By Brad Beckstrom
I had a dream the other night that I was getting up every morning and shooting myself out of a cannon. The dream was odd because it was on a bit of a loop. There were multiple human cannonball shots, featuring me, but they were all different. Some of these went well, others went very poorly. I don’t recall any crowds cheering. It was just me and the cannon.
I’m glad I don’t visit a shrink or try to attach any deep meaning to these type of flying, falling dreams, but at times, they are oddly insightful. You see, I’ve been thinking a lot lately about creative ambition. Creative ambition in the sense of mastery, versus success and recognition. Shooting yourself out of that cannon, taking all of the risk with the just the dream of ending up a bit further down the road.
Making art versus money, what would happen?
When many of us think of “ambition”, we think of success, recognition, financial rewards. What interests me is looking at ambition from a new angle. Asking the question; what would happen if we took all of that drive and ambition and threw it into making art versus making money?
I’m not strictly speaking to career artists, musicians, writers and other creatives here, I’m speaking to everyone. As human beings, we’re all natural born storytellers and creatives. It’s how we learn. It’s always been how we learn — from cave paintings to stories passed down through generations in front of campfires.
Many schools and education systems have lost sight of this. We are being trained from an early age to have the applicable skills that (what education systems believe) will be most appealing to future employers. Schools have taken on a math and science focus, pushing art, music and creative classes to the side. In many cases, they have been eliminated completely, especially in high schools where they are most needed.
What’s the result of teaching to the test, checking off the applicable skill checkboxes? Thirty years into a career many are figuring out that what they’re working on isn’t what they were born to do. It’s what they were trained to do. Those of us who figure this out in 30 years are often the lucky ones, as many never figure it out.
Here are some of the best ways I’ve found to figure it out, to find that big creative thing. Hint it doesn’t have to be art to others, it has to be your art. To Bruce Lee, form and motion were art.
- Start at the beginning. Think back about pivotal moments from your earliest years in school, through your working and personal life, up to today. Create a simple graph listing the years along the bottom and excitement level from 1 to 10 to the left. Now make a dot for any Important moments, things that shaped who you are and what you love to do. For example: one of my early moments was receiving an SLR camera for my 14th birthday.
- Connect the dots. Are there similarities? Are there things that happened on a rise of excitement or importance in your life. List and connect as many dots as you can. There are no set rules here, these are your experiences. Steve Jobs said “you can’t connect the dots looking forward. You can only connect them looking backwards.”
- Conduct some personal archaeology. Clean out old books, papers, CDs, scan some old photos. Which books were easy to get rid of, which ones meant something? I realized over the years I’d collected a lot of photography, creative writing books, and even kept some really old photo magazines.
- Write things down. In a way, this blog allows me to connect the dots. It allows me to remember what I was thinking about any given time. Any notebook will do. I also really like using Evernote, a free program that helps you find and tag all these notes.
- Play the long game. I’m not a big fan of the word “retirement.” Keep asking yourself the question: what would you love doing so much that when you hit 55, 65, 75 and just keep on going whether you got paid for it or not?
Create a freedom plan. Don’t wait till you’re 65 or even 45 to figure this out. Start early. What will you be doing when you stop working for money or pursuing someone else’s dream?
Once you found it, decide to master it. In his book Mastery, Robert Green reinforces Malcolm Gladwell’s theory on mastery, committing 10,000 hours of work over roughly 7 to 10 years to become a master. Is there one thing you could make this type of commitment to?
- Envision what it will take to get there. Put some numbers to it, challenge yourself. I used the 10,000 hours formula because in my case I think I’m going to need every one of them. I want to use every one of them. Others like Tim Ferris believe in “meta-learning” — condensing this into much shorter periods. Either way, it’s important to put a number on what you’re willing to commit to and shoot to exceed it.
- Make it more than just a challenge Turn these numbers into a big audacious quest. Chris Guillebeau wanted to visit every country in the world by his 35th birthday. That was his quest. By doing it, and writing about it, he found he could inspire others to pursue their own quests.
What I’ve learned in this process is that your current age doesn’t matter. What really matters is getting started. Once you’ve started the most interesting parts of the journey are all ahead of you.
Mastery by Robert Green