Last night, I painted for the fuck of it. I’ve had these art supplies from my short stint at design school, many of them practically unopened in years. They’ve just been sitting there.
I’ve always wanted to paint. I have this fantasy of making all this money and being rich enough to effectively ignore the world, shut myself in and just paint and break stuff and make stuff and explore. Last night, I thought, ‘fuck it, why not give myself that luxury for one night at least. No thoughts of the outside world, no worries of judgment, no stressing about deadlines. Just sit and feel and create.
And so I did. And it was nice.
Not everything has to have a reason. Not everything has to make sense. There is beauty and purpose in the absurd and meaningless. I think it helps us understand how ‘not in control’ we are, and how much there is that we don’t know.
There are things we feel compelled to create even though we don’t know why. There are things we really want to do that we don’t give ourselves permission to do…Talents and gifts left unexpressed. I think we should make time to do those things. If not for others, we can at least do it for ourselves. It is important, it is part of our human journey, it is part of discovering and creating our selves.
I’m intrigued with how ideas become reality. A bit specifically, how dope ideas become dope reality. There are a lot of half baked ideas and half assed execution. There is also a fair share of dope ideas but no execution. You may have a few of those yourself.
There’s this book – Making Ideas Happen by Scott Belsky of Behance fame. It’s a great book, I know this, even though I have not read it all the way to the end yet. One day I will. Anyway, at some point in what I’ve read so far, Scott describes a simple framework for identifying and organizing the various pieces of information and content that surround our ideas. Basically he says, be organized. If you can control and access the information and keep your eyes on the necessary action points, you are golden.
I know some people think they thrive in chaos, or believe they are fairly organized. If you want to experience a serious boost in productivity and getting shit done, be organized towards your main goals. Keep your goals in main focus. Have a system for noting down and organizing the stray ideas, comments and requests of your time. Have a system with clearly defined steps for working through these things. Keep reviewing and monitoring.
You will find that the more organized you are, and the more integrated the information and implementation systems are in your life, the more efficient and effective you would be. Bonus points…your ability to assess opportunities and exploit them would be exponentially increased, because you know exactly where you are going and how you are getting there.
Being organized also speaks to being prepared. If you are organized, you are most likely also prepared. Success at this point is all but guaranteed.
Coming up with ideas is fun. Executing them…not so much. Especially if you have a lot of inertia. You know, having a lot of ideas and not ever doing anything to make them a reality. And its true, making things happen can be hard, its messy. Have you ever seen an artist’s studio? Most times it’s a glorious chaos of paint and brushes everywhere, half done experiments and sketches, pieces of inspiration. Any form of creation requires a fair amount of mucking around, of doubting yourself, of false starts and detours…and of course…failure.
But if you embrace that mess, all that remains is the work. You just have to do the work. Execution isn’t pretty, it is quite messy, sometimes painful. Its banging your head against the wall for days on end looking for answers. Its long nights at the office or at your desk. But that’s where the real fun is. In stretching yourself and growing, wrestling with creation until it yields and you are rewarded with the rewards and the lovely side effect of deeper self knowledge and experience.
I made a piece of graphic art to remind myself of this concept, Check it out here.
Some days, all you have is the process…
If you want to achieve anything spectacular, it’s not going to happen in one furious instant of glory. It will take time and effort and death by a thousand cuts. You have to major in the day to day. You have to break down the big project, the big hairy audacious goal into its component parts and integrate those pieces into ur daily life. If you just focus on getting each day right, on eating the proverbial elephant one bite at a time, eventually the elephant will be done.
But you have to focus, and trust the process. Not just on the days when you are motivated and fired up, the days where everything goes your way. Even the days it seems like nothing is going right, when the challenges and pressure mounts up, or when people fall away because your thing is taking too long. All you need to do is focus on the process. One step after the other. On the good days, on the bad days, just keep ploughing through. One day, you will find yourself on the other side.
As you can see, this requires patience, and a clear long-term view. You have to be playing the long game here, and you have to be playing to win. It will help you stay focused, it will keep you from falling prey to distraction. The process helps to keep you accountable. It doesn’t matter what happened today, if that deal fell through, the client didn’t pay, your boss shouted at you, your girlfriend ignored you. Shit happens! The question is, did YOU do YOUR job, did you trust the process, did you handle that lil chunk of elephant meat for the day?
Especially if you feel like you are starting from the bottom, with the odds stacked against you; but you got big dreams and the stars in your eyes, then you better hunker down and get started on the process. Ignore all that noise around you, the naysayers, the social media, the petty shit and keep your mind and eyes dead focused on the prize. Write the piece, make the call, make the art, learn the skill, read the book, watch the documentary, take the chance, do your job for the day, rinse, repeat.
So I came across this idea again a week ago – the concept of two different mindsets: a fixed mindset and a growth mindset.
The concept is fairly straightforward. On the one hand, you have the fixed mindset. This way of thinking assumes that intelligence and traits are fixed, they are either there or not, either high or low, and you have what you have, it’s just the way it is. If you are smart, you are smart. If you are dumb, you are dumb.
On the other hand, there is the growth mindset. This basically means that what ever is…can be changed. So, intelligence is fluid, traits and skills are fluid, they change. You can actually become smarter…or dumber.
Now what is fascinating are the consequences of each way of thinking. In the fixed mindset, things get dangerous. You get told, ‘hey, you did well in this math test, you are quite intelligent’. What gets into your subconscious is ‘I am intelligent, this is part of my identity now. Because I am intelligent, I SHOULD always do well. If I don’t do well, then it means I’m dumb and that’s just not true, I am intelligent and awesome’. You carry around this self-identity and look for cues to support it. So you do things that you know you are definitely good at and shun everything that seems hard. Effort isn’t a good thing because it means that the thing is hard, and intelligent people don’t find things hard. You might even start to lie and inflate your performance or importance because you MUST support this idea of your intelligence.
In the growth mindset, you get told, ‘hey, you did well in this math test, you must have worked really hard on this’. Here the focus is on the EFFORT, what gets communicated to your subconscious is ‘I did well because I put in work’. So its not about you being smart or superior, its about the work and energy you put into solving those problems. Generally these people do better than the former group, they relish a challenge and are keen on working hard to overcome obstacles and learn, grow, become better.
I got the impression when I was very young that I was intelligent. I did very well in primary school without really trying. It was only in high school after languishing in mediocrity for a bit that I realized that if I put in more work and tweaked my study/learning habits I could actually go back to doing very well. So I learned from experience that if I wanted to be ‘intelligent’ I could boost that by practicing and working hard.
But the fixed mindset is still rooted quite deep within even though it’s slowly crumbling. The growth mindset requires humility and a focus on the process. You must be willing to come to the situation as a pure open-minded beginner, not thinking you know it all or anything at all. You must be okay with failing as long as each failure is an exhaustive lesson of where to grow. You must love the effort and the grind to the top. I’m not a good designer because the gods magically blessed me. I am a good designer because I have been working hard at my craft and if I continue to grind and tweak my process, I will continue to get better
Another place the fixed vs growth mindset plays out is in relationships, especially romantic ones. I am terribly guilty of being of the fixed mindset. Here, its all supposed to magically work out. The girl I’m with needs to just fit, the relationship should work, be sparkles and fireworks half the time, her flaws are problems that threaten our connection. While there is baseline for qualities I’d like, fairy tale perfection rarely happens. If I want an amazing and fulfilling relationship, that is something that will require mistakes, learning and working together to build that.
Lastly, I think about the effect of the fixed mindset on my life by the way of my fixation on perfection. I always thought I had to be the perfect kid, the perfect Christian, the perfect guy, and that caused me A LOT of distress when I would inevitable mess up. I have spent days pondering the question – ‘am I a good person?’ But if success comes from working towards being my best self, I don’t have to get it right all the time, I just have to be committed to working towards it.
It’s no secret to anyone who knows me that I’m a big Kanye West fan. I knew the College dropout and Late registration when they came out, but he first truly struck a chord with me with the 808s and Heartbreaks album and since then I have been intrigued by his creative prowess and consistency in pushing the envelope in his craft.
A lot of people say Kanye has changed and they want him to go back to his old stuff and style. These are things people have been saying since he put out 808s. Last week I checked out a 20min video of a Kanye West interview from back in the day before ‘College dropout”…dropped. And I realized like I always suspected that Kanye hasn’t really changed, he has just become more Ye.
I grew up on self-help material and large parts of what I read and learn about today are ideas on life and how to live better and succeed better. A few days ago, Kay remarked to me how interesting it would be to interact with some of the greats at the time point just before they broke out, just to see where their mind was at. The interview with Ye was a time machine of sorts that helped us do that. This is what I learned.
- Sometimes what you love is slightly (or maybe even completely) off the path of what everyone else thinks is appropriate and safe for you. You have to make the decision to be serious about what you want and pursue it.
- There will be haters, naysayers, people who say it can’t be done or who just plain don’t believe in you. That’s fine, pursue your vision regardless, focus on perfecting your craft and soon it would be undeniable.
- Respect everyone equally. Nothing is promised and a lot can change very quickly in life, while you climbing that ladder, respect everyone and treat people well.
- Your work is your responsibility, be involved in every aspect, if something in your project doesn’t come out the way you wanted, that’s your fault.
- Nothing beats authenticity. Put your heart in your art.
- Take inspiration across disciplines, from movies, from art, from everywhere and have a strong creative vision.
- If you have a dream, go for it. You have to see it, believe it and just do it.
- The music is bigger than the media. Forget about the hype. Whatever you feel, whatever inspires you, go with that, and be true to that.