little bets + creative badassery + what seth godin cannot teach you.
“As the late theologian, mystic + Harvard professor Howard Thurman often said, there are two questions that we have to ask ourselves. “The first is ‘Where am I going?’ and the second is ‘Who will go with me?’ If you ever get these questions in the wrong order, you are in trouble.” — Caroline Myss
“We have only to follow the thread of the hero path, and where we had thought to find an abomination, we shall find a god. And where we had thought to slay another, we shall slay ourselves. Where we had thought to travel outward, we will come to the center of our own existence. And where we had thought to be alone, we will be with all the world.” — Joseph Campbell
When you commit to the life of the creative badass – including your engagement with social media – you’re going on a journey. The ‘journey’ thing might be an overused metaphor – and make you think of Steve Perry telling you to don’t stop believin’ — but that doesn’t make it less apt.
Because social media isn’t a marketing campaign in the traditional sense. It doesn’t begin, blast out a message, and then end six weeks later. You don’t get in and then get out with a happy sense of mission accomplished.
You don’t slap it on your novel like an afterthought. (“My book comes out next week – I better hop on that twittering Tweeter thing!”)
To get anywhere, you have to put one foot in front of the other – one tweet in front of a blog post in front of a status update – day after day after day.
Likewise, creative badassery doesn’t begin and end with a single project, whether it’s a novel or presentation or multimedia art thing or your first startup. It requires long-term vision, ferocity of soul, and a willingness to wander.
That’s where the journey part comes in.
This is the part that no one, not even Seth Godin — who has been criticized for telling you that you need to be an artist at work and at life without telling you how — can teach you. You don’t have to reinvent the wheel – because that would be stupid – but any truly creative life belongs solely to the person living it. It is their soul DNA made manifest, fleshed out with love and blood and sweat and tears and endless hours of deliberate practice, served up to the world with their particular brand of style and savvy. It is the work, but it is also the life. It is the self that knows itself, that has learned to align its values and purpose and passions, its dreams and actions, until the inner life is no longer at war with the outer life.
It knows how to flow with the go.
You’re not just born into this; it’s not like a silver spoon that a few kids get through a happenstance of fate while the rest of us stand in line at Target. The creative life is an achievement that is nonetheless fluid and constantly evolving. You don’t just achieve it once, but over and over again. You have to keep showing up.
The creative life is shaped by creative, adaptive, experimental thinking as opposed to procedural thinking.Peter Sims calls this the “little bets” approach. He uses Chris Rock as an example. When Chris is putting together new material, he goes to a small local club and shows up, unannounced, on the stage. Night after night after night he sits and talks to the audience, making observations and trying out jokes, building on what works and discarding what doesn’t. Instead of writing out an act, and waiting until he decides it’s ‘perfect’ before presenting it to an audience – and risking disaster– Chris makes a series of bets so little that when those bets fail, it’s no big deal. It is, however, a great education.
Sims remarks that
Similar ways of thinking and work methods showed up in the ways that Pixar creates its films…entrepreneurs and savvy CEOs like Jeff Bezos identify and develop new market opportunities…architect Frank Genry designs new buildings…generals go about counterinsurgency strategy and training…stand-up comedians generate new material.
The creative person’s willingness to wander exposes her to new ideas, new experiences and potential interests. Some of these blossom into fascinations and tap into her strengths, and a lot of them don’t. But by making a series of little bets, she can move and feel her way forward into a life that is shaped to her strengths and desires. She can discover her passion: not all at once, but little by little, as she builds on what works for her and discards or minimizes or delegates what doesn’t.
There is no map for your creative life, no step-by-step procedure that someone else can hand down in a book or a blog that will magically reveal to you the meaning of your existence. It could be that the mission of your life is to find your mission, and in that process discover who you are and what you have to give.
It’s not a linear process. You’re allowed to loop back to learn something you might have missed the first time. You can kind of spiral your way forward.
The important thing is to begin the journey.
This can be the tough part. Every journey starts with a separation, a leave-taking, a realization that the place you are right now is a place where you can no longer stay. It might be your hometown, but it could also be a relationship that no longer allows you to grow, friends who don’t want you to change, or a culture or a country or a religion or a profession.
A creative badass must to her own self be true. The irony is that, in the end, this allows her to be more truthful with others. You can’t transcend your desires if you’ve never even learned what they are, or if you’ve never tried for what you want.
Sometimes, in order to find the life you need, you need to leave the life you have – and navigate that uncertain space between. You have to declare yourself. You might have to be solitary for a while. You will encounter doubt and dark nights of the soul (although this would happen anyway). You will have to stand up against conformity and shed your false identity.
You will lose some things, gain others, and find a new tribe.
The tribe of the creative badass.