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Blog // Thoughts
April 8, 2015

The Cold Pizza Problem

“It is better to create than to be learned, creating is the true essence of life.” – Barthold Georg Niehbur We can start to understand the role of creativity in our lives by looking at our deepest, longest held motivations. This is why our personal stories are so important. Un- derstanding the development of our […]

“It is better to create than to be learned, creating is the true essence of life.”
– Barthold Georg Niehbur

We can start to understand the role of creativity in our lives by looking at our deepest, longest held motivations. This is why our personal stories are so important. Un- derstanding the development of our biographies and the context around them allows us to find focus and direction in our creative lives.

Let me explain this by reference to what I call the cold pizza problem.

All of us have food we turn to when life is too much. For me, it’s cold leftover pizza (hey, don’t yuck somebody else’s yum). For you, it might be chocolate, corn chips, sug- ary drinks, or alcohol. Maybe it isn’t a food at all. Maybe it’s checking your Facebook page, or daytime soap operas.

One fundamental problem in life is figuring out how not to spend all day in bed, eating cold pizza and watching daytime soap operas.

All of us have potential motivators in our lives; things we should be doing. The problem is these should-dos don’t always leap out from our soul or address our innermost desires. These should-dos don’t always drive us to live a creative life. They sometimes drive us to cold pizza and daytime soap operas instead. It’s a way of seeking comfort through simple, unchallenging pleasures.

Getting in touch with our own biographies can allow us to find motivators that do address our innermost desires and thus, keep us away from cold pizza.

Effort, passion, drive, and commitment are all part of the motivated life. Having them will help you overcome the cold pizza problem. But, there’s also another aspect connected to the word motive, and that can help us understand the rhythm of creative living. It’s the idea of a motif.

A motif is a recurring theme or idea found in a work of art, maybe a series of memorable notes in a piece of music, a pattern in a visual artwork, or a phrase or pattern in literature. In our life stories, there are often motifs that bear the seeds for our best creative work, provided we give them enough space to grow and flourish.

Self-help books typically start with an assumption and a promise. The assumption is there are, in fact, two ver- sions of you. First is the tied-down, overworked, stressed, underachieving you. Then, there is the sexy, liberated, fully realised, soaring-with-the-eagles version of you. (Self-help books call this the real you, as if the things you have to do every day—work at an office, food, sleep—aren’t real at all.)

The promise is that if you can dare to dream of a future, a vision, where the real you is let loose, then you can somehow work backwards from there to change your life, typically through a series of clearly signposted steps you write for yourself.

This dualism is attractive. Life certainly can, at times, push us into a box, where our existence feels like a poor match for either our skills or our potential. But the dualism can also be unhelpful, since there’s nothing stopping us from imagining an idealised version of ourselves we will never be able to realise.

This is similar to the holidayer’s paradox Alain De Botton describes in The Art of Travel. De Botton had been considering a holiday to Barbados and recalls the joy he felt poring over brochures filled with tempting images of white sandy beaches and exclusive bungalows, set in a secluded jungle paradise.

Once he got to the island, of course, he found his physical self totally unsupportive of his desire to enjoy the holiday, as he suffered from a sore throat and headache from the flight over, insomnia from the heat of the island, and an upset stomach from bad hotel food.

As delightful as the idea of a holiday always is, the problem is that once you get there, it’s actually you that is there. We look at a travel brochure and see beautiful people enjoying a carefree holiday. We picture ourselves doing the same, but we aren’t those people in the brochures; we have the same stresses, physical ailments, and other concerns that we had in the other time zone at home.

We run into a much larger problem when we try to dream up better futures for ourselves. From the comfort of our sofas, it’s easy to play the “if only” game. (If only this was in my life, then everything else will sort itself out.) But everything is interconnected; changing ourselves is seldom, if ever, possible through one big act. Big changes require thousands of small decisions over a period of time. This is even true when circumstance or catastrophe force changes upon us.

Rather than look forward, to some idealised future, I’d like you to consider looking back, to the good in your
past. Creating a path for our creative work is not unlike sketching a map, we draw from the paths we have travelled, we mark out the contours, the hills and valleys we have travailed.

This is at the heart of understanding our motivations, the process of identifying and understanding the urges and impulses that fuelled our previous creative endeavours.

Partly this will include an inventory of our successes, along with taking stock of our failures, as well as the things we tried to do but either couldn’t complete or simply put off because we lacked the confidence or skills.
These inventories are doubly important in our current times. We no longer live in a world of limited tools and limited access to information, ideas, and education. Rather, we live in a world of abundance. For anything you want to do, the resources are there, often free and almost always easily accessible, for learning what you need to create what inspires you.

Oftentimes the biggest limitation to our creativity is the outdated belief that access to the skills and information required for creative work is difficult to find, costly and hard to understand. Once we let go of that belief, a whole realm of possibilities, things we have tried and failed at, things we have only imagined, suddenly opens up.

This is an extract from No Missing Tools, my new book, which will be released on April 14. You can pre-order the paperback version for U$16.00 from Amazon, or the Kindle version for U$6.99. There’s also a full digital pack, with PDF, ePub and mobi versions available from GumRoad for U$10.

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