“You are either holding a knife or you’re not. There’s no, ‘I’m trying to hold a knife,’ or ‘I was just about to hold a knife.’ Now, where’s your knife?”
Living in a Latin American country without a firm grasp of Spanish is a lot like wandering in the woods at night. Every rustle of leaves sounds like a bear on the verge of eating you.
Learning a language can be a lot like navigating a new landscape. So can honing yourself in a creative discipline. Wandering around is cool until you get hungry. You’ve got to have a plan of action — whether it’s for self or future riches.
With the rise of technology and the consistent tide of entitlement, we don’t have to do anything. We can sit in the corner of a coffee shop all day, scrolling Instagram, pretending to work. Collecting a paycheck of “likes” at the day’s end.
Most of us need pressure to not only get started but to follow-through. When you’re lost in the woods, your decisions are the difference between life and death.
If you are stuck, I challenge you to approach your creative endeavors in a different manner.
Imagine: You’re in the woods. Bears are rustling — I mean leaves. You have to commit to a weapon.
Just one. What will it be?
For me, it’s writing.
For Coltrane, it was the sax.
For Kanye West, it’s confusing us all.
What is yours?
Now, step 1:
Test It Out/Practice.
Say you want to paint. Don’t do like I did with writing. Don’t romanticize over the lifestyle and never get down to business. I moved to France in my head over a dozen times because of Baldwin.
What did me in early was the lack of discipline. Be better than me.
Commit to painting for (at least) 30 days. Just a few minutes out of the day. Set an alarm in the beginning if you have to. Get serious about your craft early.
Engage creativity with habit and practice. Even the greats carved out schedules for their creative pursuits. Art is rarely Bourbon-inspired.
In the end, how can something be your life’s work if you can’t commit to practicing it daily?
As the late great Whitney Houston asked unlike any other, “How will I know?”
Moving along, Step 2:
Sharpen Your Iron.
You’ve graduated past shooting in the sky. That doesn’t get your blood pumping like it used to.
You’ve got a little discipline about yourself. But just need better aim.
You’re starting projects. You’ve got a few under your belt. You’re building your network. You’re curating your life around this work.
Your craft has baptized you. Your favorite artists have become your Saints, shepherding you to the promised land.
In my book, I reference the importance of building a circle of influence.
Some of my favorite writers and artists are spiritual mentors. It may sound crazy (’cause it is), but Maya Angelou and Gil Scott-Heron help guide my hand when I’m blocked.
You don’t have to go as extreme as me. Maybe you want to get out and socialize with real people. The kind of people that breathe.
Writer and entrepreneur, Ben Casnocha suggests building an “Interesting People Fund.”
The interesting people fund is a pre-commitment strategy: by pre-committing time and money to meeting interesting people, you increase the likelihood that you actually do it. Because many people know they ought to do it, and think about doing it, but when push comes to shove and it’s time to take an hour out of your day or spend $40 buying someone lunch — they punt on it.
Work Towards Mastery.
“You see this guy here? That’s the toughest opponent you’re ever going to have to face. I believe that’s true in the ring, and I think that’s true in life. Now show me something.” — Rocky Balboa, Creed (2015)
You don’t have to go all, “This is my rifle, this is my gun,” Full Metal Jacket about it. But as with any craft, pursuit, or chosen arena of life, your work is a reflection of you.
You will have fostered a relationship with this thing, this love, this life’s work. You will have fostered a relationship of knowing self through a discipline.
It’s showtime. Don’t let your weapon intimidate you. Each man has their own specific fire (chosen or not) to walk through.
Your path will not be mistake-free. You might even perhaps pick the wrong weapon. Maybe you have a few weapons in your arsenal over a lifetime. The point is, you should pick something first, feel it out (see if it’s for you). If it feels right, do your best to get better at it and expose yourself to others doing it. Become inspired by works and life and people you meet. Then use all these influences to get to a level of mastery.
This isn’t an overnight thing. It takes years on years on years. Maybe even more than 10 years sometimes. The point is, keep working.
“Think of it this way: There are two kinds of failure. The first comes from never trying out your ideas because you are afraid, or because you are waiting for the perfect time. This kind of failure you can never learn from, and such timidity will destroy you. The second kind comes from a bold and venturesome spirit. If you fail in this way, the hit that you take to your reputation is greatly outweighed by what you learn. Repeated failure will toughen your spirit and show you with absolute clarity how things must be done.”
― Robert Greene, Mastery
Once you know where you want to go, go in that direction relentlessly.
But first, you must choose.
Choose your weapon. Keep the bears off.
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