Is today starting to look a lot like yesterday, and the day before? That’s a sure sign you are living safely within your box. Have you tried something new or taken a chance lately? If no, there’s that box again. Is your life primarily focused on security, sure-bets, and hanging on to what you have? Yep, that’s a very comfortable box indeed. But at what cost? During the last week I’ve been asking myself these sorts of questions as I’ve read Seth Godin’s new book, The Practice – Shipping Creative Work. And make no mistake, while he does insist that we all have the ability to be creative, it is not limited to painting, writing or the typical actions we usually tie to creativity. His version of creative boils down to generously providing solutions for whatever matters to you in your world that could not be solved or supplied without your unique contribution. And the practice? It is the journey of sharing your creativity with those you serve.
I’m guessing that many of us have at least heard of Seth Godin before. He writes a blog post every single day and has done so for over seven years. He has published 20 books, does a podcast, is a public speaker and offers business and creative workshops online and around the world. And if you think he is primarily business or marketing oriented, you may be right—until it comes to a book like, The Practice. This book is a manifesto on trusting yourself enough to courageously live on the edge of your box and then share your skills generously with the people in your circle.
Godin does put a twist on words in a way that many might not be familiar with—but isn’t that part of living on the edge? He describes art as a form of “leadership, a creative contribution—something that not just anyone can produce, something that might not work but that might be worth pursuing.” He is also adamant that, “Art is what we call it when we’re able to create something new that changes someone. No change, no art.” Of course, equally essential is that you have to “ship” your art by whole-heartedly putting it out in the world.
Besides redefining art and creativity, Godin offers dozens of insights into how we can best learn to bestow these unique gifts we have to offer. First and foremost is the idea that we have to trust ourselves. In fact, he originally wanted to title the book, “Trust yourself.” He says, “You were born ready to make art. But you’ve been brainwashed into believing you can’t trust yourself enough to do so.” How? Most of us believe society’s message that we lack the talent, the education, or the circumstances to be creative. We also have been brainwashed into believing that if we can’t figure out a way to make money or be considered successful at what we want to do, we don’t even start. At the core he believes that we are so externally focused on outcomes (money, success, reviews, certainty) that we never trust ourselves enough to take chances and “merely do the work.”
That’s primarily where the idea of “practice” comes in. I wasn’t at all surprised to learn that Godin is a fan of The Artist Way’s morning pages. Like many others, Godin believes that the morning pages are an excellent practice to encourage people who want to write or create in certain ways. Writing those pages taught me, when I started them 25 years ago, that I could write no matter what was happening in my life—I didn’t have to be inspired, I didn’t have to feel good, I didn’t even have to be good—I just needed to write. They taught me that I might not be the best, but the more I did it, the better I would become. Godin tells of the famed writer Isaac Asimov (who published over 500 books) who accomplished his practice by writing consistently every single day for six hours. How many people say they want to be a writer, yet never take the time to write?
Consistently creating in whatever fashion you choose is a big part of the practice. That commitment is a pledge to ourselves about what we often say matters deeply to us, but don’t always do. Again, our hesitation points out a lack of trust in ourself. He says that perfectionism and writer’s block are also symptoms of that lack of trust. Any time we refuse to do anything because we can’t do it perfectly, that is a signal of our own self-doubt and that other people’s opinions matter more to us than just doing what we feel inspired to do. He says the practice is “Starting, not finishing. Improving, not being perfect. No one learns to ride a bike from a manual.” We learn and become better first by beginning, and then by doing it consistently.
And writer’s block? Godin is convinced that like perfectionism, writer’s block is a choice we make in order to avoid standing out or being judged negatively for our “creations.” He says, “…you don’t need a permit to speak up, to solve and interesting problem, or to lead. You don’t need a degree to write a lyric, lead a cohort, or take responsibility either.” We just need to start and keep doing it—in other words, “ship” our work.
Another of Godin’s insights is that we need to stop asking each other, “What would you do if you knew you would not fail?” Instead he believes is far better to ask ourselves, “What would we do even if we knew we would likely fail?” In other words, by taking the emphasis off of the outcome, we grant ourselves permission to try whatever we feel needs to happen through us. Again, it doesn’t have to be traditional art. It can be as simple as speaking up with a novel idea at a business meeting, cooking something you’ve always wanted to create, or helping a neighbor when needed. As Godin says, “…art: the act of doing something that might not work, simply because it’s a generous thing to do. The combination of talent, skill, craft, and point of view that brings new light to old problems.”
Feel like an imposter? Great! That means you are trying something that you’ve never done before and are living on the edge of your box. Struggle with constraints and boundaries? Again those are good because they give you a framework concerning what matters to you—just don’t hide out in the center of your box trying to escape uncertainty. Live on the edges where you extend your scaffolding and stay fresh and creative. Or what about creating “bad” work? According to Godin there has to be bad work before any of us ever get to the really good stuff. And what about creating something for everyone! Definitely give that one up too! No one, no matter how successful is accepted or loved by everyone. Instead, do what you do uniquely for your own audience—the people who understand, appreciate and get what you hope to share—and you will inspire the change you seek to make.
I could go on and on because there is so much in this book that really inspired me. But one of his points was to not include too much information—advice I surely need! Overall it reminds me to commit to the practice of whatever it is that is mine (ours) to create—and to keep doing it on the edge of my/our box. And then once we get comfortable on that new edge, let go of excuses and push forward without the need for certainty or external validation. The SMART choice is to remember that our practice is our journey.
Note: After finishing this book I realized that I could benefit from forming a small mastermind group of others who want to push their creative boundaries based on these ideas. And I’m not just talking about writers. If you might be interested, please send me an email and let’s talk.