It’s That Time Again

New Year’s Resolutions

They come from a good place. They arise from our desire to make our lives something more, to grow as people, to do more for the world, for ourselves, for others. But they almost immediately become a trap. They chain us to something that may not remain relevant to us for an entire year. We look back on them and get angry with ourselves for not staying true to them, for not fulfilling our promise. It’s not healthy. We create a cage and then punish ourselves for not wanting to be in it.

This year, I have been working hard to cut away ties from the past. I’ve thrown out old ideas for blog posts I’ve collected. I’ve trashed notes one creative projects. I’ve cleared out old emails, old documents, old photos that I was holding onto only because they were attached to some future plan.

It’s not been easy for me. I tend to hold onto ideas (and to physical items) that link me with feelings I had about how my future would be. In other words, my present is holding onto past ideas of my future.

The problem with that is that it makes my present about everything but the present. When I am not sure what I want to work on, I go to those lists for “inspiration”. But those ideas came from a place I am no longer in, so they are not relevant to my current situation. I’ve written about this before, when I first started this process: outdated ideas are the opposite of insightful.

Still, getting rid of past ideas has been a really hard thing. I have seriously struggled to do it. I’ve worked on it all year and still have things I hold on to “just in case.” When it comes down to it though, I’m using those ideas to hold myself back.  Having those lists is the best distraction in the world because it allows me to look for ideas there instead of digging into myself and acknowledging what I really need to be working on now, in this moment.

I am working hard to really look at the moment I am in, what I am interested in now, what makes me curious now, what makes me excited now and do that thing. New Year’s resolutions don’t fit the mold for that. They are the cart before the horse. On December 31st, we decide all the things we need to do for the next year, despite the fact that we have no idea what will come into our lives, what will inspire us, what will move us, what will light us up with creative energy. They tell us what we have to do without allowing room for change, for growth, for diversion.

This year, instead of making a list of creative projects (and this is seriously the hardest thing for me!), I am going to create a space where I document the things I end up doing over the course of the year.

I like this approach for two reasons.

It feels so open and full of potential! The future is suddenly allowed to become whatever it wants to. My creative energy isn’t forced into something I may not be interested in after a few weeks.

It also means that at the end of the year I will have a list of things I did that I never planned to do – things that I accomplished purely because I found them interesting, because they sparked my curiosity, because they were exactly what I needed at that moment.

I love the surprise that brings. Instead of knowing what I will be doing (or not doing and feeling guilty about), I will watch a list of things grow over the year and be able to look back on these things that made me happy, made me excited, made my life sparkle just a little bit more.

I have no idea what I will get up to over the next year in my creative life, but I know I am looking forward to seeing that list at the end of the year and smiling at how life takes us to unexpected places when we let it.

See you next time,

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Curiouser and Curiouser

I’m a curious person. I love things that make me go, “Hmmmm, that’s interesting…” And I love how digging into them often opens up all new avenues for me to pursue. I love the playfulness, the possibility that curiosity brings. Yet I often find myself writing off my curiosity as a fun but, ultimately, useless thing. I push aside my curiosity in the pursuit of something I am told is far more meaningful: passion.

For a long time, I’ve felt an overwhelming pressure (both internally and externally) to “follow my passion” in life. Far from being the rewarding and exciting adventure it is often billed as, however, it feels more like an impossible and thankless task, one that I would even describe emotionally crippling.

The time and energy I have spent looking for my passion, reading about it, filling out worksheets to try to capture it has left me feeling exhausted and desperate. It always feels just out of reach, something I could grasp if only I kept at it, approaching it from different angles, like a buttery kernel of popcorn that has slipped between the cushions.

Enter: Elizabeth Gilbert

A couple of days ago, a friend shared a video with me that freed my mind from the pursuit of passion. In the video, Elizabeth Gilbert, a human who I admire more all the time, describes it like this:

You spend a lot of your life having people tell you to follow your passion. It’s nice advice, it’s heart-warming advice, it’s great advice — if you happen to have one that is very clear and obvious.

Sometimes it feels cruel and all it does is make you feel even worse and more left out, because you’re like, ‘I would if I knew what it was.’

If you’re in that position right now… forget about passion.

Follow your curiosity. It might lead you to your passion or it might not. You might get nothing out of it at all except a beautiful, long life where all you did was follow your gorgeous curiosity. And that should be enough too.

As I processed this idea (in the shower, where all the good thinking happens), I felt an analogy that made the whole thing really click for me and helped me let go of this desperation I have to find my passion.

Prince Charming.

Disney princesses are told that there is a prince who will come, sweep them off their feet and make their life worth living. He could appear anywhere at any time, but when they see him, no matter the circumstance, they will just know. Their eyes will lock, their hearts will sync and they will be one and the same being from that moment on, living happily ever after in bubble of uncontrollable happiness.

When people talk about following your passion, they use imagery like this too.

Just as the Prince Charming myth leads us to ignore every other person along the way who isn’t “The One,” the passion myth makes us ignore our curiosity. Instead of being happy playing the field – having flings, sleeping around, dating the bad boy, snogging a stranger in a shitty pub – we sit in a corner waiting for this knight in shining armor to come and find us. Or even worse, we go desperately looking for him in everyone we see (that’ll be the option I went for).

I am exceedingly guilty of trying to shoehorn my curiosity into a passion. I find something interesting and I tell myself that this must be the one! The thing I’ve been waiting for! The thing I am supposed to do with my life. Finally!

It usually lasts about a week.

Letting go of passion and the idea that it will make you whole is as exhilarating as that lightbulb moment you have after a breakup when you realise you are free to do whatever you want, with whoever you want, for as long as you want.

There’s freedom in that moment. And that freedom sounds far more interesting than spending the rest of my life looking for something perfect – especially when the imperfect things make for far better stories.

Anchors Aweigh!

I did a really scary thing yesterday. I asked for advice from someone whose opinion I respect immensely.

And as a result of that advice, I did an even scarier thing today:

I deleted all the ideas I have ever collected about creative projects I want to do in the future. 

This tricky task was the result of an email discussion I had with someone yesterday who knows his shit about this stuff, a creative mind I have followed for a long time, Paul Jarvis.

If you haven’t read any of Paul’s work or listened to the Invisible Office Hours podcast he does with Jason Zook, you should get on that. Every time I read or listen to his ideas (and Jason’s too), I come away with so many nuggets of wisdom that help me in really big ways. Plus, he’s a really nice guy who genuinely likes to help people, so that’s a pretty awesome combination.

When I emailed him yesterday with a question, he gave me two pieces of advice that I took as a challenge for today. The first one is:

“The more I’m thinking, the less I’m working.”

This point really resonated with me because I tend to sit down and think out all the fine details of what will happen after I do the thing I am thinking of doing. I let my fantasy take me away, imagining where the project will go, what it will look like, what people will say about it and how I will feel as a result of how awesome it will be (obviously it will be a global success that will make me a financially independent world traveller the second it goes out).

But then I never actually do it. I never start the project. I never put the pen to the page. Because that’s where the real work is. That’s where things actually get hard.  And who wants hard when it’s so much easier to sit on my couch and imagine all the not hard things that will come from all the hard work I am not doing?

It’s the act of doing the work that make things happen. 

That’s where we’re are actually up against it, slugging through, trying things out, seeing what fits, experimenting, playing, but most importantly, working. Thinking about how awesome it will be at the end will never get the project up and running. Ever.

It’s a massive illusion to think we can predict where things will go, what a project will look like once it’s done because it will shift the second we actually start working on it. Then you’re in a tricky situation where you have built up expectations (remember, these are no bueno) and you begin comparing the actual work with what you think it should be. This is not a good combo.

You cannot think your way through a project. You have to get involved to see what it wants to be, where it wants to go. That’s when you get a feel for the essence of it – what elements of it elevate your soul and make your smile wider. You can only feel these things when you’re actually doing the work.

This brings me to the second piece of advice:

“When I have an idea, I write it down. If I don’t ACT on that idea within a few weeks, I delete it.” 

Because I am really bad at learning lessons, when I read this I thought, “Yes!! That makes so much sense! I would feel so light and free if I threw out my stale ideas and allowed room for new ones to grow. Won’t that be lovely!” and then I went off happy and proud of myself for doing such a liberating thing.

Had I actually done it? Nope. Not even close. I watched a movie instead (Big Fish, if you’re wondering – I really like that movie).

This morning, the real work came.

Armed with the first piece of advice, I dove into the second challenge: delete outdated ideas

It was really hard to start on this. I was a little bit pissed off that Paul suggested it because I couldn’t bear the thought of throwing some of these things out. Still, I wanted to give it a try because, well, he knows his shit and he’s done his work and pushed through and made things that he is proud of, and I want to do that too.

When I began, I felt like I was throwing myself away. I felt like I was erasing hours of work, hours of thought and creativity. It was pretty difficult.  But now that it’s done, I see that I wasn’t erasing any work at all. I was erasing things that took away from my actual work. Things that distracted me. Things that weighed me down.

Some of my notes have been a weight on me for years. I kept past ideas around because I thought I would reference them at some point. I thought I would come back to them and be reminded of what I really want in life, what I want to do, where I really want to go. I thought I would read these old, worn scraps of paper like tea leaves and bear witness to some kind of revelation about my ultimate purpose in life.

But outdated ideas are the opposite of insightful. 

Instead of pushing me toward the future, they pull me to the past. They anchor me to times and places that are no longer relevant to my life and the work I need to do right now. They are heavy. They are stressful. They are unnecessary. And they need to be cut out.

The funny thing is, it wasn’t until I started throwing things away, throwing the weight off, that realised I had been carrying it in the first place. I felt so much lighter, so free and liberated. I felt so much creative space opening up. It was amazing.

No longer linked to past ideas, I am now free to engage in the ideas that are coming from the present. The things that are relevant to me NOW. That are meaningful to me NOW. That excite me NOW.

When I set out on this mission this morning, I wanted to think that I knew better than Paul; that he was wrong about this; that his advice wouldn’t apply to me because I’m a different person.

But he is totally right.

It’s essential to diligently keep our creative slate fresh and clean. 

Holding on to stale ideas binds us to the past and inhibits our growth in the future. Deleting them allows the really relevant ideas – the ones that matter most to us right now, in this moment – space to breathe and grow. For me, that is the definition of creative freedom.


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