Ideas, for starters. Crazy, wild tangles of ideas, some related, some seemingly random (I suspect that patterns for much of this will only start to emerge further down the road).
And not just for art projects or even business projects, but for processes and actions and ways of thinking. I work in metaphors a lot of the time, this whole notion of weeding and gardens to describe the clutter-clearing phase I’m in is a good example, and the metaphors are flowing more easily. So are the ideas for system tweaks, including everything from a better way to handle the recycling to how to order my errands so I actually do them. (Hint: simple stuff like having a capturing mechanism for every idea and then actually capturing it has made at least as big a difference as the excellence of the capturing devices themselves, although I’m finding it true that elegant tools you want to use mean a greater proclivity to use them.)
All that is marvelous. Anyone who’s ever cleared out a sock drawer of singletons knows how this sort of thing goes.
What is not so marvelous, or, what is marvelous AND terrifying, is the nakedness and the lightness one feels along with the roominess. Because part of the process of clearing is asking some really tough questions about what’s serving and what’s not, what’s valuable and what’s not, what you have time for and what you do not. Choosing one thing means not choosing something else. At its best, there’s a certain wistful sadness to it; at its worst, you can end up with startlingly nasty, super-judgy feelings about someone else’s choices. (Cartoonist/essayist David Kreider calls this tendency the Referendum, and so beautifully, you really should jump over there and read it. After you’re done here, of course.)
The other thing that gets a little gnarly in the decision-making process is, as you get down to the very, very precious stuff, the top of tops, say, your three favorite things to do in the whole, wide world, which one you choose. Because you can kid yourself all you want, but the number of people who are stupendous at one thing and then equally stupendous at one, or two, or, god help us, three, thing(s) is so small, you have a better chance of turning into a leprechaun tomorrow than becoming one of them. Fred Astaire had a thin, reedy (albeit charming!) singing voice and passable acting skills for the style of the day. He was also one of the greatest dancers who ever lived. Gene Kelly had a far better singing voice than Fred Astaire and even, I’d wager, superior acting ability. He was also one of the finest dancers who ever lived, but he was no Fred Astaire. There’s a sweaty, exertive quality to Kelly’s work that is nonexistent in Astaire’s: with Gene Kelly, you could see how hard it was to get there; when you watch Fred Astaire, it looks like the simplest, most natural thing in the world.
At a certain point in the musical performer’s career, she needs to decide: will I be a singer who moves well or a dancer who can carry a tune? You can get steady work as either. You may end up being so good at both that to the casual observer there is no difference but trust me: the truly great know what they are the very best at. (Or, paradoxically, they are insanely humble and profess to be middling at both. It’s a weird but real exception I’ve found to that rule.)
I have finally stuck my flag on the hill of writing. It’s terrifying because no matter how good I get (and I’m a lot better than I’d ever hoped I could be when I was really, really, really bad at it), I’ll always know that there are writers I will never be as good as. But jettisoning some of the other stuff that I’ve been hanging onto to stoke my pride, this idea of me as an actor (yes, I toy with thoughts of going back) or a designer, makes it a littler easier to justify the insane logging of hours required to get as good as I can at this writing thing.
You have to give up something to be really great at anything. And you have to do it full-out, and now; deferring is a sucker’s game, more mental clutter that gets in the way of you realizing the full potential of Whatever It Is that you’re good at. (And by “you,” I hope it goes without saying, I mean “me.”)
More and more will fall by the wayside, I know, with no guarantee of future success as many define it. If I define it as full pursuit of the awesome, though, and I follow through, then I could get hit by a bus tomorrow (although I’d prefer that not happen) and die 100% fulfilled. Not the hackneyed “doing what she loved,” but pursuing it. Pursuing the shit out of it.
Maybe you already know what your Thing is. Maybe you need to go through some kind of excavation process to find it. I’m always recommending The Artist’s Way for creative types who need to unlock their inner whatever. The Creative Habit, which I reviewed here recently, is another great, less woo-woo choice, although it’s also geared toward artists. If you know of fantastic books written for those outside the creative arts field, I’d love to hear about them in the comments section.
Me, I know. My job in the immediate is to clear as much room as possible to facilitate the work of writing. That means plotting out the handoff of my few remaining design clients, wrapping up whatever projects I have outstanding and instituting a really strict and sensible system for deciding what to take on next. The aforementioned “Hell, yeah!” strategy of Derek Sivers and the corollary “No-Brainer Scenario” of Victoria Brouhard are two tools I’m playing with right now. Again, other strategies that may have escaped my attention are welcome.