Episode: 49

Quick Thoughts on the Nomad/Expat/Travel Life, Creativity, Productivity and Living a Better Life.

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In this episode, I expand on a blog post regarding Creativity and the 5 roadblocks that I battle with.

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All right, guys, good morning. Welcome to the “Morning FlyBy.” This is Michael. Today is Friday morning. I’m on my way to work and today, I wanna chat a little bit about a blog post that I published yesterday. I think it was yesterday. Something a little different, I don’t really write too much about these types of things, but I have been kind of struggling off and on with my creative consistency, my creative output pretty much for my whole life. I’ve always been a very creative person. 

I’ve always been into writing or, you know, photography, film making, stuff like that. And I’ve kind of gone off and on with my creative output. So over the last three or four years, especially with being in China, where I’ve had a little bit more free time in a certain way, meaning, you know, I’m separated from family and friends from the U.S. so I don’t have to attend as many birthday parties and holidays and stuff like that. 

So I’ve had to fill my time with something and I have invested heavily, finally, in my creative pursuits. So that’s been awesome. That’s been a big win, I guess, in general for me, but as I’ve dedicated more time to it, I also wanted to investigate a little bit about how I can maintain this if I, let’s say, you know, have to move back to the United States someday, or even back to my hometown or something like that, to where my day-to-day responsibilities would change a bit as far as family obligations and stuff like that. 

So what I’m really trying to do is develop a robust set of, you know, practices and routines to make sure that I can continuously spend time on creativity. So while I’ve been diving into how do I strengthen my routines, I came up with five things that, for me at least, routinely damage my creative pursuit, my consistency, and sticking with something and that’s what the blog post is about that I’m referring to. So this morning, I thought I would maybe just touch on those five things. In case you don’t have time to read the blog post, I do encourage you to do that though. It’s on my website, I’ll note that at the end. It’s also linked here in the show notes, but goes into a little bit more detail and kind of my thoughts behind it. So today, I thought, would just be a quick…give you the five things, let you think about it and see what you think. See if you struggle with any of these. 

So the number one thing that I struggle with and I don’t think I’m unique in this regard when it comes to creative output, but I think that most artist, if not all artist that I’ve met anyways and I’ve read about and I’ve done research, struggle with self-doubt and this is something that…I don’t wallow in it. I’m a fairly confident person but, you know, I’m not gonna lie. There are times where I question if, you know, writing is worth my time, I’m never gonna make any money at this? Why are you spending time doing this? You could be doing something else. Why did you get into photography, spend all this money on camera gear? Are you ever going to basically make back that investment? And what’s funny is that my mind goes through those things, but I never got into any of those pursuits to make any money out of it. Well, maybe writing, you know, definitely writing is kind of always a dream of mine as a child. I definitely wanted to be a published, paid writer since I was a little kid. But my more recent creative outlet, photography and videography, you know, I didn’t get into it to make money. 

I started it because I was bored in China with my family living back in the US. and I wanted to start documenting this amazing experience I was having in China. So that’s where, I started the vlog, and I started the podcast, and I started the website, stuff like that. It really didn’t dawn on me ever to try to monetize it. I still haven’t and maybe never will make a dime off it.

But I bring all this up because self-doubt does creep in. You know, I think the human mind is built to compare. We see contrast in things and because of that we’re always comparing ourselves. I’m not good enough. I’m not fast enough. I’m not thin enough. I’m not strong enough. I’m not pretty enough. I’m not–blah, blah, blah, blah, blah. And it goes on, and on, and on, and on. 

I stumbled across a book and it’s called “The War of Art” not the art of war, but “The War of Art” by Steven Pressfield. And he tackles this feeling of self-doubt and he goes really deep into it. 

(And… this guy’s just going to hit me with his car. Good morning. Jesus. If you were ever in China, just keep in mind, pedestrians have zero right, nearly zero right. Even if you’re in a crosswalk, even if it’s green, the cars can still come through on certain lanes, so anyway, just be careful. I’m walking and talking here making a podcast and it seems like I almost get killed every morning doing this).

So anyways, back to what I was talking about. Pressfield goes deeply into this idea of self-doubt and he actually gives it a name and he calls it Resistance. And as he defines this, he argues that we all have resistance in ourselves. And it’s that voice that talks us out of going to the gym. It’s that voice that talks us into eating that bag of, you know, Oreos, or Doritos, or something instead of, you know, some celery, and some brown rice, or whatever. This is the voice that keeps us from starting a creative project. This is the voice that keeps us from finishing that creative project, which I’ll get to here in a bit. Through reading this book, I have been able to shift my mindset a bit around how I talk to myself. I can clearly label the self-doubt type language recriminations, incrimination, whatever you wanna call them, hypercritical self talk, and when you can give it a new name something like resistance, it helps you focus on it and it helps you see it for what it really is. And that way then you can tackle it. 

I can’t go into the depth here about Resistance as Pressfield does, so I recommend the book, “The War of Art”, Steven Pressfield, seek it out. I try to read it once a year since I found it a couple years back. That’s three or four years ago now. It’s really short, short bite-sized chapters and kind of changed the way I think about things when it comes to creative output. It’s actually helped me be much more consistent over the last three years, so highly recommended. 

The second thing, quickly, and this is something I really struggle with. But the second point that really takes a toll on my creative output is loving the gear more than the art. And this I really struggle with. I love buying new gear, be it the newest computer to write on, be it a new iPad so I can edit photos on when I travel, new camera, new lenses, new blah, blah, blah, blah, whatever. I love gear. 

I work for a technology company, so I’m surrounded by it all day and there’s certain arguments that can be made, especially in the modern day now to where technology actually makes content creation, creativity more accessible, which is awesome. Some of it is definitely needed. I embrace quite a bit of it, but there are days where I spend more time researching gear that I cannot afford, gear that I’ll never probably buy, but I’m wasting time researching it because it’s fun. It’s interesting. It’s fun to daydream. 

You know, Pressfield would argue, again, that this is just resistance working against you. My challenge for myself is, I’m trying not to buy as much this year when it comes to gear or technology. Over the last three years, I’ve really built out my camera production kit, I guess if you want to call it that and I bought a lot of lenses, I’ve sold a lot of lenses and I think I’ve kind of arrived at, at least right now, the tools that help me express myself and dive deeper into my hobby. 

As far as writing goes, I really just need a basic laptop. In fact, most of the writing I’m doing right now I’m doing it on my iPad. I’m trying to challenge myself to buy less this year, fall back in love with art and with the creation of that art versus find all the new gear. Sure it’s fun though, I gotta tell you, I really do struggle with this one. 

Which kind of leads me into my third point and if you…I think I got it titled in the blog post, “Thinking of Your Art as a Mere Hobby.” And this is something that is a personal choice, I think more than anything. And let me explain. Yeah, I’m not arguing that your art should be something that you strive to monetize, or that you should strive to make your living on. That’s a personal choice for you to determine, not something I can recommend one way or the other, to be honest. I do not make my living off of my creative pursuits, far from it. I have a full-time career that compensates everything in my life that I need or want at this point. And, you know, I don’t foresee a future, at least in the short term, where I could replace that salary and other perks with my creative output. It’s just not mathematically possible at this point, and that’s okay. 

Again, some of this I didn’t get into to try to make money off them. When I was younger that was definitely my aim with my writing and actually did sell some writing. Quite a few years ago, I sold a screenplay. I think it was 2004, 2005 or something, I don’t know, I’d have to go back and look at my records. 

But I optioned a screenplay, it was a six-year option or maybe the three-year option, they extended it. I can’t remember guys. I’m sorry. But I got paid for six years on it. Every April, I’d receive a check in the mail, wasn’t a lot of money, but it was vacation money, it was fun money and that was pretty cool. 

That time in my life, my wife and I were newly married, hadn’t had our kids yet, probably was the perfect time for me to move back to LA because ironically, I was living in LA trying to do the screenplay thing. I moved away and that’s, of course, when I sold the screenplay, so I should have probably moved back and, you know, kind of dedicated myself to that life. But I don’t regret it. You know, I mean, a piece of me will always wonder, but I don’t regret it. 

The choices that my wife and I made, set us on the course to have our two amazing daughters, and I would obviously never change that for the world. So for me, monetizing writing, yes, that started as the dream but now that I’m older and I have responsibilities as a father and husband, and stuff like that, you know, I’ve taken the pressure off of myself to actually make money at it and it’s more about the art of it and building something that’s interesting to me. That’s really my focus, that’s really my goal. 

But anyways, back to the point, in the blog post is, if however, you are someone who wants to make a living from your art, you can’t treat it like a hobby. You can’t wait to start basically. Because if I’ve learned anything over, you know, this over 20 years of trying to, you know, work in my creative pursuits is you get better through sheer time in its intent or a…what are they called? Practice with intent. I think Malcolm Gladwell talked about that in one of his books, “Outliers” or one of them. And, you have to do conscious practice with intent to get better. It’s not just, marking time and, you know, playing basketball with friends and not really concentrating. It’s sitting there and focusing on the practice itself of making, you know, free throws, or three-point jump shots or whatever skill you’re trying to develop. 

It’s that intentional practice that puts people over the edge towards mastery, and I can absolutely attest to that. And I’m not saying that I’m mastered anything, I don’t mean it that way. I just know that I’m a far better writer, I’m a far better photographer than I was years prior. And a lot of that has been because I put in intention around my practice. I tell myself in my mind that I am practicing now, this is the thing I’m trying to get better at within, you know, the bigger sphere of writing or photography. Today, I’m going to try, you know, whatever to do this. Tomorrow, I’m going to try to do that thing. 

If we approach our creative pursuits as a job, meaning you scheduled time for it, you show up, you don’t call in sick to your artistic practice, you treat it like a job, you will definitely make progress. If you always treat it as something that you’ll get to when you have time, let’s just be honest with each other, you’ll never have time. It’s the one thing we have too little of and that we’ll never get any more of. It’s one minute at a time and, obviously, but so you have to make the time. That’s what I’ve learned.

Number four that gets in the way of having a vibrant creative life, I think, is lack of patience. Nowadays, our world, it’s so fast-paced. We’re used to everything being delivered now, now, now. Instant gratification, you know, less than 24-hour delivery. I can place dinner order and it will be at the door within 40 minutes here in Shanghai. Everything is instant. And I think that this subtly works on our subconscious to where we don’t clearly see the separation of where things can be instantaneous, nearly instantaneous and that’s okay, meaning, like, technological type things. And then we apply that that same pressure, those same expectations to areas of our life that just don’t work that way, namely our career or, again, our creative pursuits. 

On social media, we’re exposed to so many people, so many things. And it’s really easy to see these people and say, “Well, yeah, they came out of nowhere, you know, and now they’re millionaires in a few years.” And and of course, there are examples of people gaining some form of success very quickly. But what I found, I’ve actually gone back and done some of the research on these people, it wasn’t overnight. There is no overnight success. 

None of us see the whole backstory of when they got their first camera when they were 13 and they were making funny little videos in their basement. And now, they’re 23, 24 and they’re a YouTube star. Well, that’s 10 years of work behind that camera, right? Ten years. That’s a significant amount of time of practice. 

So, you know, for me I’ve been writing somewhat “regularly” that’s in huge quotes with a huge asterisk. I’ve taken years off, but meaning, you know, I wrote my first screenplay after a terrible novel that I wrote in probably ’98, ’99, 2000. 

I’ve been writing for 20 years kind of off and on, and you know, I may never make it as a writer. Who the hell knows? I may never make a single dime from it, you know, after that screenplay. Who knows? But for me, I’m just trying to employ patience and fall in love with the process and the self-satisfaction I get from creating art. I think lesson number four for me of the things that gets in my way, is when I feel myself getting impatient around some sort of validation, you know, be it even self-validation. Did I finish the book? Did I finish the chapter? Did I get my word count in today? So on and so forth. 

I’m just trying to be patient with myself which brings up the last point, and I’ll just cover it quickly. And I suffer from this too, is this obsession around perfection when it comes to our art. 

I mean, gosh, I’ve been working on this novel that I wrote in my first year and a half in Chengdu, in China. I’ve been in China three and a half years, so I basically been tinkering with the final draft of this novel for well over a year and it’s done. Like the book is done from first word to the end, it’s done. Story’s done, everything’s pretty much done. I’m just in final edits. I’m just changing words around. I’m building some things in that I, you don’t realize I gotta kind of foreshadow earlier in the book to smooth things out. But for the most part, it’s done. It’s written. And I’m just struggling to finish because I want it to be perfect.

What I’m trying to coach myself through here is that there is no concept of perfection, first of all. Or I should say, there’s no reality of perfection. We hold this concept in our head thinking that we can live up to it someday. And it’s just not possible, right? There were stories, I think it was Hemingway, I can’t remember the writer, so don’t quote me on this. But one of these famous writers, there was a story, where he was rewriting the ending of the book while the book was on the New York Times bestseller list. Let’s think about that. He published the book, it’s selling well, it’s on the New York Times list! And he’s still sitting at home rewriting the ending because he was not happy with it. 

I don’t want to be that guy. I don’t want to be that writer to where it’s just an obsession. My goal this year, my line in the sand is just to get this book freaking done. Get it done, get it done. Get it professionally edited, get the feedback, make those changes, and then do something with it. I’m trying not to get so hyper-focused around perfection that it continues to stall future creative output. 

So anyhow, guys, that’s the five. I go into more detail in the blog post. If you’re interested around those things. If you struggle with some of these creative roadblocks like I do, check out the post. Give me some feedback on it too. I typically write things more around, you know, travel or the expat life, stuff like that. But both lives are kind of intertwined, meaning to share the expat or the travel life, I do have to be creative meaning taking pictures, and making videos, and writing blog posts, and stuff like that. So the two worlds do definitely intertwine. 

I thought I would throw this out there. See what you guys think about it, you know, in a way it was probably more for me kind of like self-therapy, self-coaching to try to get my mind straight, to keep pushing through this year. But yeah, that’s it. That’s all I got for the morning. So, as always, thank you guys for listening. 

If you want to see what else is going on in my life, check out http://www.nomadicthrive.com. Link is in the show notes, you’ll find more blog posts, videos, podcast episodes, so on and so forth. So as always, guys, have an amazing day and I will talk to you next time.

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