7 Hard (But Priceless) Lessons for Creatives

What seems to us as bitter trials are often blessings in disguise. — Oscar Wilde

1. Never Blame Others

Every time you feel an opportunity to blame, pause.

Then take radical agency over yourself and the situation. Feel the urge to blame, and instead of following it, use it as a mirror.

When you encounter “problems”, use them as a chance to radically judge yourself.

It can become tempting to blame others, become addicted to the problems, or refuse to judge yourself objectively.

Instead, try to balance your judgment with admissions of ignorance, compassion, and affection. Once you do, that type of horribly honest (but also loving) assessment can act like a compass that will point towards a solution.

2. Recognize and Reverse Ego Creep

“Ego is the absolute impediment to Dao. The sin is pride. If it thrills you that you’re enlightened then you’re ruined. Forget sharing it. You’re not pure enough to share it.” –Terence McKenna

Ego has a lot of plans for you. Many of them will be designed to make you look clever in front of all those people who are and judging. Some of the plans might, “work”. But is your ego turning you into what you want to be? Or a cultural marionette?

One definition of hell on earth would be:

Imagine you’re trapped in a place where you’re always surrounded by people who want you to perform. Why do you think so many comedians go crazy, turn to drugs, or take their own lives? If followed, your ego can lead all the way to hell on earth.

Most times, the performance is for people’s imaginary expectations for you. This is a place where you act for the sake of appearances, instead of principles. It is a place where your life is one big compromise instead of a bold pursuit of your highest self.

The practice of surrendering or leaving an ego hell is hard, but it must be done.

It’s a continual fight that requires some serious daily rituals: hard work, exercise, meditation, reading, writing, and talking with people that love us.

3. Choose the Paths with the Most Adversity

I joined the military in college with the plan to do ROTC and become an officer. When I got out of basic training and infantry school, I had found myself with two options: deploy to Iraq with my unit, or enroll in ROTC and become exempt from the deployment (re-entering the comfortable isolation from reality that is college). I chose to deploy, and faced one of the most challenging years of my life. No one around me supported this choice, and almost everyone around me thought I was an idiot.

The paths that go far outside of comfort and the approval of society are often the best teachers.

When you consciously get in the habit of (occasionally) choosing the path with the most adversity, you’ll get a brand new perspective on your culture and society. Whether you want to view it as seeing the code in the matrix, or tearing off the virtual reality headset you’ve had strapped to your face from a young age… The choices that cause you to endure adversity and alienation will open your eyes.

4. Antimodels Will Accelerate Your Learning

“People focus on role models; it is more effective to find antimodels — people you don’t want to resemble when you grow up” — Nassim Nicholas Taleb

We already covered why radically judging yourself is essential, but judging others with just as much honesty and love will accelerate your learning.

In the military, I was blessed with serving under, and with, some amazing leaders. But there were plenty of “anti-models”. These are the types of people who are borderline (or fully blown) evil. Working with, or having to work under, individuals like this is a must for every single person who considers themselves creative.

Our ego sometimes tells us we can only learn from the best of the best. The truth is, you can accelerate your learning the most when you study under, anti-models.

Anti-models are some of the best inspirations to help you explore, appreciate, and harness your creativity.

When you get a chance to work with an anti-model, you should revel in the opportunity. Studying under someone whose ignorance, anger, or incompetence threatens your life is the best training in the world. Use the anti-models you know as a mirror. Where you see any weakness them, practice noticing and fixing it in yourself.

5. Positive Mimesis is the Goal

“He could see all the signs of hero worship, and he approved. A girl could do worse than admire Sarah Harding. At least she wasn’t an athlete or a rock star. In fact, it was refreshing for a kid to admire somebody (a famous female scientist) who actually tried to advance knowledge…” –Michael Crichton

School indoctrinates you with the idea that mimicking is “cheating.” Online influencers on social media make it known that they follow “O” people. I guess they don’t want to acknowledge every one they’ve learned from!

Society tells you sincerity and admiration are foolish. Sometimes mimicking those you admire is the bravest thing you can do. Sometimes it’s the only way to get moving.

Don’t be afraid to do it. Mimicking is only dangerous if you’re going after a single, or very scarce, resource, or when it sparks conflict. Most mimicking is our natural desire to learn and follow real leaders. We’ve been taught this is bad, and nothing could be further from the truth.

Positive mimesis can’t happen until you humble yourself. This doesn’t mean groveling or following blindly. It means developing an awareness and willingness to be thought foolish by society.

It means letting go of the portions of ego that don’t serve you, being receptive, and non-judgemental… Then picking out the highest good, person, or leader you can conceive of and mimic them.

When you’re humble enough to admit you have heroes, you put yourself in a state of conscious mimicry. It might sound lame, but this is a far step up from the unconscious mimesis that traps some people for their entire lives. Through conscious positive mimesis, you can escape from any mental rut, and move towards your unique brand of creativity. Who knows… eventually you might be able to escape the human desire to mimic altogether.

6. Trust, But Verify

“The first principle is that you must not fool yourself — and you are the easiest person to fool.” –Richard Feynman

Now more than ever, we can use technology to “trust but verify.” When I was planning my next move after the military, I thought I would enroll in a Ph.D. program in economics. Never mind the fact that I disliked college, most economic courses, and had no specific plans for what I’d do with the Ph.D. once I got it. Thankfully, a friend (with his Ph.D. in economics) challenged me to, “do something valuable instead.” I realized I was working extremely hard to fool myself (and become miserable), so I decided to reach out to every recent graduate from the Ph.D. program I was thinking about attending. None of them were particularly happy, engaged, or excited about having spent 5+ years and vast amounts of money getting extra letters by their name. Creatives are prone to rush in, instead of trusting and verifying.

7. Take Things One Day at a Time

“To die every day to every problem, every pleasure, and not carry over any problem at all; so the mind remains tremendously attentive, active, clear.” –Jiddu Krishnamurti

In the military, I deployed twice. One of the most valuable things I learned was to take things one day at a time. You can think about the problem you’re facing and extrapolate it out. Or you can just face it one day at a time. How can you bite off a small portion of the problem and start solving it today?

When your job involves extreme stakes and incentives, you can’t afford to be worrying about the next month. The only thing you have to worry about is the single day in front of you. You can’t be your best self if you are psychologically and physiologically fighting all the imaginary mental battles of the next year. The present day’s tasks is what matters most. Focus on the one or two things you can do today that matter most. Viewing things one day at a time is hard, but when you do, it’s like a weight lifts off your mind. You can do something different today. Don’t worry about if it will become a habit, or if you’ll do it for next 66 days. Just take massive action… today.


These 7 truths for creatives…

Never Blame Others

Recognize and Reverse Ego Creep

Choose the Paths with the Most Adversity

Antimodels Will Accelerate Your Learning

Positive Mimesis is the Goal

Trust, But Verify

Take Things One Day at a Time

…are hard to implement. But if you do, you’ll find they are priceless.


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