It all started two days ago. I caught the first line of a blog post by Sam Oven: “Never aim for your goal directly, always move in angles”. Then, I kept reading. Not only did this phrase initially strike me as similar to the way I am able to literally walk through massive crowds of Chinese folk in public areas and side walks (45-degree angles, baby!) without slowing down, but it somehow also resonated back through my memory landscapes of several especially positive times of my life.
When I have been my most successful, accomplished or happy, I would say inevitably during those times was also super busy. I was filling my waking hours to the brim with multiple pursuits that addressed the Big 3: the Mind, Body and Soul. I wasn’t only doing focusing on one goal — I was weaving together seemingly “disconnected” activities into what became the Dance of the Living.
I realize, looking at those “enlivened” periods of my life, I was always: 1) following a regular physical conditioning regime, 2) practicing mindful rest* of some kind (to maintain energy and focus) and 3) pursuing intellectually a body of knowledge or skill set that was challenging and humbling.
(*Note: often “mindfulness” doesn’t have to be sitting quietly on a pillow — often, sports are a way of “releasing” the mind and becoming grounded in the present.)
Whenever I have fallen away from this “happy” track during other phases in my life, it was usually because one or more of these Big 3 balls was placed to the wayside. It is truly amazing how one positive change can reverberate across the other spheres of your life and have an impact. Correspondingly, one negative change can also impact the flow of the rest. "Whatever habits and behaviors you display yourself will be reflected right back at you" in life and in business, says Owen.
So, how does this exactly apply to my current life as an artist?
Well, it is easy to think “if I just sit down in the studio for 3 months, make a zillion paintings and don’t see the light of day (or neglect other relationships and opportunities), I will magically come out the other end as a prolific, successful artist with many opportunities inviting me to exhibit these works.” (This is a typical exhibit of flawed one-directional thinking.)
As Sam Oven describes in his blog, “being too logical, too rigid, too planned” results in one’s life, and self, becoming stagnant within such constraints. We neglect or refuse opportunities that, at first glance, may not bring us immediately to our goals. However, by not deviating for a whim's sake, we are shooting our overall progress in the foot. Often, we tend to see tangental activities as only distractions from our goals because we have constructed mentally a fixed image of "success". So, what? "Shouldn't" I be producing as much as I can, no matter what?
Watch out for those opportunity costs.
If I stick to my schedule of 9-5 in the studio every day, just focusing only on "making artwork" this is what I could see happening progressively: my social life would shrink ('Visiting my best friend living 1.5 hours away? Hmm..maybe next week."), my physical health would deteriorate (I would certainly not have time to commute to play night soccer in Hong Kong and get that old school rush.) and my professional network would cease to grow (No need to go to a live painting event or collaborate with new artists, then.). I would lose out on all the relationships that we as human beings thrive on. My friends would stop reaching out, my external motivation for exercise would disappear and I would be missing potential relationships with future clients.
One of my strongholds of support here at Jardin Orange, April Luo, said poignantly to me last evening: “If you want your life to be worth anything, you have to truly commit to something.” This is a theme that I have held onto tightly since this summer. The only one losing out is me if I don't commit to maintaining my "indirect" Big 3 goals whilst pursuing a lofty professional ideal. Any ambivalence from me, with regards to these personal facets of my life, can potentially echo right back against me later on. Soccer players will stop “letting me know” about inviting me to play on a team with them. Friends may not be there for me when I need someone to talk to in a time of need. Offers to paint collaboratively at big events I refuse now may not come back to me a second time because no artists or organizations will know of my work. For all those possible “next times”, I will simply be discarded from others' mental list ... as I have been discarding them from my own list of possibilities (this time around). We all receive boomerang feedback from our output to the Universe.
The Heath brothers (from one of my favourite books, Decisive) wrote: “Any time in life you’re tempted to think, ‘Should I do this OR that?’ instead, ask yourself, ‘Is there a way I can do this AND that?’ It’s surprisingly frequent that it’s feasible to do both things.” The most common mistake we make is framing a decision narrowly. When we instead consider multiple options, rather than take a "this OR that" mentality, we can potentially lay out a new, yet unforseen path for growth that takes you faster ahead in life.
Professionally AND personally, I find this to be extremely true. Maybe having a wider scope will create a new outlook for me so that I have less eggs in one basket and my idea of success doesn’t rely on one sole outcome for a sense of achievement. If one project doesn’t work out the way I am expecting it to, the let-down will be much smaller because my energy, time and personal investment is still extended in various positive directions that are me progressing forward in other realms.
Like, for me, let's say those 10 theoretical paintings (that I spent 3 months of isolation creating) don’t sell. If I have been also pursuing other artistic endeavours in the meantime, I will have earned some contacts, new experiences and possible sources of side income -- which would make that blow much less impactful. If I have also been focusing on staying healthy daily and seeing friends to fill the other Big 3 cups, I will be both emotionally and physically stronger to bounce back from a let down like this.
What I guess I mean to say is: even if something isn't perceived to bring you immediately to one of your long-term targets, that doesn't predicate a neglect of it. ["Patience, grasshopper."] Stay committed daily to the Big 3. Fill your day with multiple activities and opportunities that let you simultaneously pursue more immediate developments of your Mind, Body and/or Soul which will leave you feeling more actualised. Stay flexible. Meet people. Open up to new things. Do something you haven't done in a while... just because it feels good.
Your today will feel truly consummated and, in the end, that is all that we truly can have to buoy us with a sense of Purpose and inner fulfilment.
Though I may be more tired (or “stretched thin”) to a certain degree because of being "busy", the challenge of staying receptive and open when confronted with spontaneous (and seemingly “indirect”) options each day has me waking up bright-eyed and with a smile!
It can certainly be the journey itself that is the destination.