Category: Personal Growth

Consumption Versus Creation: The Ongoing Battle

Consume Less, Create More

A couple months ago I was asked to do an interview for the Why Is That Important podcast to discuss Therapeutic Creativity. I had great time talking with hosts Joe Wenger and Andrew Martin about how creativity can be used as a means of personal therapy whether that creativity take the form of music, art, or even cooking. Do me a favor and check out their podcast and my interview.

During that interview, I briefly strayed off topic a bit to discuss an idea that had recently occurred to me: That we creative types are in a constant struggle between creation and consumption. What do I mean by that? Simply this: On any given day, I can choose to spend my time consuming other people’s creations or I can create my own for other people to consume. No one is capable of being in a state of constant creativity and productivity but surely I can do better than I often do. I like to think of this struggle between consumption and creation as a spectrum.
consumption vs creation
It is a strange reality where I can know and make plans for all of the creative pursuits that I say I care about and want to succeed at, but then can waste an embarrassing amount of hours playing video games (That dang Steam summer sale!) and not making progress towards my goals. I recently listened to an interview with author Rachel Amphlett on the MyKitaab podcast about her self-published books. In the interview Rachel talks about using project management spreadsheets to keep her on track. I’ve exchanged a couple emails with her and she was kind enough to share her spreadsheet template with me. What I saw surprised me….It was very very simple. There was no magic formula hidden inside. It was just a simple spreadsheet where you list what you want to do and you put a check mark in the month you intend to have it completed by. The key to her success in writing has very little to do with those spreadsheets I now realize. Oh sure, they keep her organized but the truth is that Rachel Amphlett and other highly prolific creative types like her are able to accomplish all they do through what everyone knows as self-discipline.

Developing the Discipline for Self-Discipline

That’s right. You just need to actively choose to do the work necessary to reach your creative goals. No special software, no self-help books, no amount of inspirational podcasts can instill in you the will to do more today than you did yesterday. You have to WANT it enough to do the work. I realize that I am not saying anything new here. The concept of self-discipline is an old one. What I hope to grasp personally,  is to understand how people can develop good habits that lead to multiple books being written each year, multiple albums released,  a continuous stream of finished video productions, or whatever the creative medium is. How do you become that person?

I don’t have the answer to that for myself, much less anyone else. What I do know is that I am trying to walk a little further away from the consumption side of the spectrum and closer to the creation side. We all need time to relax. We all need time for leisure activities. The key is finding a good balance that leads to the achievement of goals while also leaving space for family and friends, and just letting your brain reset occasionally.

Thirty Three

Sometime in late Spring last year I made this blog completely private and shut it down due to some challenging circumstances taking place in my life in the real world. I figured today on my birthday would be a good time to finally relaunch it. I will cover some of my plans going forward for this blog and creative projects more in another blog post. Today’s post is about challenging myself to approach life differently this year.

I turned thirty three years old today and as I was driving to work this morning I began wondering to myself what significance there was in that. After all 33 isn’t one of those popular birthdays that people make a big deal about. And then it hit me that Jesus was 33 when he was crucified.

I began to think about how by 33 years old, Jesus had already impacted the lives of thousands of his contemporaries and of course billions of lives in the two millennia since then. Which caused me to question, in my 33 years on this Earth, whose lives have I impacted? Whose suffering have I eased? I don’t presume to think that I will be used in a way that will be remembered for millennia, because fame and personal legacy isn’t the point of Christianity. And I’m sure the people whose lives Jesus personally touched during his lifetime had no concept of the passage of time that would stretch out beyond that Earthly life.

Their focus and their hearts were touched then and there. Jesus showed compassion to the suffering people in his life in a way that I think for me personally gets lost sometimes. And I don’t think I am alone in that. I grew up with a mindset that many of the suffering people in this country are there by their own choosing. That poverty, substance abuse, and abusive relationships were something that could be risen above if only these unfortunate people would make different choices. A mindset that says that someone on government assistance must be lazy and chooses to stay on government assistance because it is the easy path. Sometimes I wonder if the rise of government assistance was fueled by a decline of charity from the Church or if the rise of government assistance fueled the decline of charity from the Church.

While there are certainly elements of truth in the above paragraph and for some people it is more true than others, what strikes me about this way of thinking is that nowhere in the scriptures do I see Jesus utilizing this same kind of cynical logic to excuse not easing the pain and suffering of the people around him. I was pondering today, what if the woman accused of adultery hadn’t listened when Jesus told her to “Go and sin no more.” (John 8:11) Would He have said the same thing to her if their paths had crossed a second time under the same circumstances? Would He have then condoned the stoning that the accusers had wanted in the first place? Any answer to these questions is pure speculation of course and I don’t pretend to know the mind of God.

My point here is that, Jesus lived a life of compassion towards humanity during His time here on Earth. Most of the miracles He performed were driven by being moved to compassion by the suffering of people around Him. If we are Christians, people who embrace the teachings of Christ, should we not live the same way?

Every year I choose some kind of theme for the year for my life. I’ve been doing this for many years now and I don’t even remember how it started. This year I want to make my theme Compassion. It is probably one of the more challenging themes I have ever given myself because it requires effort beyond my house, beyond my family and out into the world to help heal the hurting and the lost with compassion.

Last year’s theme was Accomplishment and I failed at it completely. It was a theme built around the idea of finally accomplishing some of my long-term creative goals. And I didn’t accomplish any of them. I should probably more upset about that but 2014 is over and living in the past won’t fix it.

So I am moving forward into 2015 with the compassionate actions of Christ as my guide and knowing that successfully embracing that theme will be a bigger accomplishment than anything I had hoped to do for myself in 2014.


Embrace The Place You’re In

Jacoby Falls - Loyalsock State ForestI often hear people talking about wanting to travel far and wide to experience new things in far away places. While the world certainly does have innumerable things to offer a soul prone to wander, I sometimes wonder if it is easy to miss things that are close to home. There is even a subtle or not-so-subtle feeling among these types that wherever they are at is somehow not good enough for them. That a place is not worth visiting unless it is far away. Similar to how some high-school graduates feel that they have to attend college in some far away place.

When my wife and I first moved to a small mountain town in rural Pennsylvania almost two years ago we very quickly discovered that there were many things to like and some to dislike about the area. Picking up and moving to an area where we knew no one certainly came with its own set of challenges but nothing we couldn’t handle. In the back of our minds was always the thought that this was our first house and one that we would not stay in forever. Eventually we reasoned that we would move “back to civilization” and closer to family and friends again. I realized early on though that we couldn’t let our desire to move again limit how we lived now.Shikellamy State Park Overlook

I remember one day telling my wife that we needed to embrace the place we are in. That we wouldn’t always live where we are now and should explore it and enjoy it to the fullest extent possible while we have the opportunity. What came out of that was experiencing things that we didn’t know Pennsylvania had to offer. Unfortunately when most states spend money advertising for things that tourists might find appealing, that money is often spent in other states to bring in tourists that aren’t already paying them taxes in some form. This can result in a situation where their own citizens are unaware of what the state has to offer.

I’ve found that adventures don’t always have to be a world away, they can sometimes be in your own backyard. While there is nothing wrong with wanderlust, don’t forget to explore what is close to home either. You may be surprised what you find.

Where Desire Meets Ambition

I’m just a few weeks late with my New Year post but I’m sure you’ll forgive that compared to the six months that have gone by since I posted anything new on here.

My last post way back in July mentioned that I was going to be moving and that move finally happened in late September. It’s amazing how long it can take to find a house and then you’ve essentially got another month’s worth of waiting while all of the other paperwork is taken care of. But we finally did move in September and the ensuing months have been kind of crazy with getting settled in and then leading into the holidays after that.

Life is getting back to normal though and that’s where today’s post finds me. I generally come up with some kind of theme for my life for every new year. Sometimes I post that theme publicly and sometimes not. Most times I don’t know what that theme means until something happens through the course of the year that makes it plain to see. 2012 is a little different though. I knew what my theme for the year was going to be back in November some time.

Unlike previous years, it’s not some vague nebulous concept that could be fulfilled in any number of ways. No, this year’s theme is direct and challenging to myself. This year’s theme is The Year of Accomplishment. What that means to me is finishing up writing projects that have been hanging around for awhile. It means recording a new music album for the first time in over five years.

I debated for awhile whether or not to publicly share this year’s theme for myself because it’s very goal oriented and relies on my working very hard to achieve those goals. But in the end I decided that not sharing it would make it easier on myself to not follow through. Of course, random life events or God’s intervention might completely derail these plans but I’ve found that most often in life if I don’t accomplish something it’s because I didn’t really put the effort into it that it needed.

As 2012 unfolds I hope to be able to share many completed creative projects with you. There’s at least one that I will be sharing on here in the next couple weeks. I was working hard to start the year off right by finishing up a writing project and that’s part of why this post didn’t happen sooner. Stay tuned.

What’s Holding You Back

There comes a time, or many times, in everyone’s life when they feel as if life has not been working out as they had hoped. Often times this prompts the question of what has been holding them back. More often than not, what’s been holding them back is themselves.

A lot of my articles recently have dealt with these kind of ideas but I think it is worth reiterating. You need to know what your goals are in life and you need to ask yourself if you can really bear the thought of looking back twenty years from now and realizing that you’ve accomplished none of them. Wasted time is such a huge thing in our society and it’s crushing to the would-be entrepreneur. Another death blow to your progress towards your goals can be trying to pursue something that you really know nothing about. Having a great business idea is one thing, having the knowledge, time, and will power to take the idea from a dream to a reality can be quite another. Investing time and money into areas that you have no business being in won’t help you achieve anything. Pursue knowledge before you invest.

A couple months ago my family and I were taking a trip out of state for a couple days. The day we were supposed to leave I looked up the directions on the internet and hit the print button. The printer proceeded to make a series of loud bangs and was shaking violently. An orange error light came on but gave no indication of the problem. I pulled the paper out, put it back in, checked the cartridges, and couldn’t find anything wrong. Print. Wrrrr, bang, bang , bang, shake, orange error light. Again, I looked over the whole printer and still couldn’t find anything wrong. I repeated this whole process a couple more times and finally saw what the problem was. Inside the printer, all the way over to the right side was a pink plastic Easter egg that was sitting right in the path of the cartridge carriage. Oh, the joys of having a toddler. I removed the offending egg and the printer started working just fine.

Many times in life, we are our own worst enemy and hold ourselves back from accomplishing anything. But sometimes what’s holding us back is a pink Easter egg in our printer.

The Dumbening

Over the past decade we’ve seen a lot of changes in the entertainment and news media industry and I for one don’t believe that the changes are positive ones. It seems as if everything is being dumbed down and that the bulk of the public is just fine with that and in fact are eating it up more than ever before.

Over the past decade video games have seen a huge transition away from games that require a certain level of strategic planning and mental involvement towards a style of game play that boils down to mindless repetition. Those kind of games have always been present in the industry but it’s really only been in the last ten years that they have become the biggest sellers. Some good examples are Guitar Hero and Rock Band. The value of video games for stimulating the mind was dubious before, but now it’s even worse. I often waste too much time playing a game called Combat Arms. It’s an online first person shooter that features various modes of play including capture the flag and elimination mode. When I play it, I only play Capture the Flag. It’s fun to try and strategize how best to overcome the other team. But Elimination mode is by far the most popular. The only goal in an elimination game is to kill more players than are killed on your team. There is no strategy it’s just mindless shooting and it’s what most people choose to play.

In the television industry the past decade has seen the rise of reality television. The networks realized that they don’t need to pay writers or actors they can just bring in some random people off the street and have them play a game and people will watch it. There is no attempt at quality programming with these shows and yet it is wildly popular.

Thirty years ago video games didn’t exist and seventy years ago television was just in it’s infancy. People used their free time differently in those days. Sure it wasn’t all reading books and learning but when kids played, they actually did something physically and often times mentally stimulating. If you wanted to play a game, it was a family and/or social thing, not a solitary tapping of buttons or keys on a computer or video game system. I believe that the recent rise in dumb entertainment is a direct result of a generation of video games and a few generations of television watching. People are less physically and mentally active. I’m not trying to blame the entertainment industry for this problem any more than someone who eats at McDonald’s everyday should blame them for their obesity. I believe in personal responsibility and people are responsible for how they choose to use their time.

A couple weeks ago one of our horses ran through a fence late at night. I didn’t have time to fix and so I decided to take care of it after work the next day. When I got home from work that day it was already dark and it was snowing. I had been looking forward to a relaxing evening of watching TV and playing video games. But that wasn’t going to happen. Instead I was out in a dark field with snow falling around me and I was piecing together an electric fence that had broken in multiple locations. About an hour into the work I realized something. I felt alive. I was cold and tired but I felt alive. I was actually doing something. It wasn’t what I would have chosen to do that evening but it was something real and tangible, not just another night of letting my brain turn into useless mush.

As I continued to piece the fence back together I started to feel the electric shocks through my gloves and realized that I had forgotten to unplug the fence. But the shocks were minor and I assumed that the gloves were protecting me a bit. The shocks however continued to grow in intensity as the fence became more intact and as I was tying off a wire at a fence post my wrist came in contact with the metal post just as the wire did and I got a huge shock. It felt like someone had punched me in the wrist and like my thumb was on fire. I then decided to unplug the fence. Feeling alive is one thing, lighting up like a Christmas tree is quite another.

There are millions of people willingly participating in The Dumbening. You can be a part of that tide or you can fight it. Be active, feel alive and do something with your life.

Driven to Succeed

There is a small group of people I work with that work on commission, though they rarely make any commission. They spend hours on end some days when business is slow just sitting around talking amongst themselves. Their hourly rate isn’t much better than they could get at McDonalds and so you’d wonder why they don’t put some effort into making more sales. I tried to address this with them the other day and one of them flat out told me that they didn’t care about making their commission. This in spite of the fact that their jobs could be paying quite well if they were actually generating sales.

I’ve marveled at this for some time that some people just don’t seem to have any drive to succeed and are perfectly happy with that. There are some people who need to be doing, be creating, be striving for something better in order to be happy. And there are those who are happy simply being alive. Neither is right or wrong and people are all wired differently. I believe that society needs a good mix of both in order to function well.

But those of us who are driven to do something more are not immune to life’s brainless pleasures either . The danger comes when these things takeover too much of our lives. The kid who neglects practicing his guitar to play Guitar Hero might become an expert at Guitar Hero. One thing is for certain though: He still has no idea how to play the guitar, he’s just really good at a digital version of whack-a-mole.

The challenge for those who are driven to succeed is to remember to slow down and enjoy life while not getting carried away into mental laziness. And the challenge for people who do not have this drive is to be willing to stretch for it once in a while and see what is beyond just being alive. I realize that I’m making very broad generalizations about the entire population.

The Grand Path of Your Life

There is a bit of a recurring theme in this blog’s short history of articles about productivity and following your dreams. The reason that these kind of articles show up from time to time is that I often find myself needing reminded of them.

During these last few weeks while I’ve been only marginally connected to the internet I haven’t been able to post new articles regularly up until this past week and that was beyond my control. But what was within my control was how I used my time while not posting new articles on here. Sure I wrote some new ones which haven’t been published yet but I certainly could have written more both for this website and in my creative writing. Those of us who live in the United States of America have been granted a pretty easy life by those who have gone before us. We can be as productive or lazy as we like and either way some portion of our society will accept us as we are. If you don’t want to work, that’s okay someone else will work and pay taxes so you don’t have to. If you don’t want to exercise, that’s okay when you are too overweight to function as a normal human being anymore, a disability check will be waiting for you. If you want to drop out of school, that’s okay there are plenty of jobs that don’t require an education. If you don’t want to fight in the military and protect our country, that’s okay too, someone else will be there on the front lines.

In America we have the freedom and liberty to be as selfless or as selfish as we choose. But if you are a person who dreams of doing something important with your life or of accomplishing something great then keep this in mind: Nothing great was ever accomplished while watching TV night after night. Nothing great was ever accomplished by sleeping in. Nothing great was ever accomplished by partying. Nothing great was ever accomplished while playing video games. Nothing great was ever accomplished by spending endless hours on website forums.

If you don’t already, then it is time to start thinking of the path your life is on. Look behind you and you can see the twisting, bumpy path of your life. Full of potholes and thickets. Look in front of you and there is no path. The path you are on only extends as far as you have traveled so far. You are where you are in your life because of the culmination of all of the decisions you have made up until this point. As I said, there is no path in front of you however. If you are unhappy about the path your life has taken up until this point then take heart, for the direction your life takes from here is still completely up to you. Your way is not set so you can start off in a new direction full of hope and promise. You alone are responsible for the direction your life takes.

Look behind you again. Are you happy with what you see? Could you have done more to be a better person or to pursue your dreams in a more effectual way? Perfection is not possible, none of us is capable of it. Self-loathing over failed attempts in your past will not help you. I don’t believe that we are ever supposed to be more than we can be but if we are honest with ourselves then we should strive to be more than we have been. If we can manage to do that then perhaps we can one day look back on the path of our lives and see those bends and bumps and thickets and know that the mistakes of our youth have given us wisdom for the future but have not cast us into a mold that we must stay in the rest of our lives.

Be Still

The other day I was spending some time with my son outside, he was playing in the yard while I watched him from the porch. The sun was setting and as I looked into the sky in front of me I could see the mostly full moon between the branches of two trees. A thought sparked in my head, wondering if it was possible to see the moon orbiting with the naked eye. Sure you could look at the moon and then look at it an hour later and it would of course be in a different position. But what I wanted to know is if it was possible to see it moving by watching it consistently. So I sat very still and stared at the moon, which is a lot safer than staring at the sun. The two trees that bracketed the moon gave me an easy sense of perspective. And so for fifteen minutes I watched the moon moving ever so slowly across the sky in it’s orbit above the Earth. It was an amazing thing to see.

As our lives move at a faster and faster pace it’s easy to lose site of the simple wonders of the world around us. If we are idle for any amount of time it is often because we are watching television or enjoying some other form of entertainment. There is nothing wrong with those things of course but there is something to be said for shutting all of that down for awhile and quieting your mind. Be still. Be quiet. Listen to and observe your world. Be silent for awhile and listen to what others have to say. It’s hard to learn anything from others when you won’t quiet yourself down long enough to listen to the wisdom they might possess.

Create an Activity Calendar

Something that retail corporations (and probably other corporations too) are fond of doing is creating Activity Calendars for the store locations to follow. It may be called by different names at different companies but the purpose is always the same: It’s a list of things that “need” done on a specific day sometimes by a specific person. As retail chains have grown larger and money is tight for more corporate personnel, these Activity Calendars have become an easy way for corporations to micro-manage store locations without actually having someone in the stores checking up on whether the tasks were completed. Apparently the store management already being paid for these kind of duties aren’t trustworthy enough to handle the responsibility of micro-management.

So what does this have to do with you? Well I’ve found that an Activity Calendar can be a useful tool in your personal life as well. However, if you are thinking that you can schedule your personal life to the point of assigning specific tasks to specific days, you are completely wrong. Life happens and your schedule will be blown up before it even starts. Jimmy needs to go to soccer practice, Susie needs to go to dance class, Jimmy hurt himself at soccer practice and is now in the emergency room, and it’s now 9:00 a night and you just realized that you never did pick up Susie from dance class. The day went by with none of your scheduled tasks getting completed. Find someone or something to blame, then try again tomorrow. By the way it turns out Jimmy was just faking it because he really doesn’t like soccer he only plays because you make him. Way to go.

I’ve found that a much more effective approach to the idea of Activity Calendars is to plan activities, chores, tasks, or whatever you want to call them during the few days leading up to a new week. I don’t plan specific times for anything and I don’t even try to pick specific days. The tasks get done when I have time during that week. When it happens during that week is irrelevant. Some of those things are on the list every week and some of them are once and done projects. I work the list around my life so that my life doesn’t get in the way of a too-structured list. After a few weeks of this kind of approach to my personal life I find that I get in a rhythm and suddenly the things that I never seemed to have time for before are easily handled in manageable chunks.

If it seems like your personal life is a bit out of control then see if using an Activity Calendar can help bring back a certain level of control without trying to control every aspect of every day.