The best work

Somehow these less-than-ideal conditions raised his game, spurred him on to greatness. There’s a definite lesson here. Fair winds do not a great captain make. We dream of finding our own greatness one day, but we want it to happen when the sun is shining.

~ Hugh Macleod from, https://www.gapingvoid.com/blog/2020/05/11/fair-winds-do-not-a-great-capitan-make/

One—particularly one named “Craig”—can also veer too far in the other direction. Continuously choosing the most arduous path towards each goal is exhausting.

Random weather metaphor for life: (Weather geeks: This is written for the Northern Hemisphere.) Large storms rotate. They always rotate in the same direction. Have you seen a stop-motion video made from satellite photos of a hurricane? If you are standing on the shore, facing an oncoming storm, you can try to avoid it by fleeing to your left, or to your right. (Presuming you ignored the warning yesterday to simply go inland.) If the center is coming directly towards you, and you have a car and just a few minutes… which way do you flee? Left, or right? To the left, the motion of the entire storm, coming at you, adds to the winds of the rotating storm. To the right, the motion of the storm, subtracts from the winds of the rotating storm. A storm with 100mph winds, coming at you at 30mph… Flee left and you get 130mph winds. Flee right and you get 70mph winds.

Seems to me that’s a good metaphor for life. “Oh shit, here comes a storm.” Maybe I should consider which way to go, rather than just fleeing like a rabbit in whatever direction I happen to be facing.

Hey also, while I’m doing weather: The Saffir-Simpson Scale has only 5 categories for a reason. It’s designed to be easy to understand when you hear the number. I sometimes hear talk that we should add a Category 6. Nononono. Category 5 already means, literally, that you should evacuate because nothing survives the 250kmh/160mph sustained winds of a Category 5 storm. So, what would having a Category 6 add? “srsly bro’, flee!”

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Honing your craft

We’ve created this fantasy world where everyone is just 30 days of courage boosting exercises and life hacks away from living an amazing life.

But when you study people like Martin, who really do live remarkable lives, you almost always encounter stretches of years and years dedicated to honing craft.

~ Cal Newport from, https://www.calnewport.com/blog/2012/01/29/closing-your-interests-opens-more-interesting-opportunities-the-power-of-diligence-in-creating-a-remarkable-life/

This is the eternal challenge of seeing the forest through the trees; of maintaining perspective.

I’m constantly reminded of the scenes in the Hobbit where they are trying to walk through 250 miles of a forest named, Mirkwood. “Do not leave the path,” is the only guidance they are given. After what seems like endless daily struggles, they eventually dispatch a party member to climb a singularly large tree to the uppermost branches. Unfortunately, even from that lofty perch all that could be seen was more forest forever and ever in every direction. In fact, they were in a low lying area, reasonably close to the forest edge. Crushed by the misleading perspective, their journey takes a turn for the worse.

I have so many projects where I start into the forest with the best intentions. I steel myself with, “I know this is going to turn into a slog at some point, and I’m going to remember why I went into the forest to give me the strength to carry on!” Yeah, that never works out. If the project is actually worth doing, then the forest is necessarily crushingly vast and the journey through must eventually become hopeless. Of course it’s hard; that’s what makes it worth it.

The secret? You have to love living in the forest, just for the sake of living in the forest. Then every morning is an adventure. Sure, some days are going to suck, but every morning will begin a new day of opportunity.

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Motivation versus validation

A great number of bits are dedicated to discussing motivation. In particular, it’s well-covered that my motivation should spring from within. I should do whatever-it-is because I value the work or the self-transformation. Far too many people are externally motivated and so those bits are well-deployed.

But validation? I don’t hear about that so much.

Engineering, (think bridges and airplanes,) we all agree should be validated. Implicitly we know that means externally validated. We know that engineering done in a filter-bubble is not truly validated, and that ends badly.

But eveyone seems to toss the baby with the bath water: “I’m not doing engineering or hard science, therefore, as a principle, I don’t need external validation.“

But, that’s right only as a corrective term in our lives. “Holy shit our society is too externally motivated, so let’s stop with the external motivation.” Yes, please.

But once you figure out how to do your work from a place of kindness and internal motivation, you next need to put it out there. Put a price tag on it… Ask for feedback… Does the book sell… Do the people who follow your advice go on to do nicer or better things… In short, are you efficacious?

Yes yes yes art for arts’ sake is not what I’m talking about. Paint just for yourself and die an undiscovered master—that’s internal motivation for the win. (not sarcasm)

But if, you know, what you’re doing is supposed to be True, (however that’s defined for whatever it is you’re doing,) then you better put yourself out there and get some external validation. Yes, you’re going to need thick skin, and certainly don’t go alone, but go you must.

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Digging deep

What was fascinating to me about what T.R. said was that he never mentioned athletic ability or strength or speed. The qualities he cited were all mental. They were deeper than mental. They were psychological, emotional, and spiritual. They were qualities of aspiration, of commitment, of intention, of will, of intensity, and of perseverance.

These are all qualities that you and I have control of in our writing and our artistic lives.

~ Steven Pressfield from, https://stevenpressfield.com/2014/01/hes-a-winner/

There was definitely a time, until very recently in fact, when I thought that bashing through the work was a predictor of success. I know see that my ability fetish for bashing through work was made possible by my ability to focus. It’s that focus which I’m still able to summon while the physical and mental strength to bash is gone—maybe not completely gone, sure, but certainly far reduced from the days of yore.

Should I spend time having a meaningful conversation, or should I spend that same amount of time working on this task? One requires bashing on work I don’t really feel like doing, while one is pleasantly challenging. I continuously come back to my touch-stone phrase for 2020: Get less done. Laser focus? Check. Laser focus on the right thing? Well, that’s what I’m trying to be more intentional about these days.

What are you up to?

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Do the work

She didn’t give me a chance because I was an “insider” or because I had the fire of an “outsider.” She gave me a chance because I did the work. When she was in on the weekends, she saw me there too. When she asked me to read something, she got a report on her desk the next day. If she took the time to solicit ideas from the window seats, I spoke up. I made an ass out of myself more times than I’d like to admit but I watched, read, and learned.

~ Steven Pressfield from, https://stevenpressfield.com/2013/04/insideoutside/

In all my years I’ve never worked a “real” job; I never had one of those corporate wage-slave jobs you may have heard of from the 80’s and 90’s. I had two, generic-type, hourly-wage-type jobs; one involving insane physical labor as a grounds-keeper on a golf course. I worked while in college, but only for the extra spending money, so I had the luxury of working jobs I wanted. Lots of people at those jobs helped me out, and lots of people have given me breaks along the way. Why?

Because I did the work.

I cut the edging of sand traps in the blazing heat, by hand, with a machete. I mopped floors, loaded and drove a delivery truck. Mowed grass, mucked horse stalls, loaded tons of paper into laser printers, read a room full of manuals, typed and then edited an entire book chapter full of complex math. Some things I did for money, some for favors, and some for fun. I put my back into it, literally and figuratively.

So now—on a Wednesday morning, relaxing before a fire, deciding what I will do today—I’m also thinking: Who do I know that could use a tip? Who could do wonders with an opportunity? Who could accomplish a lot if I just helped them get in motion?

Yes, each of us should seize the day, chart our own course, and begin now under our own power. But those of us in positions where we are able, we should be helping, nudging, pushing and guiding wherever our efforts can have outsized benefit.

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Because your soul demands it

So I make it really simple. I’d say art is: “That which you have no choice but to do, because your soul demands it”.

Yes, it’s a fairly flawed definition. But it illustrates something that most people don’t get about artists or entrepreneurs. We do it, because if we don’t, life feels empty. The downside being, it doesn’t exactly come with an easy life.

~ Hugh MacLeod from, https://www.gapingvoid.com/blog/2018/05/10/do-it-because-your-soul-demands-it/

I’ve found it very difficult to distinguish, “I started this thing therefore I must finish this thing, and I must do it well,” from, “I must finish this thing, and I must do it well.” Notice the missing, “I started this thing therefore…” I have a lot of ideas, several of which I often believe are totally not utter crap. So I start on them.

But once I’ve begun, it gets very hard to tell why I am continuing. What exactly indicates when my soul demands I should continue?

I think about whatever thing I’m currently working on all the time. So I can’t simply use, “does it hold my attention?” It sure feels like I absolutely must continue this thing! Meanwhile, I’ve a long list of things that consumed my attention and energy at one point, but which today are lost from sight in the rearview mirror.

Lately I’ve been experimenting with taking holidays by trying to set something down. This requires immense effort in the beginning; I usally have to cold-turkey-quit to get away from my passion project du jour. Sometimes, day by day, the urge to pick it back up fades and I feel like maybe that project should be left in the rear view mirror. I suppose that my soul doesn’t actually demand it because I hope that my soul wouldn’t just give up after a few days.

Questions today. None of them elucidating. ymmv.

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A grievous error

“Setting the bar too high.”
“Setting stretch goals with the knowledge that coming up short will be the norm.”

…are symptoms of forward-looking assessment of progress. Assessing progress by looking forward is a grievous error. “What have I accomplished?” is only measurable by looking back at what has been accomplished. This error is one of my big problems—I’d even say it’s my #2 problem. I’m working on it by practicing looking back to assess progress. :) My instinct and habit though is to look forward. Thus, more practice is needed to make looking back the default.

What have I accomplished?
What is the affect of what I have done?
How far have I moved?
How much have I learned?

Such questions can only be answered by considering the change between two points in my past.

The hard part—at least for me—is to keep out the “I wanted.” “I accomplished that much, but I wanted to accomplish [insert goal here],” creeps in through the open door of assessment.

By shifting my eyes just a bit to my left, I can see my personal oath which is stuck next to my monitor. There are a few phrases in it which are specifically meant to help me keep, “but I wanted to…” firmly locked outside.

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All things

https://www.gapingvoid.com/blog/2007/12/16/post-dreaming-reality/

One day I’ll be a filmmaker! One day I’ll be a famous artist! One day I’ll be a CEO! One day I’ll be a Creative Director! One day I’ll be a Venture Capitalist! And so forth.

Then you get to a certain age and you realize that the time for “One Day” is over. You’re either doing it, or you’re not. And if you’re not, a feeling of bitter disappointment starts hitting you deep into the marrow. Which explains why we all know so many people in their 30s and 40s having mid-life crisis’.

~ Hugh MacLeod

Whether I’m different, or have already passed through that, I know not. What I can tell you is that my problem is not at all a feeling of not doing what I want to do.

My problem is the feeling that I am doing too many different things. All things I’ve chosen. All things which I’m passionate about. All things which are cool, rewarding, meaningful and make the world a better place.

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