During my themed work weeks experiment I found that focusing on just one “main project” a week got “the hard stuff” done, making this approach highly productive. At least, it felt that way.
Today, I realized that the reason for the feeling was because I have gained an improved awareness of my own mastery, which led to increased confidence in tackling unknowns, which in turn has helped me reframe my goals not just for 2014, but for perhaps my life!
A Lifetime of Waiting
I’m 46 years old, and it still feels like I have not “mastered” anything. That’s because I have not yet done anything I would regard as being particularly impressive. I’m not being hard on myself, and I’m not feeling sad about it. I am fully aware that I have well-developed, bankable skills like programming, writing, design, reflection, and analysis. However, just because I have skill doesn’t mean I’m satisfied. They are the means to an end that I have not yet reached, and I feel like I’m more of an apprentice than even a journeyman. What I want to do is produce a master work.
I crave, I think, both mastery and the satisfaction of having produced a master work, which I define as a tangible “made” artifact that combines profound understanding with visonary zeal. I would consider myself, at best, to be at a journeyman level of making. I’ve banged out a few better-than-average things in my lifetime, like the various productivity tools and interactive exhibit software, but they are intermediate milestones toward what I consider “master projects”. Here’s my list, which I’ve never dared write down before:
- a complete video game designed and programmed by myself
- an integrated suite of paper and digital productivity tools to help me think
- the composition of a orchestral score
- the illustration of a lovely book that I’ve written myself
- the design and bringing to market of a useful mechanical device
- the building a self-sustaining organization that creates at least one full-time job
These are my master goals, and I don’t think I’ve written them down before because I didn’t realize just how important and pervasive they are in my daily dreaming. My unvocalized assumption has been that I would accrue the skills, and then these projects would somehow follow, and I was fine with that because there were just so much to learn! This attitude, coupled with my own uncertainty regarding the time it would take to get to that point, perhaps discouraged me from writing them down as actual goals. Instead, I’ve set goals that were more “awareness-building” or “aspirational”; for example, here are my “goals” for Groundhog Day Resolutions 2014:
- MORE FIRST STEPS, LESS PLANNING
- Writing and deploying software applications
- Sharing my interests with everyone to create positive energy and see where it goes.
- Creating better marketing content for existing products
These are not “goals” in the usual sense, but I was fine with that because I was keeping myself from dreaming big. The 4 goals I listed are about maintaining momentum as a prerequisite for “creative independence”, which I define as being able to support myself financially through selling products based on my own creative work, which I saw as giving myself the time and resources to figure out exactly what my passion was. I think I was too timid to dream as big as that master list of projects implies I want to be: a master of multiple creative fields. Just saying that out loud feels SCARY AND AUDACIOUS, which means that it is exactly the kind of thing I should say out loud.
Coming back to the themed work weeks, I think what I’ve really gained from them is confidence in my ability to be productive in the face of uncertainty. The following key insight is that mastery dictates the schedule of achievement, and it follows that time is the servant to mastery. Up until now, I had the equation backwards, emphasizing time over mastery, because that is the context under which I developed my professional skillset. Time matters in service industries, where meeting deadlines and customer expectations are prerequisites for success, but I have never liked it. My demeanor is more that of an artist, despite the technical leaning of my skillset, and in this context time should serve the art.
On Life Balance
Being productive—making stuff that works—contributes hugely to my sense of well-being. However, at the current place I am at in my life, I need to ensure that I’m maintaining continual progress in the following three areas while keeping the master project list going:
- Doing My Own Business Development – This is the stationery business on Amazon, making this website more accessible, the writing, and the fun personal projects.
- Doing Interesting Client Work – This pays the bills, and gives me the opportunity to continue developing professional mastery while making new connections with interesting people.
- Maintaining Community and Close Connection through Physical Presence – This is spending quality time with people, working on the LRC, keeping the house clean, being able to have visitors stay overnight and be comfortable, being more intimate.
These are the criteria for achieving “Creative Independence”, which is being able to produce income by selling products based on my own design work to fuel a life of unhurried inquiry. The master project list fits into this scheme by producing both inspiration for that inquiry and for the products I develop. By recognizing this relationship, I gain a new metric for evaluating what I should be working on.
For the remainder of 2014, I’m thinking of redefining my focus based on the scary list of master projects. I’ll write about this more on the September 9 Groundhog Day Resolutions Review.
I’m kind of amazed it took me this long to recognize how much of a slave to time I have been. When I was a kid, I was constantly frustrated by how long it took me to learn anything, how unclear everything was, and how dumb I was for not “getting it” quicker. As I grew older, I came to recognize just how bad a lot of the instructional material was, and evolved my own ways of learning to counteract my perceived slowness. Later, I came to appreciate learning through doing and experimentation, because I could trust my brain to make sense of it even when “experts” could not provide the insight I craved. And yet, I never was able to overcome my early childhood dislike of how long it takes to do anything at all, even as life experiences showed me that it was quality time invested that creates the conditions forboth sustainable efficiency and epic creativity. I think I get it now. We shall see!