How to Do Anything

I have invested years and dollars going to school to learn how to make things. I have spent years reading, watching, listening, asking, and toiling to figure out what I want to be and do with my life. I have spent the past year and a half learning how to teach others to produce creative and technical work. In the midst of my journey, I have learned several important lessons about how to do what you want to do.

Know What You Want

The biggest and most important lesson in doing anything is knowing what you want. Do you want to make a lot of money? Do you want to eliminate malaria? Do you want to create a search engine that does not target advertisements based upon searches? Do you want to be a web designer, a developer, a filmmaker, an artist, a photographer?

I was told growing up: “Now you know and knowing is half the battle.” I would argue that in today’s fast-paced, competitive world, knowing is 80-90% of the battle because the knowledge of who you are and what you want leads to action.

Purposed Intent

Once you know what you want, you’re going to do whatever it takes to get there. You’ll be purposeful with your time, your energy, your relationships, your money, your tangible and intangible resources. Why? Because you know what you want to do. You have a vision for what you want to accomplish and your mission is to bring that vision forth into the world.

You’re going to stop collecting the accolades and criticisms from others. You will learn who truly wants to help you and who is out to watch you trip and fall. Purposed intent helps you to avoid the fear of failure, which often leads to paranoia and inaction.

Be a Fool

A fool is someone that doesn’t know any better when attempting to do something. A fool looks at a task and attempts to do it regardless of the outcome. A fool trips, falls, and fails regardless of who is watching. A fool is in love with what must be done.

Being a fool does not mean you are stupid. It simply means you don’t know any better. You aren’t listening to the messages of others telling you how you should be. That is the world of conformity attempting to mold and shape you into its image. There is a vast cavern between conformity and reality.

Be Tenacious

Get back up. Go another round. Be tenacious in your knowledge and in your application. If you wait for others to bring you around to where you want to be, you’ll learn a very important lesson: People get tired dragging dead weight for too long.

If you are tired, take a nap, but get back in the game as quick as possible. Tenacity is just as habitual as laziness. You’ll be surprised how quick you can go from being eager to lackadaisical.

No Excuses

As I get older, I find that two things annoy me: When I feel the excuses from within and when I hear excuses from others. Ultimately, there are no excuses. You are either do or do not. Yoda had it right.

If excuses are mounting, then it’s important to revisit what you want. Do you remember? Or are you just going through the motions?

Waking Up

I feel I have been living in a fog for the last few years. Sure, there have been standout moments. I finished my master’s degree in Management and Organizational Leadership. I have taught multiple courses in web design, multimedia, and video production. I was a B-camera operator on a feature-length film.

But in the back of my mind, something has been bugging me. I hate the plateau I find myself on. Everything I do creatively feels the same. It takes so much effort to start and finish the simplest of projects. Is this normal?

I never thought this was normal until I discovered Mastery: The Keys to Success and Long-Term Fulfillment by George Leonard. In this gem, Leonard describes the plateau as “the long stretch of diligent effort with no seeming progress.” He further states: “If our life is a good one, a life of mastery, most of it will be spent on the plateau. If not, a large part of it may well be spent in restless, distracted, ultimately self-destructive attempts to escape the plateau.”

Wait a minute, how can a plateau lead to a good life?

  1. By leading us to a lifetime of learning and practice.
  2. By moving us from a life devoted to finishing goals to developing skills.
  3. By teaching action over indecision.

My fog is best described by Leonard: “Indecision leads to inaction, which leads to low energy, depression, despair.”

Makes sense. So, what do I do?

“Liberation comes through the acceptance of limits. You can’t do everything, but you can do one thing, and then another and another.” – Leonard.

I’m grateful for Mastery. It is teaching me critical lessons at a time in my life when I desperately need change. I am going to embrace the plateau by learning and practicing. I am going to keep moving forward one day, one action, one thought, one task at a time.

 

Secret Longings of Intuition

A crucial component to creativity is intuition. A spark of an idea. An image. A thought. A single word. The tingle in the bottom of the stomach. Intuition is the driving force of creative action. It is the lust for creative beauty that opens one to things that cannot be seen, heard, felt. It is the big bang of creative conception as ideas cross-pollinate within the artistic soul.

I long to grasp hold of intuition, to define it, to make it tangible and real. I want it to be right, safe, and never deceiving. Instead I question my intuition. Is it right? Is it wrong? I procrastinate. I wait. I am bitter as my creativity dies a whimpered death; an after-thought between my posts on social media. “Love me,” I say to the world. “Don’t forget about me,” whispers my soul.

What will become of the expression that longs to cross the boundaries of my dry and broken heart? Will intuition leave me for a more faithful lover?

A Burning Desire to Excel

Buried in The Education of an Illustrator by Steven Heller and Marshall Arisman is a beautiful quote on what it means to be a student of the arts:

“Education should stress the fundamentals, encourage the desire to learn, and create a safe environment in which the students can learn more about themselves, take risks, and grow to exceed their perceived potential. But, no matter how well the educator orchestrates this, it will only work if the students are not only willing to learn, but have a burning desire to excel in their chosen field. Going through the motions is a sure path toward being stuck in the pursuit of the norm. The main problem is that the norm isn’t achievable because it’s always changing. However, with a willingness to learn and a desire to excel, today’s students can create the next norm and the next.” — Thomas B. Allen

Do you have a burning desire to excel?

On Learning to Use a Hammer

When I was in Africa, a carpenter tried to teach me how to properly drive a nail. He showed me how to hold the hammer so that its weight would do all the appropriate work. It was up to me to practice and make sure that I was using the hammer in an optimal way.

I couldn’t do it. My nails were driven halfway into the wood and started to bend out of shape. A little tap from the left. Some cursing. A lot of taps from the right. I just couldn’t figure out how to use the hammer.

I watched the carpenter drive a nail like Mr. Miyagi. I attempted to mimic exactly what he was doing. I tried to hold the hammer the way he did. The nail still went in crooked. I finally determined that the problem was the hammer and that I should buy a new hammer.

Overcome Boring Work

When I started my business in 2006, I held the belief that I would never take on work that I did not want to do. However, this belief has been shattered by my inability to say no to work (translation: unhealthy workaholic). The result has been a cycle of late nights fulfilling unrealistic deadlines, diminishing vision, a lack of care for my health, and occasional boredom towards the very work I was hired to do.

When one is a work junkie (translation: very unhealthy workaholic), the pressure of deadlines and the subsequent choices made in order to live up to those deadlines is the fix that leads to an addiction. I am an addict. I can’t say no. I need the high, but I am bored.

Recently, I was talking with my wife about the boredom I felt and she made a comment that hit me hard: “It may be boring to you, but have you thought about the people that the creative work is for? Will they be bored?”

The moral of the story: You may be bored with your work, but in the business of providing creative solutions, it is never about you. It is about your client, your audience, and the message that is being communicated to them.

Want to overcome boring work? Get over yourself and do the job.

 

Visual Illiteracy

While I am not a painter, I love reading books about the creative and artistic process. In Joe Fig’s book, Inside The Painter’s Studio, he interviewed several painters regarding their process, philosophy, schedule, studios, and materials. One painter, April Gornik, discussed the concept of visual illiteracy in an age where visual information is in abundance:

I think it’s very hard for people to see art now. I think that photography–not through any fault of its own–has become the common visual denominator in all the arts. And people tend to see things as images, and they don’t understand or even experience the somatic import of the art. They’re seeing it only with one of their senses–they just see the image. They don’t know how to read into it. . . . But people are accustomed to seeing things as kind of a quick fix.

Is there a cause for visual illiteracy? How do we overcome it as a society? Does being able to see art matter? How is the digital revolution affecting our notions of scale, proportion, contrast, and color?

The questions are many, but all I can think about is not wanting to be visually illiterate. So, instead of writing, maybe I’ll sit in front of a painting and enjoy the sensations of art.

 

Scales, Solos, and Rock Stars

When I was in high school I took trumpet lessons for a few years. At first, I was enamored with my teacher. Not only could he play the trumpet in a way that I wanted to, but he had an ability to share what other trumpet players–Wynton, Miles, and Dizzy–did to advance the genre of jazz.

I was taught the language of performance in both action and word including abilities such as circular breathing and double-articulation. Most importantly, I was taught the value of learning and practicing scales in order to become a better musician.

But I never really understood any of what I was taught. All I wanted to do was be able to solo. I wanted to be able to free-flow an amazing, unwritten masterpiece.

I yearned to be great. I eventually quit.

To Be Great Is To Practice

Eighteen years later, I find myself in the position of the teacher. Sharing everything I can about art, design, and filmmaking, much like my trumpet teacher did with the trumpet and jazz: history, foundations, and practice.

Before me are students asking the same questions I once asked: Why do I have to learn about history? Why should foundations and principles be second nature when software can take care of them for me? What good will practice do? I just want to be a rock star.

What I know today that I did not know yesterday is that the solo is built upon the second-nature knowledge of scales. And for scales to become second-nature, a lot of time must be spent practicing scales in every key.

To be great is to practice the foundations of the craft that is being studied. Whether the subject is web design, filmmaking, or the trumpet, there are foundations that must be learned and practiced on a daily basis.

To Be Great Is To Never Forget What It Takes To Be Great

I quit a lot of things throughout my life because I wanted to be great at everything I set out to do. What I often forget is that greatness requires time and devotion.

Time = Patience + Silence + Focus

Time spent in practice requires patience in the absence of ability, silence in the presence of the world, and focus on the task at hand. When I was younger, there was an abundance of time. Now, I find that abundance lessening as I am pulled in too many directions. I ache for some patience, silence, and focus.

In the writing of the post I continuously battled with the desire to check my phone, e-mail, social network accounts. What is going on? What am I missing?

Am I really serious about what I want to do? Do I really aspire to be great? Then I will spend the necessary time.

Devotion Leads To Mastery

Devotion fuels our ability to spend time in the pursuit of greatness. Our love for “the subject” keeps us coming back when failure and mediocrity tells us to quit. Without devotion, we would be satisfied, content with today.

To be great is to never be satisfied with our current level of understanding. There must be something more than greatness. There must be a point and purpose to our practice. For many, it is the love of the craft. For others, it is the promise of riches and rewards.

What Will You Practice Today?

Of Change and Resolution

That feeling when you read something that sticks in your mind like a nagging thought. It won’t go away. It feeds on hope and insecurity. All that is right with the world, all that is wrong, is consumed by the thought that perhaps as a society we’ve been here before.

Joseph Campbell (2008) writes in The Hero with a Thousand Faces:

As Professor Arnold J. Toynbee indicates in his six-volume study of the laws of the rise and disintegration of civilizations, schism in the soul, schism in the body social, will not be resolved by any scheme of return to the good old days (archaism), or by programs guaranteed to render an ideal projected future (futurism), or even by the most realistic, hardheaded work to weld together again the deteriorating elements. Only birth can conquer death–the birth, not of the old thing again, but of something new. Within the soul, within the body social, there must be–if we are to experience long survival–a continuous “recurrence of birth” (palingenesia) to nullify the unremitting recurrences of death.  (pp. 11-12).

The Look Book

In a recent article, Danny Boyle’s 15 Golden Rules of Moviemaking, filmmaker Danny Boyle wrote about showing up on set with “a look book”:

10. COME TO THE SET WITH A LOOK BOOK • I always have a bible of photographs, images by which I illustrate a film. I don’t mean strict storyboards, I just mean for inspiration for scenes, for images, for ideas, for characters, for costumes, even for props. These images can come from anywhere. They can come from obvious places like great photographers, or they can come from magazine advertisements—anywhere, really. I compile them into a book and I always have it with me and I show it to the actors, the crew, everybody!

I am intrigued by the concept of creating a look book. Purists will balk at creating a look book, “You’re going to pollute your vision with the work of others.” The rest of us will have what we need to tell the story the way it must be told.

But don’t stop at photographs. Collect words and typographic treatments, old and new paintings, architecture, color, music, abstract art, waveforms, symbols, comics, websites, tweets, trash, and textures.

Everything can be put into a look book.

You only will get out what you put in.