The limits of the possible can only be defined by going beyond them into the impossible. ~Arthur C. Clarke
It’s said that there’s a common, first-year art major exercise where the teacher divides students into two groups and gives each group a different assignment.
The first group must study how to throw a perfect pot on a potter’s wheel and spend one week perfecting the process so as to get the proportions just right.
They are to create one pot and refine as they go, in pursuit of creating one perfect final work. In essence, they are to create systemically, according to a system or plan.
The second group’s assignment is to simply throw a lot of clay on the potter’s wheel, making multitudes upon multitudes of pots.
At the end of the week they are to choose which one is best, of the many they have created. In essence, they are to create “prolifically,” or in abundance.
At the end of the week, the art teacher assesses their work. Guess which group tends to turn out better work?
The group that creates prolifically. Guess which group has more fun?
The group that creates prolifically.
To create prolifically requires that you abandon perfectionism and instead aim for the act of creation itself. The aim is to create, not to perfect. Paradoxically, it seems in these art studio experiments, focus on creation seems to result in more “perfect” work.
I think about that, and can’t help wonder: How does that translate to everyday, ordinary life?
How It Shows
My entire career centers around our experiences of fear and how we practice courage, and I run into a lot of different “forms” of fear. Contrary to popular belief, there isn’t just one form of fear out there. There are dozens.
Fear can show up as the typical anxiety, but it can also show up as chronic forgetting, resistance, deflections, and — pertinent to this particular example — doubt, hesitation and second-guessing.
The adversary of living prolifically is an abundance of doubt, hesitation and second-guessing. You simply cannot create prolifically if you’re killing time dealing with that trifecta.
And why do people go into a space of doubt, hesitation and second-guessing?
Because they’re going into that space of perfectionism, which is what breeds second-guessing. They are at the metaphorical potter’s wheel, trying to get one pot to be just so, rather than creating many pots and trusting that one of them, somewhere among the bunch, is going to turn out to be good — and enjoying the creative process, along the way.
Implications for Life
Consider the last time you felt stuck around a decision-making process.
Chances are — if you’re like me, and most of the rest of the world — when you’re in that process, you feel like you can’t make a move in any direction until you know which move you want to make.
This can get really real, really quickly. The stakes feel high. Perhaps you’re dealing with a possible divorce, loss of a job or deciding how to handle a teenager who is in a downward spiral.
Deciding how to move forward under such circumstances is no small feat, and several options are before you, all with their pros and their cons. It can be overwhelming.
Now — and I don’t mean this to come across as trite, given the examples I just cited — consider the artist, the creative at work in their studio. Consider that there are a thousand ways to take a picture, a million ways to create a painting, and the artist must decide which one to begin with or the creative process does not happen.
The person who creates either their life or their art from the point of view that there is one way to do it is going to feel stuck until they figure out that one way. Their internal “critic of consequences” will perpetually be lording over them, watching for the mistake to be made.
Create Your Own Luck
By contrast, there’s the person who decides to approach their life (or their art) prolifically. This person trusts that any forward motion is a worthy endeavor.
They trust that they’re quickly going to learn the truth of what does and does not work for them simply by making a lot of choices and being prepared to course-correct as needed.
The first person might get lucky and all will turn out according to plan. If they don’t get lucky? Cue the frustration.
The second person might get lucky, too, and everything will work out on the first go. Or they’ll create their own luck in the form of making ever-more decisions, as needed, if the first decisions aren’t quite right.
They’ll throw clay on the potter’s wheel as much as it takes to get where they need to be. And they’ll quite likely create better “work.”
So here are three questions to consider, especially if you’re currently in the throes of a tough decision-making process where there’s doubt and hesitation:
- What if we are actually holding ourselves hostage to the idea of thinking it over carefully and choosing the best course of action?
- What if the ultimate liberation from fearful thinking would be to realize that there is no best course — that instead, multitudes of choices can carry multitudes of outcomes, and we can never truly predict how things will turn out?
- What if the best “insurance” for living well is not trying to chart the best course, but instead to explore how you can work with and through a wide range of outcomes?
Recently, my husband and I were invited to dinner at the house of a local designer. While there, it turns out that the designer’s (now-deceased) father was a famous photographer in Spain.
We began pouring through several of his father’s coffee table books, these massive portfolios that ultimately comprised a complete retrospective of his work.
The designer shared little anecdotes about his father’s work and what his father been thinking about at the time.
But this really struck me: When I asked if his father had had a pre-conceived plan of what he had wanted to create with his work, the designer smiled affectionately, shrugged, and said,
“No. He just followed what interested him.”
Ah. So this photographer didn’t sketch out a complete plan, try to get it perfect and then get upset if life took him in a different direction.
He didn’t wait for the right idea to hit him, the one that would be commercially successful or that would go over well with the critics.
This photographer followed what interested him, living and creating prolifically, and look where he ended up! The photographs were so full of life and passion. I don’t know the specifics of how this photographer lived in his private life, but I have no doubt that his creative life was one of fulfillment.
Consider the places in your life where you’re trying to plan it all out, stick to the plan, wait to make the big decisions until you know if it’ll go well with the critics (and the critics, of course, can be anyone).
Take Back Power
What might happen if you dared to live prolifically? What if you started making a prolific number of decisions, taking on a prolific number of challenges or creating prolific joy?
What if, on the verge of divorce, you decided to go to a prolific number of couples therapy sessions?
What if, having just lost your job, you brainstormed a prolific number of creative, out-of-the box approaches to either landing a new job or finding a new line of work?
What if, confronted with a family member who seems hell-bent on self-destruction, you asked a prolific number of people for advice or had a prolific number of heartfelt conversations with the person or spent a prolific amount of time being quiet with yourself instead of trying to figure it out for them?
These are just examples, of course. There are, well, a “prolific” number of ways to live prolifically. The point is that this is a fast-track out of the land of indecision.
Options? Infinite and endless.
Power? Back in your hands.
There’s much to be gained from the life that is lived from a point of following what interests you instead of mapping it all out and trying to get it to be just right.
If the choice is before you to create your life systemically or prolifically, choose the path of the prolific.
It’s a courageous step in the direction of trust and faith — the trust and faith that you are infinitely equipped to design your life to your liking. There’s never a time when that’s not available to you. It requires that you start by taking the first step.