Creative Pressure

It’s easy to fall into an expectations trap as a content creator.

That you must only put out complete works that represent the highest and best form of your abilities.

But that’s not how creativity happens.

Many of my best ideas started as messy unformed phrases years ago.

They picked up substance over years and through experiences that brought them to life.

As a creator, your ideas evolve as you do.

I’ve got a decade worth of notes saved in my phone. I like to read through them for the perspective they offer.

Am I still the same person as I used to be? Have I grown? What have I changed my mind about? Have my beliefs evolved? What believes have I discarded? Has my life stage changed my perspective?

Sharing your work with an audience can deceive you about the true nature of your creative capacity.

I do not create for an audience. I create for myself. Because I must.

Because there are jumbled thoughts and words that must break free; that must fall upon the page first in a disorganized fashion, and then later in a more coherent shape.

Creating anything requires tangling with chaos and attempting that very-near-impossible task of attempting to bring order to it. Even if victory only means bringing order to your own life.

That’s why I create – to unify my thinking so I can better integrate the knowledge I’ve consumed in order that I might apply it to improve my life and the world around me.

It’s sort of a messy process of interacting with ideas, attempting to grasp them, to get to their essence, then regurgitate them into more digestible snippets.

The first drafts are rarely pretty. Even if you sometimes share those with the world.

But you can’t get to the final drafts without those crucial first drafts.

When I spent too much time creating for an audience – rather than for the sheer need to endure the creative process – my work suffers.

The quality may still be high. But if feels artificial. Hollow. Soulless.

Not because there’s not some truth embedded into it. There may be.

But it feels more like performance than expression. More like replication than creation.

Like I’m replicating art, rather than creating it.

I write often about personal and professional development. Not because the world needs another essay on personal and professional development.

But because I need to endure the focused creative process one more time – to sit and contemplate how to live. To grapple with the challenges of existence. To codify my own values in order that I might better live them out.

In that regard, I create because of the change it requires. When creating, change is the price of admission. But creating for an audience only charges matinée prices.

There is no short cut to creating great work – the kind of work that’s worthy of the admiration of an audience.

Do the work because it must be done.

Indeterminate Growth and Your Environment

Did you know some species of plants and animals continue to grow until they die? It’s referred to as indeterminate growth.

Indeterminate growers do not have a genetically predetermined growth apex. So long as conditions in their environment remain favorable, they will survive and continue to increase in size.

Some popular examples include tomato plants, grapevines, lizards, goldfish, and a wide variety of other plants and animals.

But the conditions for their growth must remain favorable – otherwise, these species will stop growing or die.

Take goldfish, for instance. If you’ve ever had a pet goldfish, maybe you’ve witnessed this.

Assuming favorable conditions – i.e. food, water quality, etc. – a goldfish will grow in line with the size of its container.

Small bowl? Small goldfish. Large pond? Large goldfish.

Environment matters. But so does innate potential.

Not all species are indeterminate growers. Put a terminate grower into a larger pond, and once it reaches its natural biological size, it will stop growing.

The environment may impact its longevity. Or its quality of life. Or its likelihood to thrive.

Terminate growers have a fixed growth potential, regardless of their environment. But indeterminate growers will continue to expand to the size of their environment.

That feels like a layup for an inspirational message:

If you want to thrive, plant yourself in an environment with favorable conditions and enough space for your growth.

Nectar and Thorns

Roses have thorns. Pineapples have spikes.

Maybe the best things in life are protected by a pointed exterior.

If you want to extract the sweetest juice from life, perhaps you must first tangle with danger.

You must advance beyond the thorns.

Perhaps, too, this offers a clue about the Heaven’s Residence.

That the sweetest fruit of life does grow on comfortable vines. But on vines that struggle.

Could thorns be simple clues that you’re onto something?

Rather than seeking easy life, maybe there is magic in seeking out the struggle.

Scope of Impact

Would you rather help 100 people make their lives 10x better or help 1,000 people make their lives 1x better?

That’s a challenge you’ll have to wrestle with if you ever start a business. Whether you put it in those terms or not.

Every business has natural constraints.

Your constraint might be time. For someone else’s business, it might be talent or expertise. For another business, it might be an economic equation. Or a combination of all of the above.

Constraints provide the limiting function of your ability to make an impact.

Because resources are limited, you must make decisions about where you allocate them. You must accept some tradeoffs as favorable compared to others, and accept the opportunity cost.

But when it comes to scope of impact, it’s also a matter of more than resources. Your disposition also matters.

Would you prefer to have a sizable impact on a small group of people, or a modest impact on a large group of people?

Something to ponder if you’re motivated by making an impact.

Gratitude and Giving Back

Have you ever heard this idiom?

Like a turtle on a fence post – you didn’t get there by yourself.

Does anyone really get where they’re at by themselves? I’m not sure.

What I do know is that I’ve had a long line of benefactors whose investment in my life of their time, knowledge, and resources have helped put me on my path.

It’s definitely a dopamine hit to acknowledge gratitude for my own selfish benefit. But I’ve found it’s even better to give back.

Sure, there’s a sort of self-interested-ness in helping others in need. I’m not sure it’s possible to voluntarily help someone without benefiting yourself. (Queue your best SBF Effective Altruism joke.)

But the benefit can go both ways.

Recently I reached out to a few major influences on me in high school to let them know how much I appreciated their impact on my life. The small act provided a sense of conviction that I can – and therefore should – do more to give back.

Which is something I’ve struggled with in recent years.

I’ve always aspired to [be able to] give back in a meaningful way. In a way that makes a monumental positive impact. Not to be showy. But to improve the world we inhabit.

Except I’ve struggled with the idea because I’m not at a point in my life or financial journey where I can donate libraries or schools or hospital wings. Maybe I never will be.

But it begs to question – what’s the threshold for generosity in order to make an impact?

I doubt it’s as high it sometimes seems to me. Maybe you can make a meaningful difference giving only a few bucks or a few hours of your time.

As I’ve been pondering this a memory resurfaced from high school.

We had a big convention out of state for a school organization. The school had a budget for only a fixed amount of students. So not everyone could go, unless they could raise the extra money to cover their way.

Somehow a few alumni caught wind of a couple of students who were going to miss out. So they cut checks to cover the costs.

No questions asked. No grand gestures. Just a clearly identified need within their capability, and a desire to fill it.

It probably didn’t require more than a few hundred bucks. But their generosity was timely and maximally impactful for the couple students it directly benefitted.

Indirectly, the story stuck with me. So that small gesture is still paying dividends.

Perhaps it’s easier to have a big impact than it often feels. Identify a need within your capabilities and fill it.

Advice in a Vacuum

When most people ask for career advice, they’re really asking for happiness advice.

They’re rarely only trying to ascend a professional hierarchy. Most people usually want to know how to succeed professionally, and be happy in their personal lives.

It’s important when you’re approached for advice to understand what people are looking for before spewing generic nonsense.

What gets you to the top of the mountain quickest (professionally speaking) may bear a cost you’re not worth paying.

Similarly, the balanced equation of “What will make me happiest, on net?” likely requires some small tradeoff between your personal professional life.

In other words, people rarely seek advice in a vacuum.

Most people are trying simultaneously to win – or at the very minimum, compete – at all the various game of life they play.

Attitude As the Linchpin of Life

I woke up this morning to trash scattered across my yard. Before I could become annoyed, I decided to pick it up.

“Today is going to be a good day,” I told myself.

I rarely set the bins out early, but last week the garbage trucks came by so early in the morning I missed them. Now I had two weeks of trash piled up, so I could not miss them again.

The trash bins spent the night on the curb. The wind blew open the lids. With the lids up, the winds scattered the trash.

It was too poetic to be anything but amused.

“No good deed goes unpunished,” I thought to myself with a smile as I picked up the trash.

With the trash problem solved, I returned to cooking breakfast.

Cooking breakfast is near the top of the list of things that bring me joy in the morning. It offers a creative outlet – a moment alone with my thoughts, my creative capacities, and my appetite.

This morning I cooked an egg scramble (which is my way of admitting I have not yet mastered the art of an omelet). I scrambled the eggs with with ham, spinach, green bell peppers, Roma tomatoes. Then devoured it.

Breakfast complete, I cleaned the kitchen. Washing dishes is not among my favorite pastimes, but cleaning up after making a meal with my own hands does offer a special kind of energy. It’s like the natural last step of a spiritual cycle.

While cleaning, I noticed a strange contour in the sole of my shoe. Perhaps I’d finally worn this set of Nikes into the ground.

Instead, I found a fresh mountain of dog poop affixed to the soles of both shoes. Shoes I’d been wearing inside the house while I marched around the kitchen cooking breakfast.

I’d picked the poop up while fetching the trash.

This time, I laughed. “Today is going to be a good day.”

I’d set this entire situation into motion a week ago when I missed the trash can. Then I doubled down on it the night before when I carelessly wheeled the bins to the curb. They were stuffed so full from two weeks of garbage the lids were simply waiting for a small gust to burst wide open.

Life is funny like that, sometimes. Almost like present day exists at the end of a continuum of past situations and decisions, stretching back to the beginning of your life.

After washing dishes, I marched around the house like I was investigating a crime scene, stopping only every so often to place another small sample of evidence into a plastic bag.

If you ever want to know how much exercise cooking requires, just step in dog poop some day before you cook breakfast.

With what felt like an endless breadcrumb trail of dog poop handled, I returned to my normal morning ritual.

I grabbed a book. Smiled. Then thought to myself.

“Today is going to be a good day.”

The Funeral Procession of Life

Do you ever find yourself feeling like the shadow of your former self has lingered in a certain space?

You probably encounter some version of this when you visit your parents’ home. Pictures of your younger self mock you from their frames with insults about who you’ve become. Or maybe you hear it in the whispers of crushed childhood dreams, calling out from you within the walls of your bedroom from long ago.

“Remember who you once aspired to be!” The voices feebly cry.

We leave a littered trail of former selves behind us when we advance on new horizons.

Maybe that’s part of growing up. That maturity isn’t so much about “becoming” an adult, as much as it is about killing the remnants of your childish self. Perhaps we’re born adults and childhood is a protective outer shell that wears away with time.

Still, I can’t help but feel the presence of that forgotten youth from time to time.

In certain spaces. 

In the melody of certain songs.

In the scent of certain seasons.

In the memories inspired by certain pictures and dust-covered trophies.

I cannot escape who I once was. Nor who I once aspired to become. Even if I wanted to, their voices cry out at me from their graves.

But I often wonder, are their voices getting stronger the farther I travel? Are my ears becoming more attuned to their cries as I age?

Sometimes I think it’s not that the ghosts of my former self are angry for dying. They just don’t want to be forgotten. They want their deaths to have meant something. 

And maybe we owe our own ghosts that much. To make this life mean something more than it would have meant, that we might bring meaning to their deaths.

Career Silver Bullets

At one point or another, you’ve probably fallen prey to wishful thinking just like anybody else. Heaven knows I have.

“If only I could just ace this test…”

“If only I could get into this school…”

“If only I could just get this job…”

“If only I could get this raise…or this promotion…”

And on and on ad infinitum.

Most of us aren’t delusional – we know most things worth having take time and effort and sacrifice.

But it’s nice to imagine silver bullets are within reach.

Webster defines a silver bullet as “a simple and seemingly magical solution to a complicated problem.”

Seemingly magical, huh?

But when it comes to our personal, professional, and financial lives…there are rarely (if ever) silver bullets.

Two-week diets and weight loss pills don’t make up for decades of bad eating and skipping the gym.

Get rich quick schemes don’t work.

And “good jobs” don’t fall out of the sky.

We know this – on a cellular level. But look around and you’ll have no trouble finding people who are wishing and praying for some “seemingly magical” silver bullet to swoop them out of their current situation and into a more desirable state.

In fact, a similar mindset leads many people to chase credential after credential. Hoping that one day, with enough letters after their name, they’ll finally be able to get everything they ever wanted. Or maybe the credentials will bring about validation.

But it’s also wrong-thinking.

Most things in life worth having require a lot of wasted ammo and target practice – there are no one-bullet wonders. 

And instead of wasting precious energy hoping, praying and wishing that one silver bullet will transform your life from what it is into something you’d like it to be, you’ll make a heckuva lot more progress by focusing on root behaviors that contribute to your success.

For instance, pretty much every aspect of your life could be improved by developing behaviors like discipline, work ethic, integrity, intellectual curiosity, and initiative.

And the best part? 

All of those behaviors are perfectly in your control to develop.

You don’t have to wish or hope or pray that some seemingly magical solution falls into your lap.

You can choose to cultivate those behaviors.

When you focus on developing “the right stuff”, you’ll start making progress – real progress. 

In addition to root behaviors, you could also accelerate your progress by layering in other useful assets. Like developing foundational professional skills, the ability to create value, real-world experience, learning through apprenticeship, the ability to write and think, etc.

When you start stacking positive behaviors with actual tangibly valuable assets (like skill and experience), then you’ll also become less reliant on luck, while also increasing your likelihood of getting lucky.

In other words, hoping and wishing and praying for a silver bullet makes you reliant on luck to solve your problems.

But by aiming to become the type of person you need to be in order to achieve what you want to achieve, it will seem like fortunate favors you.

And not because of something outside your control – like a silver bullet.

But because you put in the work to get where you wanted to go.

How to Cope with Career Uncertainty, Boredom, and Professional Angst

Several years ago I reached all the goals I’d been aiming for professionally (at the time).

I’d climbed to the highest possible rank in the company for my respective skillset – a company whose mission I believed in. I had autonomy to choose which big problems to work on in the business. I was making great money. I’d gained respect and confidence and a robust skillset.

In other words, I had achieved everything I thought I’d been working to accomplish. 

Still, something felt off.

In spite of reaching what felt like the pinnacle of my career, I encountered a surprising feeling. 

It was not happiness. It was not excitement. Nor pride. Nor contentment. But boredom.

The feeling surprised me. I thought once I achieved my goals everything would sort itself out. Like the attainment of my goals warranted some kind of enlightenment.

But instead I found myself questioning everything about my station in life.

Should I leave my “dream job” to venture out on my own?

Should I find a new job?

Is it possible to reignite the fire I felt while I was working toward my goals?

Am I in the right place?

Does this make me ungrateful?

Am I missing something?

And on and on the second-guessing and uncertainty was overwhelming.

Because I needed to have certainty. I craved it. Still, I found myself staring down a path obscured by fog.

In the months and years that followed I would learn several big lessons about facing down uncertainty, boredom, ambition and professional angst.

I’ll spare you all the gory details of that journey and instead just get to the hard-earned advice.

If you’ve ever felt uncertainty about what to do next in your career, or uncertainty as a byproduct of boredom, or professional angst springing from impatience…then these tips might hit home with you.

How to Stare Down Uncertainty, Boredom, and Professional Angst

1. Don’t look to your job to satisfy every dimension of your curiosity. 

If you’re relying on your job to provide all of your personal and professional development, then you’re doing it wrong.

We’re all multi-dimensional individuals with ranges of curiosities that would be impossible to satisfy through a single job. Find a way to prioritize your own interests beyond your day-job. Lean into those interests. Cultivate your creatives capacities outside the office.

Reserve a part of you just for yourself and your own passions. This will recharge you; offer you a cathartic outlet; and make you an overall more interesting, well-rounded person.

2. Aim for clarity, then challenge.

Before you know what you want to do, it’s okay to go into information-gathering mode. I called this  “Your Quest for Clarity.”

Try stuff. Eliminate options that don’t seem interesting. Then double-down on the skills / career path / interests that really light your fire. Mainly, don’t do stuff you hate.

If you iterate enough, worst case you’ll find something tolerable and best case you’ll find something that excites the hell out of you – anywhere in between those two poles is still a win. But a word of caution – not long after you “find your thing” you’ll eventually get good enough that the job becomes easy. This is a danger zone.

Continue to seek out challenges that will force you to grow and develop (even if they are outside your job). When things get too easy, it’s an early warning sign of impending stagnation. 

3. Don’t burn down everything you’ve built on an impulse.

It can feel exciting to think about exiting a situation in the name of adventure. You could leave it all behind today to go chasing some other big hairy audacious goal. Maybe you’ll start your own thing. Or land an awesome new job at another cool company, and then everything will be great!

Sadly, the new adventure will probably lead you to the same spot you’re in eventually. Because the truth is, sometimes you will feel bored in your career. We live in a world of in-your-face instant gratification. There’s always a new shiny object that seems like a better path.

Patience and focus can be superpowers in your life and career. If you can find a way to trudge through the boredom, and still do your best work in the meantime, you’ll unlock the true power of uninterrupted compound interest in your career. Which means more options, not fewer. Don’t leave a job you don’t hate just because you think there may be some hypothetical better option out there. The situation you’re in may offer you more upside than you realize. 

4. Give yourself permission to daydream about your options

When you find yourself unsure about what to do next, or bored in your current situation, allow your imagination to go to work. Keep a journal of ideas. Daydream. Allow your creative capacities to run wild.

It’s okay to explore those options mentally. It can offer a release. But the brainstorming time can also lead to actual tangible developments – which can take time, energy, and focus. It’s rarely immediately obvious what steps you should take next. Give yourself some room to visualize the multiple future possibilities.

5. Target universally good actions.

While you’re in the “ugly in-between” of boredom or uncertainty, there are still positive steps you can take to build momentum.

First, you can take universally-good actions. Like saving money, paying off or paying down debt. Expanding your network. Building an audience. Creating content around your areas of interest. Writing regularly and publishing your work. Etc. The list goes on and on.

But these kinds of positive actions will expand your option set as you gain clarity; and ultimately make it easier for you to say yes once you figure out your next step. 

These are just a few suggestions from my own lived experience dealing with uncertainty, professional angst, and boredom.

You owe it to yourself to take your personal and professional development into your own hands. Don’t settle for a life that bores you. Channel your energy into your own interests and creative capacities.

Keep iterating and working hard. Even when you may not know where it’s leading.

Eventually, those positive behaviors will lead you to a place of more clarity than you have today.