You know the big maps that are posted on the walls of rest areas along interstate highways, those places where you stop while driving en route to some family vacation or similar event. Typically these maps have some sort of indicator, either drawn with a marker or printed more professionally, pointing to a precise spot with the words, “You are here.” My kids have read a little too much existentialist literature for their own good, and when I point out where we are, they typically respond by asking questions such as “How do they know?”
Trying to find yourself on a map seems to be the adult version of the clichéd children’s travel question, “Are we there yet?” We pause at the map to calculate how many more hours are left to ride in the car, how long before we need to fill up with gas, or how many more times do we have to listen to that same CD or DVD before arriving. Getting to “there” is always the obsession. Reaching the destination and arriving always seems to be the point of the trip.
So why am I thinking about this today? What does this have to do with bringing forth creative work into the world? As I read writings from really smart people who know what they are talking about, there is a lot of talk about learning to savor the journey; to find joy in the process not the product, etc. I do think that learning to cultivate enthusiasm for the day to day stuff of making your work happen is really helpful, and may in fact be essential if we are to stay in the game over time. As a student I was coaching last week observed, when you start to really pay attention to the qualities of what you are bringing forth, the work takes on the nature of meditation. In optimal moments, there is an amazing sense of timelessness and ease. Then there are other days.
Still, I am interested in the “You are here” message. As I mature in my work process I have a better “map” for my journey than I once did. There are experiences that are similar from one project to another, and this makes it easier to infer from past experience how things may unfold this time around. Even so these predictions are more in the manner of an experimental hypothesis, and not factually reliable based upon known information.
For me this means that most mornings, I start my workday by looking at my map. I always (or almost always) have an idea of where I want to go—a particular concert I am preparing, something I am writing, or some correspondence needing an answer yesterday—and then I plan out incremental steps that I believe will move me in my intended direction. Sometimes my map is harder to read and there are confusing details that just don’t look right. Occasionally, I make wrong turns and I need to go back to the map to get back on the desired route toward my destination. Still the process begins with a map and the words, “You are here.”
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