I did a really scary thing yesterday. I asked for advice from someone whose opinion I respect immensely.
And as a result of that advice, I did an even scarier thing today:
I deleted all the ideas I have ever collected about creative projects I want to do in the future.
This tricky task was the result of an email discussion I had with someone yesterday who knows his shit about this stuff, a creative mind I have followed for a long time, Paul Jarvis.
If you haven’t read any of Paul’s work or listened to the Invisible Office Hours podcast he does with Jason Zook, you should get on that. Every time I read or listen to his ideas (and Jason’s too), I come away with so many nuggets of wisdom that help me in really big ways. Plus, he’s a really nice guy who genuinely likes to help people, so that’s a pretty awesome combination.
When I emailed him yesterday with a question, he gave me two pieces of advice that I took as a challenge for today. The first one is:
“The more I’m thinking, the less I’m working.”
This point really resonated with me because I tend to sit down and think out all the fine details of what will happen after I do the thing I am thinking of doing. I let my fantasy take me away, imagining where the project will go, what it will look like, what people will say about it and how I will feel as a result of how awesome it will be (obviously it will be a global success that will make me a financially independent world traveller the second it goes out).
But then I never actually do it. I never start the project. I never put the pen to the page. Because that’s where the real work is. That’s where things actually get hard. And who wants hard when it’s so much easier to sit on my couch and imagine all the not hard things that will come from all the hard work I am not doing?
It’s the act of doing the work that make things happen.
That’s where we’re are actually up against it, slugging through, trying things out, seeing what fits, experimenting, playing, but most importantly, working. Thinking about how awesome it will be at the end will never get the project up and running. Ever.
It’s a massive illusion to think we can predict where things will go, what a project will look like once it’s done because it will shift the second we actually start working on it. Then you’re in a tricky situation where you have built up expectations (remember, these are no bueno) and you begin comparing the actual work with what you think it should be. This is not a good combo.
You cannot think your way through a project. You have to get involved to see what it wants to be, where it wants to go. That’s when you get a feel for the essence of it – what elements of it elevate your soul and make your smile wider. You can only feel these things when you’re actually doing the work.
This brings me to the second piece of advice:
“When I have an idea, I write it down. If I don’t ACT on that idea within a few weeks, I delete it.”
Because I am really bad at learning lessons, when I read this I thought, “Yes!! That makes so much sense! I would feel so light and free if I threw out my stale ideas and allowed room for new ones to grow. Won’t that be lovely!” and then I went off happy and proud of myself for doing such a liberating thing.
Had I actually done it? Nope. Not even close. I watched a movie instead (Big Fish, if you’re wondering – I really like that movie).
This morning, the real work came.
Armed with the first piece of advice, I dove into the second challenge: delete outdated ideas.
It was really hard to start on this. I was a little bit pissed off that Paul suggested it because I couldn’t bear the thought of throwing some of these things out. Still, I wanted to give it a try because, well, he knows his shit and he’s done his work and pushed through and made things that he is proud of, and I want to do that too.
When I began, I felt like I was throwing myself away. I felt like I was erasing hours of work, hours of thought and creativity. It was pretty difficult. But now that it’s done, I see that I wasn’t erasing any work at all. I was erasing things that took away from my actual work. Things that distracted me. Things that weighed me down.
Some of my notes have been a weight on me for years. I kept past ideas around because I thought I would reference them at some point. I thought I would come back to them and be reminded of what I really want in life, what I want to do, where I really want to go. I thought I would read these old, worn scraps of paper like tea leaves and bear witness to some kind of revelation about my ultimate purpose in life.
But outdated ideas are the opposite of insightful.
Instead of pushing me toward the future, they pull me to the past. They anchor me to times and places that are no longer relevant to my life and the work I need to do right now. They are heavy. They are stressful. They are unnecessary. And they need to be cut out.
The funny thing is, it wasn’t until I started throwing things away, throwing the weight off, that realised I had been carrying it in the first place. I felt so much lighter, so free and liberated. I felt so much creative space opening up. It was amazing.
No longer linked to past ideas, I am now free to engage in the ideas that are coming from the present. The things that are relevant to me NOW. That are meaningful to me NOW. That excite me NOW.
When I set out on this mission this morning, I wanted to think that I knew better than Paul; that he was wrong about this; that his advice wouldn’t apply to me because I’m a different person.
But he is totally right.
It’s essential to diligently keep our creative slate fresh and clean.
Holding on to stale ideas binds us to the past and inhibits our growth in the future. Deleting them allows the really relevant ideas – the ones that matter most to us right now, in this moment – space to breathe and grow. For me, that is the definition of creative freedom.