Creativity is the Willingness to Stop

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In order to create, you not only have to be willing to start, but you also have to be willing to stop.

That is, you have to accept the fact that you’ll never be able to say everything that can possibly be said in a single performance, pitch, or presentation. If an idea or conviction is truly worth expressing, it’s going to be far more nuanced than what can be captured in one article, one speech, one graphic, or one project. Being creative means challenging yourself to share what you have with the world even though you know it’s possible to edit it, rethink it, or rehearse it until kingdom come.

Instead of being a perfectionist about the project you’re working on, be a perfectionist about the process of gradually getting better as you move from project to project. The central problem of inspiration isn’t starting, it’s shipping. We fail to begin things because we don’t know how to give ourselves permission to end things.

If you want to get stuff done, hold yourself accountable to a clear and completable definition of what it means to be done.

The Meaning is in the Making

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Photo by SwapnIl Dwivedi on Unsplash

Word of caution: Avoid entrepreneurial stereotypes like a deadly plague.

Someone recently shared with me an entrepreneurial project they were working on. It had the following elements: it required them to learn some new skills, it required them to make creative use of existing skills, and it involved making a product and selling it to customers. I was impressed. Yet, this person was hesitant to share their work because it wasn’t as “impressive” as something like “taking an online coding course.”

I’ve never taken an online coding course, but I’ve met dozens of people who have. And some of them haven’t created a single thing outside of the classroom. All they have are a bunch of mock-up websites, apps, and other unshipped items that no one in the real world even knows about. But hey…they know how to code. Yay!

Knowing how to code doesn’t mean squat if you fail to create value with it. Being able to speak techno-geek doesn’t mean squat if you can’t keep a job or all you know how to do is lurk around at hackathons.

Don’t be fooled by startup culture hype. It’s not about working at a co-op space that serves white chocolate mochas. It’s not about attending conferences on innovation and technology. It’s not about being a fan of Elon Musk. It’s not about working from home or working from the beach. It’s not about saying “I know python.” It’s about identifying the things you want to do and figuring out a way to get those things done.

All of the above matters only if you make it matter. And none of the above matters if you don’t make it matter.

It’s what you make that matters.

Lead and Let Lead

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Knowing more than someone else about a particular subject doesn’t mean it’s always a good idea for you to be the person in charge.

Sometimes people need expertise, but sometimes they just need the experts to give them a little room to experiment.

Sometimes people need efficiency, but sometimes they just need experience.

Sometimes people need to be led to their destination as smoothly as possible, but sometimes they just need to learn how to handle being in the driver’s seat even if that results in a bumpier ride.

Good leaders not only know how to guide, but they also know how to get out of the way.

Potential is not Enough

Photo by Riccardo Annandale on Unsplash

“What lies in our power to do, lies in our power not to do.” -Aristotle

“You have potential” is not a compliment. It’s a challenge.

“To whom much is given, much is required.”

The more potential you have, the greater the demands you need to place on yourself. It’s not enough to feel flattered by your theoretical ability to do creative work. Potential is there to be actualized.

People will tell you’re that you’re brilliant, charming, and inspiring all day long just because you have big ideas, big conversations, and big plans. Don’t be seduced by the soothing words of those people. Good intentions aside, praise is not only cheap, but it’s dangerous if you mistake it for actual accomplishment. Countless dreams have been slayed by the dragons of flattery that sit atop the treasure of people’s potential.

Don’t settle for the easy “likes” and instant love that comes with talking about all the cool things you’re going to do some day in the distant future. Take life by the reigns now. Stir up the gift. Fan the flame. Become the person you know you can become. Value the clarity of your conscience over the cheers of a crowd.

Don’t let your potential stand over you as an indictment against your work ethic and commitment. Instead of leaving behind a legacy of flamboyantly announced intentions and unfinished projects, leave the world with an example of someone who had the courage to transform their potential energy into kinetic energy.

Yes, you have potential. But please don’t let that be most compelling part of your story.

“I can’t post this status because it doesn’t have any likes”

That’s a quip Isaac Morehouse uses to capture the futility of waiting on inspiration before getting started on creative work.

Being inspired is like having friends. If you use it as a prerequisite for doing the stuff you want to do, you’ll constantly miss out on awesome opportunities. If you just say “screw it” and do what you want to do with or without an accomplice, an accomplice will always join you somewhere down the road….after you get started, after you build some momentum on your own.

Chuck Close wrote, “Inspiration is for amateurs — the rest of us just show up and get to work.”

On the surface it sounds like tough love, but it’s really just a simple matter of cause and effect: If you want the muse to whisper her secrets in your ear, you have to flirt with her first. She’s not going to make her move until you make your move. If you want creative ideas to speak to your mind and sing to your heart, then start moving with your feet and working with your hands.

Inspiration is the effect, not the cause, of doing your work.

An Exercise in Personal Power

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Photo by Nathan Shipps on Unsplash

“Write about this man who, drop by drop, squeezes the slave’s blood out of himself until he wakes one day to find the blood of a real human being–not a slave’s–coursing through his veins.” -Anton Pavlovich Chekhov

Identify your concept of what a crappy job is. Then strive to purify yourself of any fear you feel about ever having to work such a job. Face your fear and interrogate it until it subsides. Strive and persist until you begin to feel the sensation of inner freedom running through your veins.

Now go pursue what you really want from a place of power.

If you want to create the job of your dreams, you might need to conquer the job of your nightmares by realizing that there is no such thing as a job that’s capable of taking away your self-worth and potential.

You can’t build the kind of momentum that will carry you to your desired destination if you’re paralyzed by a fear of all the possible points in-between.

When Life is Good to You, Don’t Apologize

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Photo by Tanja Heffner on Unsplash

Sympathizing doesn’t equal apologizing.

It’s possible to sympathize with people who don’t have your advantages or assets without apologizing for the results of your hard work or good fortune. You’re not going to make the world a better place by hanging your head in guilt every time something good happens to you.

If you truly want to help those in need, then help them. But don’t disrespect yourself or the goodness you’re sharing by treating life’s blessings as if they’re something you ought to be ashamed of.

Success is not a scandal. Wealth is not wicked. Enthusiasm is not evil. If you’re lucky enough to have tasted one of these things, it’s actually good to act as if such things are worth tasting.

Yes, it’s possible to do well in life without hanging your wellness over someone else’s head.

“But what if I acquired my success through illegitimate means?”

Even in cases such as these, your guilt is useless if you don’t translate it into the kind of compassion and conviction that expresses itself through charitable action.

If your conscience won’t allow you to enjoy life’s blessings without being overcome by self-condemnation and shame, feel free to give away your goods to people who can appreciate them. But if you’re not going to do that, please spare the world of your martyrdom and misery.

If good is good and evil is evil, then there is nothing good about treating your experience of goodness as if it’s an evil that needs to be explained.