January 10, 2008
on "having no life"...
In my previous post, "Applying 'Creativity' To Your Professional Life", I offered some advice to a young friend of mine who's only been in the working world a short while.
2. I had no life in my 20's. Get used to the same. While my peers were partying or zoning out to TV sitcoms, after work I'd head for the coffee shop or the bar, and crank out cartoons until bedtime. Sure, I must have looked a real lonely, "no-life" saddo, sitting there doodling away, but at the time I didn't really care. I seriously enjoyed doing it, plus I knew I was on to something. Besides, the typical twentysomething TV-and-Budweiser-enhanced nighttime existence didn't interest me too much. 'Tis more blessed to make than to consume etc.
I think this second point warrants further discussion [N.B. This isn't a definitive post. It's just me thinking out loud.].
One thing you notice about twentysomethings who are doing exceptionally "creative" work is, JUST HOW LONG their hours are.
Of course these "creative" types tell you, "That's because I love what I do." Of course, that is true, and well done to them for finding a niche which they can truly feel passionate about.
[By the way, I use the word "creative" very loosely, less in the artsy-fartsy context, more in the context of doing something one is passionate about: "Creativity equals Passion" etc. Notice how in the last paragraph, I put the word, "creative" in inverted commas, but I didn't with the word, "passionate". There was a reason for that.]
But there are other realities about getting to do something "creative" for a living.
1. It's a great privilege. So there's a lot of other folk chasing after the same prize, and the barriers to entry are high. My first job in advertising, I had to beat out 300 other college grads in order to land it. When all I thought I had to do before that was be in the top 20% of my class at school, those odds seemed pretty hardcore.
2. "Creativity" is extremely time consuming. My cartoons didn't get any good [to me, at least] until I had spent well over a decade working obsessively on them. Hell, I'm still not there yet.
3. When you get into the "creative" zone, the lines between "work time" and "off time" start getting blurry. And the deeper you get into that zone, the blurrier the lines get. I often work from seven in the morning till midnight and think nothing of it. A very smart friend of mine who works over at Blip.tv once told me, "I only work 3 or 4 hours a week. The rest of the time, I'm playing." Working eighty hour weeks is much easier and sustainable when seventy-six of those hours is playtime for you.
4. The thing that turns a job into passion, that turns work into play, is a sense of mission. When you've got a real sense of purpose, the lines that separate work and play evaporate. So instead of thinking about how "creative" or "uncreative" your job is, ask yourself what "purpose-idea" your job is articulating.
5. A "purpose-idea" just doesn't land on your lap because you're lucky, smart and good-looking. A sense of purpose only comes your way usually because you've been working your ass off over a long period of time, intensely cultivating it. And yeah, sometimes that will appear to more mainstream people as "Having no life". To hell with them. They don't know or care about you. Successful people get to where they are by doing the stuff that unsuccessful people aren't willing to do. Harsh but true.
[NB. The term, "Purpose-Idea" was originally coined by my good-friend-and-marketing-genius, Mark Earls.]
[Update:] Stowe Boyd kindly provides some REALLY GOOD thoughts on the subject:
Paderewski, the physicist, once said, "Before I was a genius, I was a drudge." There is a lot of slogging involved. And others, generally, will not understand: especially before you have invested the full ten years. "You'll never sell a book!" "You call that music?" "That's the dumbest design I have ever seen!" "Keep your day job."
Posted by hugh macleod at January 10, 2008 1:16 PM
Another good reason to work apart from others, so you don't have to hear all that negativity. Close the door, and sharpen your pencil.
Like making a fire from rubbing sticks together, creativity's heat comes from work. Work requires dedication. Dedication involves sacrifice, specifically of time and the absence of what might have been done instead.
Points 3 and 4 - how often do you think you get into that kind of flow when the lines blur and it is truly obsessive? I'm a twentysomething and I do creative stuff - I aspire for life to be like that and sometimes it is and sometimes it isn't. Maybe when it is that's how you know you've found what might pass for "your calling".
Good post. Makes you sound old though... ;)
I like this post. I do notice though, when you are living your creative life seriously that even when you aren't working those 80 hours, your brain is on the intake. Reading, seeing, doing... filling the well up.
Even when you aren't pumping something out, you're pulling something in. New thoughts, ideas, material, experiences. I never blaze through my reading list faster than when I'm on a roll creatively.
You'd think I wouldn't have the time, but it comes. I think that's because when your creative life is happening, you know how to make that time. You know what your priorities are.
I think that's the difference between creatives that burn out and/or get stale and ones in for the long haul: putting out/taking in... looping your love.
An excellent point, Anthony. But a hard one to learn, during the first few years out of college. Around that age [perhaps hopefully] you're too busy being squeezed by your boss till the pips squeak ;-)
My passion is scientific research and it is the most creative aspect of my life. I came across this brilliant speech by Richard Hamming which highlights hardwork and passion as essentials for good science. Do read it when you find the time -
This post says what I felt so well doing what I love while appearing to have "no life," - who cares what others think; I feel passion and purpose when I'm doing my work, and that is intensely more satisfying than watching TV etc.
Thank you for being the voice of creative, purposeful life!
The dilemma, as always, is finding a creative passion. How do you tell?
The thing that I would've told you I loved to do, in college, I now do for a living - and it still wears me down.
Is it a matter of time and trials? In terms of sex and cash, I'm all cash - where does one figure out, to them, what their "sex" is?
(Not trying to make excuses here for mediocrity. Hell, my constant search for a meaningful activity has even lead to a book contract. But even that feels more like cash than sex, usually).
Speaking to your Point #3: I also work a job which was born from a passion. What I passionately did for a hobby (cycling) became a job; a career as a bicycle designer. For a number of years it was no problem. The long, long hours were no issue because I 'loved' what I did. But soon (as you say) the lines between work and play became blurred. So blurred that there many periods of time where I didn't know when I wasn't working. Every 'recreational' ride became another opportunity to work...or was I playing...couldn't tell.
So all that to say that when your passion becomes your job it's not always the best longterm.
Great post. Thanks.
Great series of posts, Hugh. Thanks for your continued exploration in the work of creativity.
When I was fresh out of college and working late nights and long hours with the hope of a toward a better, more creative life, my roommate and I used to say to each other,
"If you don't work 16 hours a day, you'll be stuck in a job working 8."
"A sense of purpose only comes your way usually because you've been working your ass off over a long period of time, intensely cultivating it. And yeah, sometimes that will appear to more mainstream people as "Having no life". To hell with them. They don't know or care about you. Successful people get to where they are by doing the stuff that unsuccessful people aren't willing to do. Harsh but true."
Imagine what it takes, to be the guy that is actually working - every day - to build an elevator to space.... these 6 sentences sum up the past 6 years of my life. There is not greater purpose in my life than building this thing. Most people i know, don't "get it".
Harsh, but true. I have learned to live with it. it is a price I am willing to pay. But, some days, it's not easy.
Take care. mjl
Obviously there's a difference between having no life and "having no life". Immersion in work is great when the time is right for that. Do you have to put in a decade or more of 80 hour weeks at one career to be successful? Not necessarily, depending on what you do, what you mean by "successful", etc.
I think a big key is learning- in and out of work, in ways that overlap, ways that are just about life the universe & everything important, ways that are about people and love. Stuff feeds into other stuff. Sometimes the best way to be creative in a boring cubicle job is treading water while focussing outside the job on other/ related learning, other times it's by increasing the size of the job. Stuff comes together later.
Your #4 in this post ties into #7 in the 9 Jan post. It's all a long game, from the moment you recognize there is something beyond the crib until you stare into the void at the end. It's important to remember that the 'passion' is in you, it is your creation.
I spent 20 years in a career where a 72 hour week was the week, and I gladly, and passionately, did that. I am no longer able to do that 'passion' so I'm onto a new mission. And I'm as passionate about this one as any of them.
It just comes down to doing "it", keep on doing "it". To rephrase a cliche; Success never quits and quitters never succeed.
Thanks Hugh, this thread got me thinking about my game more strongly and pumped me for the next push.
Well, I have no life so I guess I'm halfway there, haha, but yeah, you have to work smarter not just harder, but staying home and actually doing your 'work', the personally meaningful work, is the only way to go.
My pick from this post would be this line:
"When you get into the "creative" zone, the lines between "work time" and "off time" start getting blurry"...
So hell to all those who don't know or sheer dumb to understand or merely a jackass.
So my pick-up line is "I don't give a damn"...
Still yet another well thought and crafted work from Hugh..
Fine thoughts, Hugh. Are you familiar with the work of Anders Ericsson on "deliberate practice"? He's a psych professor at Florida State -- has done extensive work on how people develop expertise, and he & other researchers found that your 10-year guideline is so pervasive that they call it, formally, "The 10-Year Rule." NOBODY becomes a real expert without putting in 10 years of hard work.
This is a very logical viewpoint, but I think that many "creative" people in their 20s aren't mature enough yet to realize the importance of what you're pointing out--how do we convince them? I teach at a small university where the students are focused on getting out from the first day they arrive on campus. The education isn't so important to them, but the piece of paper is. Occasionally, I have a student in whom I see great potential, who has that "spark" but does not know _how_ to commit to it. He or she might listen to me, but then dismisses what I've said. I realize you're talking about people who are already driven to some degree, but is there a way to convince someone who's sick of studying and working that it IS worth working 80 hours a week if you're doing what you truly love? Or maybe not even working 80 hours, but taking a salary that's less than they want or expect in order to pursue that passion? Is is even possible to _convince_, perhaps if you're not born with the drive, you'll never develop it??
a friend of mine describes a creative breakthrough, that flash of an idea, as the forming of a salt crystal in water.
First you have to pour salt into water, stir, and keep pouring. Only when you have saturated water with salt will crystals form.
You will be amazed by the amount of salt required to saturate a glass of water.