The Sweet Spot

There is a place where it’s best to hang out and see what happens. To sort of just kick back and observe. In the learning process, this is especially true.

The trick is balancing this observation, this almost non-action, with the conscious striving for whichever effect is desired – the pushing of the weight, the hitting of the note, the fluidity of the line. The hardest thing about Learning may actually be achieving this balance.

At times, the best policy may be to grunt and push. Other times, doing less and “getting out of your own way” is most effective. Sometimes it’s hard to tell which side of the scale to jump to. Other times it’s not.

On any path to mastery, there’s a Sweet Spot. It’s here that a beautiful balance occurs, where reaching and observing meet and start to overlap. Here, Life seems easier, for a moment. We could be at the dry cleaners or we could be doing rocket science, but all of a sudden, for an instant, things just makes sense.

Of course, as soon as things start to make sense, they fade back to where they were before, and we’re back to the Game of pushing and pulling and grunting and observing. I guess the whole point is to get to where those moments of Clarity are not only more frequent, but last a second or two longer.

Once we’re there, of course, part of the fun is this feeling that we could have gotten there at any time, and we always knew how. This may or may not actually be true – but who cares? It’s the feeling that counts.

More On Growth

How can you tell where to direct your efforts?

By identifying the two or three things you least want to do. For me, it has been practicing my voice therapy exercises, and doing abdominal workouts.

It’s not because they were important that I delayed them. It’s more because they are kind of monotonous and not particularly fun. Actually, when I’m into doing them, I coast along easily. It’s getting started that is so grueling.

To me, it’s kind of ironic that the activities that generate so much resistance are the very ones that are often the most important for one’s personal growth. My two, in particular, are no exception to this rule. I simply can’t get excited about blowing bubbles into a cup with a straw or sweating on the floor with my legs in the air.

But today I just decided to bloody do it. OK, these were the two things I’m avoiding, and they also happen to be two of the most important things I must do for myself. So, damn it, I’m just going to do them.

Of course, once I got past the first five minutes, everything was fine and I wasn’t even thinking about how much I hated my life anymore. Well, that’s a bit of a lie – a part of me was still begrudging my bubble-blowing and ab-crunching. But at least I bloody did them.

Now, will I do them tomorrow?

Where True Growth Comes From

The only way to ensure that progress is being made from one echelon to another is if pain is being felt. Not the kind of pain that renders a person immobile, but the kind that shocks the system just enough to make him stronger when he returns to his senses.

I used to have some misunderstandings about Growth. I thought it was something that, if you were consistent or even “passionate” enough, you could grow fast, and not really feel it. But the fastest growth is felt, and it feels downright painful.

True Growth must be accompanied by a certain kind of mentality, one in which you’re not really concerned with the bigger picture. Noticing the bigger picture can only overwhelm us and cause us to get discouraged. We might look at all the Pain ahead, and just decide that staying where we are is better.

In a way, we must be willfully ignorant. My PT told me today, “If you think about how heavy it is, you won’t do it.” This can apply to any undertaking. It doesn’t really benefit us to focus on anything other than what’s directly in front of us. We take the small actions, we push ourselves or allow ourselves to be pushed. But letting the gravity, or the density, or the scope, or the magnitude, of what we’re working towards, hold too prominent a place in our minds, is just too likely to throw us off.

And anyway, it’s still going to hurt.

Anything But An Artist

I’ve never felt inclined to do anything I’m “supposed” to do. “Supposed to” meaning  it’s not coming from me, but from somewhere or someone else.

I believe a lot of Artists fall into this trap. I’m a painter, I’m “supposed” to paint. I’m an actor, I’m “supposed” to try to get casted. I’m a musician, I’m “supposed” to eat, sleep, and breathe music.

The problem is one of over-identification. We stop knowing when our painting, acting, and music-ing is coming from a deep, true place inside of us, and when it is coming from what we believe is expected of us.

If you’re reading this and you’re someone who’s never felt that your Art was not naturally emerging from a place deep within yourself, unaffected by all external forces, then feel free to ignore this entry. I can’t pretend to know anything about you or your creative process.

I’ve always, and still do, rebelled against any notion that all Artists are these unstoppable forces who hold some kind of impenetrable compass that never fails to guide them in the direction of their creative star. If you’re stuck, you must be lazy. If you’re not producing, you’re not productive. If you don’t know exactly where you’re going, you’re misguided and you need a reality check.

If I’m going to write, or play, or create anything at all, I’ll do it because it damn well pleases me. I’ll do it because there’s nothing I’d rather do. I’ll do it because I’m compelled. Call me lazy, call me nonproductive, call me a poser. Go ahead, call me anything but an Artist.

Do it, why? Because I’m supposed to? No, thank you.

Moon Pace

A friend of mine told me of how he once learned how the Universe works by watching the moon move in the night sky.

He said that over the course of about 20 to 30 minutes, the moon moved from its position perpendicular to the parking lot light post a noticeable distance. He said he could even see it tick.

The Moon moves at its own pace, like the rest of the natural world. From Lao Tsu: “Nature is unhurried, yet everything is accomplished.”

What if we could tap into that pace? What could we accomplish?

Thanks to Johnny Fritts.

Reaching A Higher Level: Understand That Life Has “Layers” And “Seasons”

In order to reach a higher level at any Art, skill, Craft, Vision, stage of life, or Way of Being than one is currently at, one must have the discipline to “chunk away” at it, every day, until that higher level is reached.

I have a theory that this discipline doesn’t originate in a vacuum. I believe that it comes from a burning or insatiable desire to continue this process even through times of seeing few to no results. There must be a Light At The End Of The Tunnel, a strong feeling of what it would be like to get there, accompanied by a sense that one must Get There at all costs.

This feeling must be strong enough to last through disappointments, plateaus, and any forms of Resistance. It must represent a pull towards the Higher Level, one that overrides what Stephen Pressfield calls “lower natures”.

Whoever is on this path understands that, to go from the current level to the Higher Level could take an uncomfortably long amount of time. Furthermore, they would have to have the mentality of “chunking away” every single day. This part is especially important – the best way to build momentum when working towards a Higher Level is to take no days off.

None of this is overwhelming to the person truly on the path. He or she knows what she wants, and he or she is okay with never stopping.

Now here comes the “Big But”: but what if this feeling isn’t present? But what if the direction is unclear? But what if the desire is not so fiery?

Well, then, maybe the context needs to be re-examined. If that fire in the belly just isn’t there, if no path is visible, then maybe it makes sense to not be so concerned about that Higher Level.

Yes, human beings are built to evolve, to reach fuller and fuller versions of our potential. But what if this process was not always an active one? What if it unfolded in seasons, and there were seasons when specific action should be taken, and seasons when less action is better?

For anyone thinking about Visions and Higher Levels and evolution, it might seem counterintuitive to consider that to not have a plan could be a feasible way of doing things. But Life, like an onion, is a many-layered thing. Just because action is not being taken within one’s idea of the Art, skill, Craft, or Vision, does not mean action can’t be taken in other areas. There is a time to take action in non-Craft related areas, just as there is a time to focus on the Craft and let everything else fall by the wayside.

Maybe the best time to get down to the nitty gritty stuff that all Artists hate but that we must all face and do at some point is when we are not really feeling the grind. What if the Craft were just one layer in the onion, rather than the onion itself?

Yes, discipline is essential. Yes, it’s important to not skip a day. But what may be even more important is understanding that Life is Life. Sometimes it does make sense to stop, and trust that something will rush in to fill the void – for a season.

Beware of “Should”

The word “should” is more of a sentiment than a word. A golf ball flubs into the trees. “I should have kept my knees bent on the follow through!” A business investment tanks. “I should have been smarter about where I put my money!” A cheat in a diet. “I should not have eaten those cupcakes!”

The word “should” is a dangerous one because it interrupts our romantic notions about what we feel should actually be happening. We want to make a decision, and never falter. We want to stick with a commitment for life. We want to be braver than we’ve been before. A new day, a fresh start. Before and after. That was then, this is now.

Only catch is, Life doesn’t always work like that. In fact, more often than not, the way things unfold is anything but romantic. At least, not the “cut and dry” romanticism of stories and movies.

In a way, the stumbles and falls that cause us to want to use the word “should” are indicative of a more lovely sloppiness. The way Life actually works turns out to be weirdly more of a “should” than the “should” in our brains. And this, in itself, is kind of romantic.

Social Media: Tool or Threat?

Cal Newport, author of So Good They Can’t Ignore You, was interviewed by James Altucher on the podcast The James Altucher Show. In the conversation, Newport brings up a concept called “mental residue,” which is the phenomenon that occurs when we glance at our email or our cell phones for just 30 seconds just before we dive into a practice, discipline, or some kind of focus.

He says this “mental residue” stays with us for up to 20 to 30 minutes into our focus time.

I’m sure this could be expanded to include any activity we happen to be doing in real life – from having dinner with a close friend, to performing in the workplace, to writing a poem. If we allow our minds even brief stimulation, it could mean some serious mental costs.

This brings to attention the danger of Social Media. While some aspects of the “online presence” can be useful, every Impresario walks the line between falling prey to the focus deficit it can cause, and only using it strategically, to reach folks in ways that doing so in person could not.

Cal Newport argues that Social Media is not really useful or needed at all because it causes people to waste attention and therefore does more harm than good. I am inclined to agree with him, because at the end of the day, it’s the Craft, the Vision, that truly matters.

Getting Better Means Never Stopping

Somewhere in Daniel Coyle’s The Talent Code, he reveals that all it would take to get less good at something would be no more than thirty days, or just around a month’s time. Even the world’s most adept masters, according to Coyle, are not exempt from this rule. For Yo-yo Ma to start to get worse, he would just have to not practice for thirty days.

Well, before he got worse, he would probably plateau – but in Coyle’s terms, that’s essentially the same thing. In other words, if you’re not actively getting better, you’re actually getting worse.

Along the way, putting aside certain skill sets in favor of new ones might make sense. Time, changing circumstances, personal growth, and practical considerations are all factors which help to determine which skill sets we might put aside for a time, or, abandon altogether.

If we don’t keep up with any skill set for an extended period of time, then it will be that much more difficult to come back to. For example, if you’re a personal development guru and you took a month off from public speaking, you’d really have to kick your butt to get back in the groove. And the time and effort it would take to do so would hopefully warrant that such a lengthy vacation wouldn’t happen again. But if Tony Robbins decided to take a month off from, say, eating red meat, or even decide to become a vegan, his business probably wouldn’t take nearly as much of a fall. (This is strictly a made-up example – I have no idea about Mr. Robbin’s dietary preferences.)

Now let’s say Mr. Robbins liked to play basketball. Basketball, most would agree, is a wholesome and beneficial activity. But if Mr. Robbins decided to drop this activity, and not play basketball for a month, that too would not harm or really effect his primary calling, life coaching, in any way.

It’s up to us how we’d like to manage our skill sets. Some may go by the wayside, others might become more important as we decide that it makes sense to focus on them in order to achieve a new goal or Vision. This is all okay, just so long as we understand that there is always give and take, push and pull. More focus in one area might mean less attention on another, and vice versa. And if we decide to come back to something we’ve let go for thirty days or more, we’ll be that much more hard pressed to get back up to speed.

Balance doesn’t look like two weights at either end of the scale perfectly level, hovering, still. Balance is a constant, adaptive process – up and down, up and down. Balance is motion, and stagnation is stasis. Balance is never really completely achieved – it’s an ideal, just like everything worth shooting for.

“Creative Altruism”: The Missing Link

I was just on the phone with a friend. The conversation seemed to hover around the merits of letting ourselves have our moments of glory, our “day under the sun,” versus being more concerned with doing our part to somehow raise the quality of the lives of others. My friend suddenly recalled an incredible quote from Martin Luther King, Jr.:

Every man must decide whether he will walk in the light of creative altruism, or in the darkness of destructive selfishness.

I was thrown for a loop, for it immediately occurred to me that much of my life up until now had not been on the side of creative altruism. As we talked, I slowly realized: isn’t that the whole essence of this thing called the Impresario?

I’ve been writing about the Impresario now every day for about a month, and for some reason I never really delved into the most important aspect. The Impresario seeks out collaborators for his vision, not out of some sense of self-importance, but because he knows that it’s not about him. The Impresario is nothing more than an Altruist.

The great thing about “creative altruism” is that any field can be a vessel for it. Even a job. My job, for example, as an Entertainer, could be performed in such a way as to make every member of my audience feel special. Already, I am practicing “creative altruism.”

Creative Altruism must be the missing link from any activity that does not feel imbued with significance. If we are feeling lost or misguided in our lives, it must be because we are concentrating too much on serving ourselves and not enough on serving others. If we are disillusioned or full of malaise, it must be because we have forgotten how to make someone else feel driven or motivated.

The concept that “it’s not all about you” may seem like a rebuke from our childhood days, but it is actually a philosophy encompassing a way of life. It’s the secret of what Karl Jung calls “integration,” and integration is exactly what the Impresario wants to do – to become a member of society whose contributions improve society, and the world, at an exponential rate.

King quoted by Johnny Fritts.