It seems to me there are really four things one can see when looking at their life: what was, what is, what is likely to be and what you want to be. None of them are set in stone, not even the past, because things learned about yourself and others can alter what that past actually looks like: a lie, a mistake, a set of ideas or values that you come to find out were not actually shared… learning any of those things takes the past you thought was true and slams in your face the fact that you really didn’t know a damn thing; you were a fool. The present, then, once you realize this about the past, is this constantly shifting thing where you’re trying to figure out if what you think is real is actually true and it becomes difficult to trust much of anything. The future, them, either the one you want or the one that is most likely, are both in flux because if the past is unstable, then present is less so, making any possible future literally a stab out into chaos. This is where I am right now: learning what is and isn’t real as I venture out into some very real chaos. I don’t honestly know where anything lands these days, as apparently I didn’t really know where anything ever really was to begin with, on many levels, with many, many people and situations in my life. It’s agonizing to find out how little you actually ever know about much of anything or anyone. All one can do is resolve to decide who they will be and try to have a set of standards defined that will carry them through. I am trying.
On FB, we have “friends”, but not really. Instead, what we really have is a list of people we’ve amassed through click throughs and views. The genius of FB is that it rewards our habitual clicking, “liking” and “friending” in a way which, by design or not, essentially has interaction with it starting to take the place of the interaction one might have with real life friends. I often find myself feeling like bouncing something off someone, or sharing a dark, sad, or even funny moment, in which I’ll begin typing here and then catch myself, because under that guise of “friend” FB essentially encourages one to air their worst for many or all to see. It’s interesting how the psychological dynamic of FB use can easily turn it into one’s confidant without ever stopping to think that perhaps a great deal of the value in things being private is that trusted anonymity. The feeling of having someone you trust to confide in is deeply rewarding. There is safety and shelter for your mind that in kind of relationship, yet it seems to me that Facebook and other social media are doing vast amounts of damage to those. Amply this many times over when one sees how damaging publicly posted passive aggressive comments can be.
It’s crazy to think of how easily we all can get pulled into this. The habit of checking our phones or computer screens, compounded by the simultaneous sensation of a “friend” who is always there to listen combined with a bullhorn to potentially the entire world. Those two things should never have been combined, but here they are.
What is my point? I honestly don’t have one other than just to share some random thoughts on the subject. The ramifications of social media are, I believe, an interesting and powerful thing to try and wrap our heads around.
The other day, while listening to one of the variety of speakers/podcasts/writers who I follow, an interesting idea was spoken that has rattled in my head quite a bit, but makes incredible amounts of sense.
What is “power”?
It seems we often think of power in terms of the tyrannical, the ability to lord one’s will over another. Whether that is a direct form of threat from an individual, or the broader forms of coercion experienced from government, or even the threat of loss of a service of some kind from a corporation, it seems that what we perceive most commonly as “power” really has to do with imposing will over another. Whether that is a proactive imposition, i.e. coercing another to do a thing, or a reactive imposition by way of removing an option of a thing from someone, both still involve an imposition of will.
However, this seems to be quite a large lie that we buy into quite willingly without much thought, and it should be thought about, because understanding the true nature of actual power can have an incredibly positive effect on one’s life.
So, if this thing we perceive as power is false, what is “power”?
What was said that made me begin to think about this is that “power is competency”. Let that sink in a bit and I believe it does ring very true. If one is physically competent at a task like, let’s say, running a mile, then they have power over more than just that mile. They have power to run from harm or to run to aid. They have the power traverse distance without outside assistance or dependency. As they gain that power, obvious other positive benefits occur: health, stamina, the clarity of thought that comes from gaining both of those things, and likely much more than I have room for here. If one has competency at reading, they have a massive amount of power because through that single bit of competency, that single skill, they can amass a virtually endless array of skills, consume enormous amounts of information and entertainment. Competency at math might yield the power to manage one’s finances, endeavor into the sciences, gain greater understandings of any number of other things. If we look at any given idea and ask ourselves what would competency in that thing yield, we find that every single time, regardless of the specifics, we end up with something of power.
It then stands to reason that if one wishes to be a powerful human being, their aim should be the greatest amount of competency they can achieve, and quite possibly in as varied an array of subjects as possible as well.
So study. Train. Read. Think. Question. Work to expand your competency at any and every thing you possibly can. As you gain competency in things, you gain power, and that, the opportunity to trade those competencies, i.e. power, for the product of the competency of others. Competency creates power, and power translates into value, thus a person who strives for competency in things will find increasing value throughout life. This is, I believe, the essence of the importance of learning.
The worst in humanity is often brought about by forms of fear, and the worst fear is most often that of the unknown, and what is competency if not uncovering a new thing and mastering it?
So attempt, daily, to be competent at things, to learn, to gain competency and mastery over the unknown because that is, I believe, a direct path to becoming a truly powerful human being.
Is the reason you’re not achieving your goal that you’re trying to eat the whole pie at once? Cut the damn thing up. One bite at a time. Every large goal is comprised of many smaller goals. Pick the first one you feel most confident in yourself to accomplish and knock that damn thing out! The next bite will be waiting… take it. Repeat. Eventually, you’ve finished the whole thing and might just find yourself capable of taking on something bigger next time.
Why “#1”? Because I’ll probably go off about this again at some point. And again. And again. And again. So, here goes the first time, officially….
Something which royally gets under my skin is how often, in the course of business, it seems that I am working while others are not. I”m not talking about people not pulling their weight per se, as most people I’ve ever known do, very much, what they are expected to do during their duly appointed hours. No, I’m literally speaking of hours of the day when I’m going at it and would find it massively useful if others, business contacts, clients, partners, etc, were actually available.
I get it. Most of them don’t keep the kind of insane hours I do. Most clock in and clock out and when they’re done, they’re done until the next day. This is usually because most of them do not work for themselves, but rather have an employer with set hours and set pay. They do their time and then it’s done. Voila. Off to whatever the rest of their time holds.
But the thing is, to me, if you want to achieve something great, then it takes great effort. It takes going not just above and beyond, but so far above and beyond as to leave your competition growing very tiny in the rear view mirror.
Folks in business for themselves, particularly my fellow artists, will likely understand exactly what I mean.
Let’s say you’re working on a story and you have a publisher and editor. A point comes where you’ve hammered away at it and really could use some input from that editor, yet it’s past their business hours. But you know that if you keep pushing on, you may well be wasting time with something that you really needed to bounce off them at that crucial moment. What to do? Take the chance while everything is flowing and hope for the best? Stop and wait, hoping that when you get that feedback the tide rolls in again? It seems to me that if you are in the business of working with us “creatives”, there ought to be at least an understanding there that for those of us truly serious about our craft, the work day never ends, and if you are our liaison, our editor, our manager, or whatever, then that probably means that yours shouldn’t end either, even though it likely does. Maybe that’s harsh, but every time I’ve managed to have those sorts of folks involved with me who understand that and work toward the maximum availability, the results are light years ahead of the alternative. If you work with artists, then it’s your job, by my reckoning, to take every advantage of the best ways in which they work to help pull the best product out of them, and if that means being “on call”, well… suck it up and be on call, because if you work with us, especially those of us who pour ourselves into it constantly, you will get great things. If you don’t, if you try to pack into a regular day everything we can throw at you in the dead of night, then by the time you catch up with us, we’ll be so far ahead of you that you’ll wonder what is even going on. You will be frustrated by it, and frankly, so will we.
What’s more, when the relationship between management and artist finds itself bottlenecking like this, frustrations build up on both ends. Management can’t keep up with the artistic flood. The artist feels stifled because management is probably somewhere days or projects back, with communications forcing you to shift gears from whatever your current project is back to something which, to you, was already over. As an artist, I’ve learned to try and keep this dynamic in mind and be as patient with it as possible, but that doesn’t stop it from being incredibly frustrating.
Some would call the crazed hours I keep erratic, obsessive or even this term I utterly detest, “workaholic”. But in my view, greatness and achievement are good things to be obsessed with, and pouring every available moment you have into those pursuits is what separates the nobodies from the likes of Jack Kirby, Frank Miller or Todd McFarlane in comics, or Frazetta, Ploog, Boris and Royo in painting. It’s what separates the virtuoso musicians from the garage noise wannabes. It’s what gives sports men like Michael Jordan and Hank Aaron. These are the guys who get up early, work like mad, stay late, and even in their “down time” are practicing, training, studying, expanding everything they can about what they do. These are the people who don’t just climb mountains; they go so far that they seek out entirely new mountains that no one else even knew existed, then climb them and break new ground for the rest of us to marvel at. In comics, I’ve heard it often said that, “we all live in the house Jack built”. There’s a reason for that. Work ethic. An insatiable desire to be the best, to create constantly, to never let up, to get the job done more than anyone else ever dared try.
Greatness doesn’t start and stop with the punching of a clock, and if it has a schedule, that’s only a tool for organizing itself to better work toward some goal. Greatness doesn’t give up. It doesn’t take a break. Greatness is always on, always working, studying, honing itself to be the best it possibly can be. The pursuit of greatness knows no hours, no limits. It never says “can’t”, but follows “can” with “how”, seeks out what it needs to know to formulate a plan, sets that plan in action and follows through. It is discipline, effort, drive and passion.
If you work with folks for whom this is their pursuit, be forewarned. We’re an abrasive lot, aggravating and demanding. But if you bare with us, together, amazing things will happen.
Something I changed going on two years ago was the decision to get back to a decent, healthy weight and make myself fit again. The holiday season is THE hardest time to keep with that promise to myself: gatherings, family functions, and all of them with tons and tons of great, tasty, insanely fattening food. It’s tough. I get it. I really, really do.
Here’s the deal, though: if you’re like me, and you spend astronomical amounts of time sitting at a desk or drawing board, like most professional artists I know, and you are dedicated to that work, to that art, to that pursuit and live it round the clock, sometimes just getting yourself away from the damn thing can be like moving a mountain, double entendre intended.
Thing is, though, you need it. You need to move. I KNOW I need to move, to get my carcass up from the work and the desk for a while and actually go engage those lizard brain, physical functions, put the machine in motion and burn off some of that art-fat we can so easily put on. In my two years now of fighting against that, I’ve had a pretty good success, having dropped between 100 – 115lbs, putting myself back down in the mid 200’s for the first time in at least 10 years. What I want to share with you now is what I found about my work along the way…
See, in order to drop all that weight, I had to change things. Big time. I had to start watching my calories like a hawk, which I openly admit that I have slipped up on from time to time, especially around holidays. I also had to get honest with myself about my weight, and most importantly, had to absolutely, without fail, get disciplined about engaging in some form of exercise as close to every day as my schedule would allow. Getting serious about this meant that I purposefully set aside the time. My choice of exercise was going back into martial arts, something I have loved dearly for a very long time, and I’m sure you’ll see me write about from time to time as this goofy blog unfolds.
So, I set aside that time, at least an hour but allowing for as much as two, 4-5 days a week. It was not easy. But I stuck to it. After a while, I started to notice that I didn’t drift off at my desk. In fact, I don’t think I had realized how often I had been drifting off before. I found myself starting to feel more alert, could literally feel my brain ticking along faster and more on point with both artistic intuitions and ideas, as well as on business decisions and problem solving. It was as if my brain really did need the release that came from the exercise, that time each day to shut down thinking about all the work and go into this other state, where it’s engaging something wholly different. As I did this, I also started notice pain that I hadn’t even realized I had developed, leaving. It hadn’t dawned on me how awful my lower back and legs had come to feel until I started doing things that engaged them, worked them, put them to use and got the blood really pumping. Over time, I noticed my posture was improving at my desk. My lower back actually had been hurting for a long time but when these things creep in gradually, you just accept them and maybe don’t think about them, until something starts to roll it back. Sometimes you don’t realize how bad you felt until you start doing something that makes you feel good again.
Getting active did just that, and that is exactly my point, my message to others, who like me, have been “chained to a desk” for years on end.
If you resolve anything for yourself this year, make be to get up. Even if it’s just for 10 minutes of stretching a couple times a day. Do SOMETHING. Get up. Move. Go for a walk. Join a gym and ACTUALLY use it. Go into a martial art. Take up yoga. Who cares what it is, but get physical and put it on a schedule. Your brain will function better. Your art will improve. Your health will improve. Your state of mind will improve.
On top of all that, for me, the choice of going back into martial arts meant there would be a forced schedule because of class times. At first, honestly, I found this irritating. I thought being “free” with my time was a perk of being self employed. Now, a couple years back into training, I am so thankful for when class time comes. It’s a time when I can STOP WORKING. But with that, it also means I have to schedule to TO BE WORKING so that it all can work out. Amazingly, this forced me to find an actual schedule for myself through the week, and even more to surprise, this single aspect of the change in my lifestyle from sedentary to active create a new kind of structure that actually enhanced and promoted my own productivity in ways I never imagined it would. It’s funny how sometimes when you do something you know you should, you can end up finding collateral benefits out of it as well. Good investments pay off in a multitude of ways, it would seem.
So why share this? Why tell you all this? Because I know a LOT of you personally. I know you sit still a LOT, just like I used to. I also know you feel like crap. But you can change it. You can make a massive difference for yourself.
As I write this, it has rolled over from Friday into the first Saturday of 2018. It’s a time when people everywhere make their resolutions. I will do this. I won’t do that. Better me this year, yadda, yadda, ad nauseum. I get it. We all want to change something. Tomorrow, I have a martial arts training event that I’m excited about on many levels, but as I close out my day, what strikes me is that it is a culmination, or at least a mile marker, on a journey that started many years ago, was paused by “life” happening, but that I resolved to go back to, two years ago. That resolution has been one of the best decisions of my life. People cynically act as though your New Year’s Resolutions are always going to be broken, that they’re almost a joke, really. That’s easy. That’s a way to let yourself out of those commitments you make to yourself for things you know you should be doing but might be hard. Keeping those commitments IS hard. Succeeding at anything takes work. But resolve is a good thing. I encourage you, whoever you are reading this, to find yours. Resolve to fix something, even if it’s small. Even if it’s just to take a walk two or three times a week, just so maybe you’ll feel better or clear your head in some way. But make those resolutions. Do them. Keep them. Be good to yourself by being disciplined in the good things you know you should do. Make it a better year by making yourself better along the way.
You’ve got this.
So the next time you look to that friend who works from home, or maybe owns a small business, thinking man, that rocks, or worse, maybe I can call on them for X,Y or Z anytime because, y’know, they’re free and stuff, well… think again. Odds are the anxiety they cope with is more than you realize. Odds are they often lay awake at night contemplating the next move of their business, the next set of goals that need to be knocked out to push the ball further down field, or even just the set of responsibilities they know they have waiting the next day that will absolutely not fall to anyone else. Odds are they do what they do because of a passion, but they understand that in order to make that passion real, they have to allow it to become actual, factual work.
So, to my fellow artists, animators, writers, entrepreneurs, inventors, code slingers and business owners, I offer my most genuine respect and admiration.