Starting the process, dancing with maintenance

The room of our mind decorates itself with doubt. Anxiety is a thinking problem, a challenge to contain the inner narrative that bears the footprints of our decisions. 

Extreme self-belief and passion offer the antidotes to quitting. Immersed from the start, we dance with persistence when times get difficult. 

Evolution is an imaginative process. As we gain exposure to the world, it becomes our oyster for exploration and experimentation. 

Each creator finds their own problems and lets their identity roll. We build and sustain a system of habits to avoid wandering about in the fog. We do, however, remain changeable as we mine for secrets of the interior self. 

But it’s not just the drive to begin. Finishing matters most. The world is a better place for those that ship projects out the door. Artists need feedback. “Another flaw in human character is that everybody wants to build and nobody wants to do maintenance,” once said Kurt Vonnegut.

So which is more difficult — the start or the maintenance? Both are equally important as an emphasis of action

Relaxed while working

The synchronicities tend to happen in our most relaxed moments, not when we’re stressing out about work or life.

Bothersome thoughts place a block on our ability to connect disparate ideas. So too does a tense face.

Anxiety undermines attention, and with it, additional perspective.

Our capacity to retain information expands upon the pace of the barest effort. Unmoored from the monkey mind, we grant the synapses a passport to the freedom of concentrated thought.

In a state of flow, nothing is left wanting. The pen can hardly keep up with the bicycle of impressions peddling through our heads.

When awake on our passions, we’re always running to a place where we catch onto things. The answers may be tentative and impractical, but at least they’re exciting.

The corrosive side of ambition

The corrosive side of ambition draws us into an unending hole of dissatisfaction. Competition, whether within the inner self or with other’s attrits the soul.

No one wants mediocrity. But they do want less stress. We operate best in flow, a process of thinking without thinking, where the mind matches the thoughts of the pen.

There will always be moments to strive. Persistence comes easy at the grandeur of individual vision. We want more without the risk of overkill.

But patience is also a form of action. Enough is enough. We build momentum and preserve enough creative energy to do it all over again tomorrow.

A vocation of old and new

Everyone harbors an undeniable vocation that starts when we’re kids.

Playing in the NBA, winning a Grammy or an Oscar — most aspirations are pipe dreams. But the characteristics we build in pursuing those far-fetched fantasies such as confidence, persistence, result from facing all the anxieties and fears that arise from such honest confrontation.

When we feel incompetent, we channel grit elsewhere toward something that feels more intuitive and enjoyable. Like a magnet, we’re drawn to what comes naturally.

A writer who draws. A bicyclist who runs and swims. A photographer who rock climbs. The former is who we are and what the market demands, even if the latter is what we prefer. Neither trade guarantees success nor fame because all reward is in the doing.

While sometimes feeling detached, the intuitive self invites us to travel down the road of uncertainty until we find an occupation that feels just about right — where ambition and talent intersect, where passion overlaps with our skills.

There is beauty in constraint, what bounds focuses the mind.

Until we can identify our strengths, we jump from lily-pad to lily-pad like frogs. We ultimately return to the one that feels like home.

Having the courage to follow who we are rather than live up to somebody else’s expectations is a blessing, not a glitch.

Reborn ideas

Life arises out of nonlife, developing as a consequence of the random workings of nature. 

Similarly, creativity arises out of noncreativity. Concepts are non-existent without chance execution. All ideas are dead ideas until further movement. 

Yet, it is procrastination that brings some of our best work to the forefront. Clarity emerges during idle times — thoughts coalesce in the shower, taking a walk, playing with the kids. 

Focusing on something entirely different helps break down the blindness caused by closeupness. Eureka moments are therefore myth; instead, we toil and stumble toward realization. 

The shadow that lies between focus and disconnection compels our actions.

Layer by layer, we keep stacking resources and exploring ways to curl the mind, and then we take periods of rest to examine the forest for the trees. 

The boss of time

Time is more important than money, yet time is money. So the clock (exported by the East India Company) emerged as a system for streamlining global trade. 

He who obeys the hour, minute, and second is a slave of time. Nature moves toward continuous variation regardless of tick-tocks, adhering to the sun, water, seasons, and the moon — the mother of all things. 

For humans, the standardization of time enforces discipline. 

Alarm clocks, closing bells, factory openings, Black Friday: there is no escaping the tyranny of the clock for the economic initiative. 

It takes time to make time. Yet, time reminds us that we don’t have forever. 

So we stay engaged and do the work now, knowing that tomorrow may not come.  

It’s time to create something worthwhile. It’s time to face the resistance and make a difference.   

Time may be boss, but we’re the boss of time. And we mean the business of living. 

Ideas often come indirectly

We know our ideas indirectly. 

We all take our influences, deconstruct them, and build new concepts from those bricks. 

Growth results from experimentation. Then we improvise and make more things happen. 

We can’t possibly see the value in what we’re doing without bold execution, first and foremost. 

We produce, constrain, keeping what’s valuable while going beyond convenience. 

The tools help shape our thinking along the way. For example, pencils, computers, and artificial intelligence serve as aids augmenting the mind. 

Pity we don’t play more with what we have. It’s all there at our disposal. There is no ceiling to inventiveness. 

Yet, most of us play the role of consumer, making up stories about our tools rather than bending them during practice. 

As part of the creative community, we market to the makers. As a result, innovation spreads to fixation, as others replicate the madness into their own productions. 

Ideas, tools, culture — they all reveal what we’re like inside. They make meaning and spread indefinitely. 

The unfinished symphony

The mind moves toward more interesting, attractive things, but especially to those things undone. What is it about the staying power of an unfinished symphony? 

The Zeigarnik effect says that we remember open tasks more so than completed ones. So we disregard the information we crammed in the night before just following the test. On the other hand, we hold on to any knowledge that may pay dividends in the future.  

Work makes an indelible impression. The writer never stops writing; the painter never stops painting; the doctor never stops attending to patients. The professional always thinks about the ongoing job despite the completion of any task. There’s always something to toil on next. 

The worker persists if only to think things through. What’s actionable stays top of mind. What’s unactionable remains forgettable. Everyone needs a challenge of a challenge to feel alive. 

Making meaning removes meaning. The environment pulls our attention toward a finish while directing our emotions toward the incomplete. The craft is never finished, merely refreshed.   

Labor — if we can call it that — begets a burning desire to be excellent and takes on the all-important freedom to fail. Professionals ride a power wave of intrinsic motivation with the ultimate result redefined. 

Artists are scavengers and tweakers

Artists are scavengers, modern-day hunters of information. And they pluck inspiration from everywhere: people, places, and things. 

They even gather resources through error. Mishearings, misspellings, and mistakes are idea producers. 

The creative process is two-fold. Ideas bloom, and then they require execution and management. The producer thinks about them, reads about them, talks about them, and ultimately acts on them. What emerges is something fresh and original.

Artists are continually developing novel techniques, ways of seeing, thinking, being, and diligently applying those efforts from various tools onto the canvass. 

The painter studies the way light falls on an object; the sculptor manipulates a hunk of marble to carve a figure; the poet converts a banal phrase into a haiku; the photographer reveals an obscure item plain eyes miss; the musician observes how a note lingers and uses it to create a melody that fits the song’s mood.

No matter what medium is involved, the creative process is the same. It starts with experimentation, struggles with tweaks, and ends with precision.  

The best artists study, learn, practice, and perfect the skills they need to imagine and design. Creativity is impossible without attention and effort.   

The never-ending search to consume and build something unpredictable keeps life interesting. Like nature, art is not static and remains subject to change. 

Creativity is a game of inches

It comes as no surprise that lousy work begets good work — the more one creates, the more they have to play with. 

People mistakenly believe that successful artists excelled all along. In reality, what the viewer sees are remarkable stories told by people who decided never to give up

The internet is a great liberator because it allows anyone can show their work. Of course, that doesn’t guarantee anyone’s going to see it. 

It’s nearly impossible to stand out when everyone’s an Instagram photographer. The world’s drowning in jpegs that all look alike, punctuated by countless candy-colored apps begging for attention. 

It’s no surprise that artists do their best work while toiling in obscurity. They may emulate conventions at first, but starved of significance, the creator begs to be different. 

It takes a lot of time and a ton of practice to develop both good taste and a unique craft. 

When we create for ourselves, rage into our work, the world becomes our oyster. “It is a joy to be hidden, and a disaster not to be found,” once said English pediatrician and psychoanalyst D.W. Winnicott. 

From stylization to originality, cultivating talent unfolds slowly into a game of inches. The only guarantee is the willingness to try repeatedly for a breakthrough.

Working backward

We all know what we want. Our main challenge is in getting there. 

If we take our end-destination in mind and outline the steps to reach it by working backward, the goal suddenly becomes less intimidating.

The only way to “control” the future is to steady our mentality and take immediate action. Making progress requires both urgency and patience with the process. 

Mastering each step fortifies the fundamentals and strengthens our “why.” Knowing our purpose helps push us through temporary and unforeseen hurdles.

Greatness is scarce because so few people want to endure struggle. Failure is integral to the process of learning.  

There are power and magic in practice. Only the indolent think they can perfect the work in theory — all talk, zero execution. 

The art of pertinacity demands that we keep going — it may be the bravest thing we ever do. 

Get the pen and paper out. Feel compelled to identify what we want and map out the road it takes to get there. 

Quieter times

The covid crisis reminds us that time is precious. It untethers us from the plague of 24/7 always-on work culture and permits more pockets of free time to do whatever we want: make dinner, spend more time with family, explore a side interest. 

The pandemic gives us our time back. Working from home saves us from the extra hours put into commuting and face-to-face meetings. It also increases our productivity, as we can shape our surroundings and get comfortable in ways that enable intense focus and absorption. 

Electronic communication’s invisibility cloak allows people more time to think in silence rather than countdown the clock in useless meetings and brainstorm sessions. Being outside the office disconnects us from the suasion of group-think and overall herd mentality. 

Never underestimate the power of pause and the power of independent, reflective thought. Thinking alone is not just an idea producer; it’s also an intrinsic motivator. When we find meaning in our work and enforce our own decision rights, we become richer workers. 

The ‘black swan’ Covid-19 catastrophe — entirely unpredictable and damaging (2.69M deaths as of March 19, 2021) — offers the chance to eliminate the inefficiencies (e.g., going to an office five days/week) driving us all insane. For better or worse, we connect through wires

Time is invaluable, in some ways more important than money. We have to work now, live life now, and do our best for ourselves and others. In such quieter yet anxious moments, we realize that there’s no need for dumping problems on tomorrow.