Book Preview: The Adventure of an Ingenious Life – Follow your creativity through doors of opportunity
I was very pleased to be asked to contribute my thoughts and ideas to this new book. I have worked on collaborative books before, and really enjoy the process of sharing creative approaches with others. This book in particular appealed to me because I see myself at a crossroads between the business thinking and writing I have done before, and the creative and artistic life that is my main focus currently and into the future.
When I co-authored Improv to Improve your Business, I was beginning to meld the worlds of business and the worlds of art together. This new book furthers this process. When I began writing my contribution, I asked myself what I would say to a group of people about what I’ve learned in life so far. Here are some ideas.
Live to your own script!
People tell me that I have had an interesting life. On the one hand it is a genuine compliment, but on the other hand, there is a subtext of “Well, good for you, you are (insert choice of: weird/creative/brave/free/unfettered etc.), but it wouldn’t work for me.” I disagree. Anyone can fulfill their own calling to be who they were meant to be, and it doesn’t require radical or risky behaviours, just a commitment to certain principles, values and habits that I truly believe in.
As I write this, I am an actor, filmmaker, public speaker, writer, coach and trainer. If I am fortunate enough to re-read this in 10 years, I am confident I will describe myself quite differently. My past has included studying art, writing fiction, sailing across oceans, doing an MBA, a disastrous stint as a banker and many other things. Here are my tips for living a creative life of your own ingenious design.
Honor the child in you
Who were you when you were young? You are still that person on many levels. That child is who you are meant to become in life. Think back to when you little and free to dream and play. What things did you like to do? What were your fantasies about life? What games did you like to play? Were you a social person or did you like to wander off by yourself and observe birds and insects? Did you run, jump or climb trees. Did you like reading? Did you like to organize the gang and go on adventures?
Who were you as a child?
Take some time, close your eyes and think about yourself when you were small. Picture that little person looking back at you in a mirror. Work at picturing all the details of small you. What are you wearing? Are you happy or sad? Fearful or bold? Playful? Shy? Think about a perfect day you could have. Map out an entire perfect day for your young self. Picture yourself living that perfect day in a much rich detail as you can. When you are done, write down the most important messages you have taken away from the exercise. Who were you?
For most of us, life began the get in the way somewhere between our young selves and our current selves. As a boy, I loved animals, nature, roaming around, getting dirty and adventures. Later, I was obsessed with photography. Despite that I lived most of my young adulthood doing things that I thought would look good on a resume, rather than the things that fuelled my passions. I would start a program in arts, but decide that economics would look better on a resume. I could have tried my hand at drama and acting, but got an MBA instead. These are all little betrayals, and they add up over time.
How have you betrayed your young self? Make a note of some of the things you wish you could be doing. You owe yourself the chance to fulfill some of the destiny that was in store for you when you were a child. In fact, that destiny will come calling for you in midlife, whether you are ready or not. It’s better to be in control of becoming the person you were meant to become than it is to have the sadness of not doing so express itself in illness, depression or damaged relationships.
Dream big, start small
Look at the list of things that inspired you as a child. Pick one thing that you wish you could have pursued. Let’s make it happen on some level! One of the things I believe causes fear in people when they contemplate their hidden dreams is that they think doing so makes their already-lived life a lie. It’s not true, because we made the best decisions in life we could at the time, with the information and self-awareness we had at the time. We don’t have to throw out all that we have lived to pursue some far-off dream. Pursuing our childhood dreams on some level, though, is far healthier than drowning ourselves in “busy-ness” to avoid thinking about them. This doesn’t have to be a sad story!
One of the things I loved reading about when I was a child were great adventures like kids sailing around the world on little boats. As I started to hit midlife, I realized that those dreams were still nagging at me. I had been channelling this need into following round-the-world solo sailing races on the web and reading book after book about sailing around the dreaded Cape Horn, the most dangerous place on earth to be sailing. People who knew me well could see the gears turning in my head, and they started to worry. I fuelled those fears by starting to talk about needing to “sail around the Horn.”
Fulfilling a childhood dream
The end result of putting it out there to myself and others was that I was in fact able to fulfill my dream of sailing around Cape Horn, as described in my first book “Haul Away!” The way it happened was that I joined a tall sailing ship that was going to attempt a 3-month voyage to round the Horn in the traditional way, and they wanted deckhand trainees to sail with them. Although it was a dangerous voyage (some 10,000 people have drowned trying round Cape Horn, called the Mount Everest of sailing) it was far less dangerous than trying to sail around on my own, or suffering with an unfulfilled dream.
By sailing around Cape Horn, I lost 3 months of income, but I spawned several new avenues for myself. I wrote my first published book, and was delighted to find that audiences really enjoyed hearing about the voyage, which made me take my speaking hobby seriously and start to make money from it. Beyond all that, I had grown tremendously as a person, made lots of new friends, and was ready for more adventures. The lesson I took way from this was that a person can’t achieve a dream if they can’t acknowledge it to themselves and to others. So take one of those childhood dreams from your list, and say it out loud to yourself. Then tell someone about it.
Through the process of giving up on our childhood selves and dreams, we end up hiding more of ourselves than we should. If we become an accountant, we internalize the idea that we should “act” like an accountant. Just like any “actor,” this implies a costume, a set of behaviours and a script. The more we act out the script we have been handed, the further many of us get from our true selves, the person we were meant to be. The result is a disappointed soul and a half-hearted life.
It’s much better and healthier to be the accountant who is also an actor or the actor who pays the bills by being an accountant than it is to shoehorn yourself into a narrow, rigid life-script. This flies in the face of contemporary wisdom about careers. We always hear that we should have a “personal brand,” that we should specialize, that we must serve a specific “niche.” This is why many people find doing a resume so difficult and depressing. We are trying to take all the complexity of our interesting lives and corral it into someone else’s definition of desirability.
Later in life, I decided to honour my dream of my early 20s to study acting. I took a leave from my senior management job and went to a good acting school. I never went back to my old job! Common sense would dictate that I should have returned to my old job, perhaps apologized for my brief burst of eccentricity, and got on with living a normal, less creative life. Instead, I realized how much I enjoyed acting, and how exciting it could be to keep learning and developing that craft. I became an actor in real life, not just in fantasy life.
Going brandless means ignoring people and advice that tries to make you narrow, specialized and too focused on one thing. It may be fine if that is your natural inclination, but many creative people really struggle to compartmentalize themselves into a small well-defined box. So don’t do it! It’s your script to write and your script to follow. At the end of your life, you may ask yourself if you lived true to your values, and only you can write the script that allows you to answer “yes” to that question. So get writing!
A three- braided approach to your script
People look at my varied background and ask how I got from one role to another. They are surprised to learn that I never took a blind leap from one thing to another, and that I never turned my back on any of my previous education, training or skills. Everything was built on the foundation of what came before. I use what I call a three-braided approach to writing my own life script. Like a strong piece of rope, a life fashioned out of three interwoven strands is strong and resilient. Here’s how it works: the three strands are what you like doing, what you hate doing and where you can grow.
When you look at what you are currently doing in life or in your career, think about the aspects you really enjoy and are good at. These things form one of the strands of your three-braided script. If you really enjoy doing presentations and helping people, but the rest of your job leaves you cold, then flag presenting and helping people as things you want to bring forward with you into your next role.
Next, look at the things you really don’t like about your current role. It could be office politics, detail work, deadlines or anything else you don’t enjoy. This is not the time to pull punches or second guess yourself. If you hate something, acknowledge it. Don’t beat up on yourself or try to rationalize it away by thinking that everyone has aspects they don’t like about what they do. Just isolate the things you don’t like and flag those as things you would like to lose heading into your next role.
Finally, look at the areas where you need to grow. These could be skills and abilities you wish you had, or personal qualities you would like to develop. Unlearning a particular habit or fear, developing a specific skill, or working in challenging new areas might be examples. You now have the third strand of your three-braided script. You know what you like doing, what you don’t like doing and where you would like to grow. Now, take these three strands, put them together and twist! In twisting these three strands together, you will see how to get from where you are to your next role.
Find the right co-stars for your script
We receive a lot of negative messages in life, often from the ones who love us the most. Creativity and ingenuity are sometimes poorly understood by people, and as result, feared by them. Sometimes, those who care about us fear that we are taking needless risks with our lives, ones that will leave us unhappy in the end. Unfortunately, their desire to help often ends up at odds with our creativity. We need to protect our own creativity even if it means curtailing our exposure to certain people.
Surrounding ourselves with the right people is critical to our success at having a creative and ingenious life. Fortunately, the Internet makes it much easier to create a circle of like-minded friends around the world. There are many groups and meeting spots online, so that we don’t have to be the only oddball around anymore! It is also important for us to be able to have other creative people that we can trust with our ideas. Creative ideas are often very fragile by nature, and they can often be stopped with a poorly thought-out remark from someone who doesn’t understand our creative side.
Loving what we do
I have been lucky in recent years to have surrounded myself with people who are interested in film and acting. Though I am still friends with people from my previous business-oriented job, the people I need around me right now are those who understand what it is to bring an idea for a film through the script-writing stage and beyond into casting, production and beyond. What is really interesting to me though, is how much of my past lives and careers are blending into my current life, using the three-braided way of thinking.
As an example, the same skills I used to help build and run an innovation centre for entrepreneurs are the same skills I use now in putting together a film project: visioning, teambuilding, motivation, funding, communication, marketing and so forth. At no point in my many careers have I ever had to say “I am no longer that guy” because everything I have ever done comes in handy in some way. As a film director, I can draw on all my acting experience to work with actors. I can draw on my business experience in my newer role as a film producer. My experiences acting, directing and producing all help me write more effectively for the screen. All of my life experiences come in handy, and they will continue to do so in my future roles.
It’s your script, so write it and live it!
We waste a lot of time seeking permission and external approval for our choices in life. It is truly wasted time, because some of the most common regrets at the end of our lives are that we didn’t live in tune with our own values, didn’t take chances and didn’t believe in ourselves enough to follow our dreams. So stop doing that! Take chances and believe in yourself. Use the three-braided approach to writing your own script and keep moving in directions that maximize the things you enjoy, minimize the things you don’t enjoy and keep you growing in directions that stretch and inspire you.
I didn’t start out understanding how I moved from fun role to fun role. I was part-way through my journey when one of my college students asked me how I had known to make all the right moves to get where I was at that point. I was honest and said I didn’t have a clue, but that I always tried to do things that were fun, and when two choices presented themselves, I chose the more exotic one. This ended up being a running conversation, and I continued to think about career and life planning, and how it isn’t as logical as it sometimes looks in the rear view mirror.
By focusing on principles that will keep you happy rather than specific targets, logical moves or measurable goals, I really believe you can craft a more exciting, fun and ingenious life. In the end you answer to nobody but yourself, and with this truth comes the responsibility to keep yourself happy. So write your own script and start living it! Inspire others by sharing your adventures and your ingenious life. Above all, be yourself, be happy and don’t wait for permission. Write your script, your way and enjoy it!