged at this stage, thinking of, not only myself but my children too.

“It’s hard. We need more people to help us. It should be our families, but often our families don’t know how to help. It should be our schools. But often our schools don’t know how to help,” he said.

“The best thing you can do is help your children to explore themselves, and encourage them to be generous enough to themselves to really find out what they like and who they are. You have to be very lucky to meet people who are going to help you [do that] when you really need it. ”


- Alain de Botton, philosopher

At this point, I saw a glimmer of light.

So, could self-exploration be about finding those people? Seeking them out? Going on adventures to hunt out these people and experiences? About being curious and upping your chances of success by talking to lots of people about this crucial life-enhancing stuff? To cultivate the conditions for life-changing conversations?

“Yes,” he said.

Basically what I was asking was if cultivating the conditions for creativity, and living creatively, could avoid the tragedy of dying “unexplored”.

And it can.

Living a creative life - full of curiosity, self-expression, the space to think and create, and seeking random varied experiences – is, for me, the best way I’ve found to get to know what I like and who I am. The best way to make sense of life.

De Botton’s line about the ambulance keeps playing over and over in my mind, even years later.

At first it plagued me slightly, but now I’ve found comfort in it. As I embrace a creative life more and more, it’s become liberating.

The refrain “before the ambulance comes” serves as a reminder that time is constantly running out, the ambulance is always on its way, and that we must make the most of life. That’s why, I believe, prioritising living big and juicy and creative – whether you’re at work or at play – is so important.

When the grim reaper comes hurtling around the corner in his ambulance, I want to die in the knowledge that I lived fully, and helped others to live fully too.

So that’s what BJC is all about.

Alain de Botton is a philosopher and founder of The School of Life

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