Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Confront the Realities of Your Creative Inclinations

Sundance knew he shot better when he moved.

When he applied for the job as the payroll guard, the crotchety old miner told him to hit the tobacco plug, but with no fancy footwork and no quick draw theatrics. I just need to see if you can shoot the damn thing, he says.

He stands there, aims, shoots and misses by by a yard.

But right when the old man starts to walk away, he looks back at the target and famously asks, “Can I move?”

And before we know it, Sundance holsters his gun, draws and fires from the hip in the classic western tradition, and the bullets connect while the tobacco plug jumps and bucks around the dirt. He’s hired on the spot.

Do you have that level of understanding about your own work?

If so, becoming a prolific communicator will come naturally to you. Creativity, after all, is a function of identity. You can’t have one without the other. Whatever kind of work you do, what you make will be inextricably connected to what you are.

That’s why the theme of identity is so prevalent in my work. Not just because I wear a nametag twenty four seven, but because few things fascinate me more than the formation, nuance, complexity and absurdity of why people are the way they are. And so, after writing a handful of books of the subject, here are a few truths I’ve come to realize:

You can’t run from who you are. You take yourself with you, wherever you go. And your identity chooses you, not the other way around. No matter how hard you work to kick nature out, your truest self will always bubble up the surface. When Michelangelo famously said the sculpture was inside the stone, he wasn’t talking about art, he was talking about us. What you make can’t not come from what you are.

This is great news.

Because once you reach a certain level of understanding about how you work and how you’re wired, there’s no stopping you from hitting your target. And once you confront the realities of your creative temperaments and inclinations, the likelihood of hitting the wall is drastically lower.

I’m reminded of something my mentor used to say:

Don’t hide your limitations, channel them.

Take attention deficit disorder. This condition negatively affects millions of people each year and it results in a great deal of emotional pain, disappointment and in some cases, pharmacological side effects. And yet, I’ve read inspiring stories about people who channel their condition into artistic superpowers like multitasking, detail management and writing wicked technical punk rock songs.

But there are two sides to every cognitive coin.

On the other side of the fence, I’m one of those weirdos with hyperfocus, or as my wife likes to call it, reverse attention deficit disorder. I tend to become intensely engrossed with the task at hand, to the point where all emotion drains from my face, I lose complete awareness of my surroundings and disappear inside myself like a sea turtle. One morning I was so zoned out during a writing binge that I spilled hot tea down my pants and didn't even notice.

And yet, I usually find a way to channel my hyperfocus into productive, meaningful work that’s useful to others. Because there’s always way to channel your limitations in the service of making your ideas happen.

Otherwise, the more mysterious your own creative process becomes for you, the greater your fear the well is going to run dry.

Confront the realities of your creative inclinations.

There’s no telling how many plugs of tobacco you might hit.