“The most effective way to manage change is to create it.” —Peter Drucker
I have been collecting quotes for my Leadership class, and this one in particular made me think about my own creative process—or really any process that I can’t do on autopilot. The above quotation is actually in respect to organizations (yawn), but I think it closely related to my earlier advice for youngish people.
When I wrote about the difference between becoming and being was characterizing them mostly in regards to external cues: as you get older, you are very seldom asked “what do you want to be when you grow up”, nor are the resources to help you decide so readily available. On an internal level though, you can be constantly re-imagining who you are no matter your age.
In re-launching this blog a month ago, I rewrote my personal statement (that thing on the right-hand side with the hang-loose dude) to include “artist”. I did that because I feel like a lot of the projects I envision (and involve myself in) involve a personal reflection of my identity and values. And with many of those projects, they languish, frustrate and never get started—despite the grief the cause me before I even begin. To be clear, a project can be as simple as writing an introductory email to an interesting stranger or an all night jaunt of coding.
In thinking about the life-flow of these creative projects, I often visualize it as a precipice, a chasm and a path. Beginning at the precipice, I am faced with choices, doubts and fears. Should I step off, I’m forced to enter someplace new and unfamiliar—someplace that will challenge me and require me to change: thinking, learning and acting differently than I have done before (I have heard this referred to as the “messy middle”). Somewhere in that chasm there is a path that will lead me back out again; it may not lead to “success” as I envision it now, but it will lead to somewhere beyond the pit. The problem is, I can’t see the path from where I am on the precipice.
For myself, the reluctance to step over the precipice of fear and doubt comes from the uncertainty of finding the path back out: I fear I will become stuck in the chasm—unable to recover my identity or right my place.
The following quote captures the danger of remaining upon the precipice and never venturing forth. It is from Joseph Campbell’s The Hero with a Thousand Faces (which is entirely about the heroic path) quoting Charles Francis Atkinson’s Art and Artist (reformatted for easier reading):
If we compare the neurotic with the productive type, it is evident that the former suffers from an excessive check on his impulsive life. Both are distinguished fundamentally from the average type, who accepts himself as he is, by their tendency to exercise their volition in reshaping themselves. There is, however, this difference:
That the neurotic, in this voluntary remaking of his ego, does not get beyond the destructive preliminary work and is therefore unable to detach the whole creative process from his own person and transfer it to an ideological abstraction.
The productive artist also begins with that re-creation of himself which results in an ideologically constructed ego; [but then in his case] this ego is then in a position to shift the creative will-power from his own person to ideological representations of that person and thus render it objective.
It is admitted that this process is in a measure limited to within the individual himself, and that not only in its constructive, but also in its destructive aspects. This explains why hardly any productive work gets through without morbid crises of a ‘neurotic’ nature.
At 26, I would say the most amazing thing I have realized about myself is that I am still myself. As a younger person, I was always expecting some conscious-breaking event between youth and adulthood. A clear cusp in which I would know “I’ve made it”, stripping away the old for something new. And as I now believe, there was no chrysalis (at least not in my agnostic, protective, modern upbringing). Change did not come as a distinct event, instead it was gradual and iterative—I am still the same person I was at 8 years old, just with more experiences (and body hair).
I have heard many people say different activities cause profound socio-psychological changes—having a child, the passing of a close loved one, extreme violence or abuse—but I’m dubious that such activities will produce distinct break with the before (not that they would not profoundly affect me). Without sinking too far into solipsism, if I wanted to make a phrase for this, I would call it conservation of consciousness. (On googling this, people mostly seem to refer to this on a non-personal level; ie, when you die, your consciousness hangs around; this is not what I mean.) In other words, I will remain myself no matter what happens or who I become. (I hope this doesn’t sound arrogant.)
To briskly wrap things up change is a given and will happen regardless of if you’re ready for it or not. The way to most effectively deal with change is create it. And the way to create change is to step off into the unknown (prepare as best you can) with the confidence that you will find the path back out.