The beginning of a new year is the perfect time to reflect on lessons learned over the past year, and, more importantly, to set a vision for the new year. And I’d like you to consider a few questions that, if you answer honestly, can change your life.
Questions for today:
- Are you doing work you’re passionate about, work that you were born to do?
- Are doing work that provides real value to the world instead of temporary distraction?
- Are you allowing yourself to explore new territory so you can learn what works for you and what doesn’t?
Today I’m going to show you that, although it takes time to find what you enjoy creating, once you find it you can embrace your unique contribution and start creating for passion instead of just survival.
This is one of the best feelings in the world.
Over the years, the focus of byteful.com has morphed considerably. At first, it was an experiment to see how I felt about communicating through the medium of blogging. (And it’s important to remember that blogging is a medium in the same sense that newspaper is a medium. Blogging is not a genre, and it is most certainly not a verb!) I finally zeroed-in and started focusing on travel sometime 2008, because, after trying lots of different things, I discovered that this focus is something I’m really passionate about. And, lucky for me, it was complimented by my passion for photography, too.
But I didn’t discover this right way. Only after many experiments in writing about different topics and using different styles had I come across a focus that I really felt good about. Not just good: I really love writing about my experiences, and I came to realize that true adventure, the spontaneous exploration and documentation of powerful experiences, was something that I would be more than happy spending years writing about. And because I finally felt really passionate about what I was doing, I would regularly put in the time to write, which meant I would improve more and more at what I was doing. You see, when you feel passionate about what you’re doing, you want to put in the time to get good at it, too.
Something to know about me upfront: I’m really bad at getting up the motivation to write something when I’m not interested in it or if I have any doubt whatsoever that what I’m writing about actually matters from a higher perspective.
I’m not going to be shy about this: certain articles I’ve posted here are complete drivel, and I felt pretty tedious while writing some of them. (Hint for the wise: you’re probably not writing compelling content if you, the writer, are bored to tears.) So why did I write them? Good question!
Every Misstep is a Growth Experience
At the time, for some mindless reason, I felt like they needed to be complete. I felt that articles such as Visiting the Minneapolis Central Library were somehow meaningful.
HAH! Perhaps I felt that way because I wanted completeness in my chronicling of my experience in Minneapolis, but my values were out of whack: my focus wasn’t on creating with passion. My focus seemed to be on completeness instead. With what I’ve learned now, I’m not convinced the world needed another 672 word article describing a public library… (Even if it did have interesting architecture.) Honestly, the article was boring!
Sure, some of the pictures are interesting, and the bit about the moving bookshelves was cool in an “I, Robot” sort of way, but really. If I don’t enjoy reading my own article, I don’t expect YOU to either. I promise.
That bulbous blubber of an article never helped anyone, did it? The only person it may have helped was me. Do you know why?
It helped me because, every mistake, every misstep, is another experience mark on the chalkboard, another experience you can grow from, another step toward success… if you have the ability to learn from it. You’ve got to find how to get into your own creative flow, and you learn that through experience, through DOING.
This is the crux of everything I’m saying here.
I focused on being thorough instead of writing with passion for far too long, and do you know what resulted? Boring beige blather. Perhaps I used thoroughness as some kind of demented crutch, I don’t know.
Perhaps I was hypnotized at points, like some kind of sleepy polar bear. Yeah, maybe I should release a formal statement that goes: “Sorry folks, I was in a zombie-like walking-coma for the year of 2008 and probably at points in 2009, as well.”
All joking aside, metaphorically that’s not far from the truth. In some of the articles, I was like a zombie of heartless thoroughness, but never again. Over time, I have grown much in my wielding of the art of communication. The blubber has been going down and will continue to go down as I improve as a writer, as I align more and more with creating with passion.
Walt Disney once said,
“We don’t make movies to make money,
we make money to make more movies.”
Now slow down. Take a breath. Read Disney’s words again. Inside this quote is the essence of creating with passion. So, why should online content be any different?
You Will Suck… but it’s temporary!
In the early days of byteful.com, I wrote a little article giving myself permission to make mistakes as I grew as a writer. I recognized that experience is the only way to improve, so I embraced the fact that I was definitely going to make mistakes and probably write a lot of boring beige blather (though I didn’t call it that at the time). I knew I was going to suck… a lot.
For a long time.
And the best part is: that’s okay!
Do you think anyone is born knowing how to write compelling articles or compose an inspiring photograph? Heck, no! Each success is marked by uncounted reams of blather: learning experiences about what works and what sucks. And it’s okay because I was doing something that I enjoyed, something that I would continually improve upon.
And please don’t get me wrong. I don’t claim that I’ve stopped sucking, only that my level of suckage has reached a tolerable level in such a way that my work is actually shared between people now. Remember, this is a journey. As long as you keep working at it, keep creating with passion, you will improve! And if you stick with your passion long enough, you’ll start creating content that really speaks to people on a deep level. When you’re passionate about something that’s important to you, you can’t help but do this.
People are Starved for a Message that Speaks to Them
A good explanation of this was discussed at last year’s South by Southwest conference. Merlin Mann and John Gruber held a panel on this subject and have even offered the discussion as podcast for free download. If you create web content, or any kind of creative output at all, I highly recommend you listen to this. I cannot recommend this podcast enough. I’ve linked to it at the bottom of this article so you can grab the mp3 of their panel discussion once you’re done here.
Some of my favorite ideas from the podcast:
“People are starved for content that speaks to them that’s not a reality show.”
“You have a certain obligation to reinvent yourself.”
I would tweak the first statement and say that, beyond content, people are starved for a message that speaks to them. All content has a message whether you realize it or not, and last time I checked, the Earth could use more empowerment and more gratitude in its messages.
We’re all here to do What we’re all here to do
Khalil Gibran once wrote, “Work is Love made visible.” And I’ve never come across a better way to describe the mindset of what it feels like to be doing the work you were meant to do.
When you commit to putting time in doing work you’re passionate about, you will “level-up” in your ability to do what you’re doing. Here’s a useful analogy that came to me while writing this article: The difference between one level of skill to the next level is similar to the feeling you get when you’re trying to see a 3D hologram embedded in a 3D stereogram.
For a long time, you squint and squint, but you just cannot see the 3D image embedded in the pattern. After a while, someone comes along and tells you to focus beyond the image and suddenly:
Your eyes relax as they focus beyond and an amazingly detailed hologram of a dinosaur, or a boat, or Merlin Mann’s face appears in front of you and has depth. And for the first time, you see that this new perspective is pure magic and you say, “Wow! I never realized I could do that, but it makes so much sense: Focus Beyond…”
This is what it feels like when somebody shows me something I’ve suspected in the back left-hand corner of my mind, but never fully articulated. The work of people like Khalil Gibran, Merlin Mann, or Steve Pavlina make truths pop-out in 3D for me every now and then. It’s ineffable, and I’m so grateful for them.
Create with Passion or DIE
You see, when you create with passion, you use your divine ability to create something new that also shimmers with the love energy you put into it. If you get proficient at this, it will be significant on a very deep level. Life is too short not to create with passion. Yet many people misuse their abilities and write drivel that’s only designed to be a momentary distraction with no longterm benefit to the reader. Some writers don’t even realize they’re doing this. And from a higher perspective, this is very disrespectful to the reader. The most valuable gift you can receive from anyone is their time, and when someone gives your article attention, they are giving their time to it. Thankfully, smart people have gotten wiser about what articles they actually decide to read and which ones are just fluff that only deserve a 3 second skim. So, do you really want to end up in the fluff pile?
It’s all about flow. It’s about embracing what your unique contribution is, whether it be writing, photography, videography, animation, speaking, or anything creative really. The more aligned you are with what you’re passionate about, the more congruent you are with your work, the easier it is to be in the flow and to start doing some seriously great work.
Don’t forget the words of Disney. He didn’t make movies to make money. He made money to make more movies. He created his company because of his passion, and that’s the exact mindset that all of the Master Creators embody, the exact mindset I seek to embody more and more. So this year, I’m going to tweak the experiment that is byteful.com: I’m not going to be quite as constricted about which topics I write about for this site anymore as long as the topic relates back to embracing freedom, which is one of the core messages. My focus is on passion. And I can assure you that Disney answered all three of the questions at the beginning of this article with a resounding, “Yes.”
So, what would it be like if you embodied this attitude in your own creative work? How would you feel? And what effects would it have?
These questions are important to consider in this new year. After all, the year is what you make of it. Make it a year you’ll look back on with warm gratitude at how far you’ve come. Don’t die with your music still inside you.
Create with passion!
– Merlin Mann and John Gruber’s Panel Discussion –