Passion Sucks PT 2

Passion Sucks Pt 2

Random Thoughts

A friend of my wife has recently become really excited about blogging for the vegan food movement and in a conversation about being really happy they thought, “Is this passion?” This comes after my last article about how passion sucks… there’s nothing wrong with that. Finding the thing you love is a good thing and I don’t want to take away from that, but here’s one possible reason why things look good right now: this blogger is living her dream, as opposed to daydreaming about it and never making it happen.

Listening to one of my favorite podcasts, Hidden Brain, an episode popped up about how daydreaming can become an obstacle to success. The study and book about the effects of positive thinking by Gabriele Oettingen, who wrote Rethinking Positive Thinking: Inside The New Science Of Motivation, talks about how positive thinking puts people into a mental state that mimics accomplishment before they have even started out and actually creates negative results.

This is the trouble that I have with wishful thinking, or passion in this case: it’s not moving the ball down the field. You are not gaining any momentum and if we consider the interview below it may actually be counter productive. The resolution, it turns out, is to be more realistic to counteract your flights of fancy.

Learn more about how to overcome this problem by listening in and be sure to check out the rest of the catalog. It’s a great show that I highly recommend.

Listen to the Hidden Brain Podcast: WOOP, There It Is! here. 

 

 

Copyright © 2016 Robert C. Olson

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Cats versus Dog

Cats v. Dogs

Random Thoughts

Cats and Dogs. They have always been a symbol for things that don’t attract. Don’t belong together. When someone requests dog art, what does a cat owner do?

I have a cat print up on Etsy and I got an odd compliment saying basically they liked it but if I had a Lab print (or maybe it was retriever) they’d be more willing to buy.

I don’t know what to say to this. Am I in the business of taking requests? This is the customer. And the customer is supposed to the be the end all, be all. Right?

In life there are dog people and cat people. We have drawn that line and I currently stand on the cat side. When he dies there is a good chance I’ll be switching sides and go with team dog, but for now it’s cat time. Still, making a dog print may not work for me. Not just because I don’t own a dog, but because people who own dogs or cats are usually all in. They don’t switch sides and they don’t want to see cat prints mingling with their dog prints just like they tend not to mix real life cats and dogs. There is only dog, or only cat.

Branding – and I hate this overused marketing bullshit, vomit word – is a real thing. When you choose to make dinosaur pictures people come to expect more dinosaurs from you. It’s that consistency that helps people decide whether or not to stick around and see what’s coming next. It’s like watching the X-Files: you come back to see Mulder and Scully do their thing no matter how cheesy it is because it’s familiar. It’s the same reason why Free Bird is the most played song in bars and why you’ll always order the same crappy Jumbo Jack meal after a night of drinking (or Del Taco if you’re like my wife). We like consistency.

So getting back to the cat and dog thing. As a businessman I can see the dollar signs in making a dog print. Dog people really love their dogs and anything that resembles that would probably sell. But. If I plant that print next to my cat print it might work against me. People will know that I’m an impostor trying to make a quick buck. Now that doesn’t mean that I can’t make a dog poster. It may mean that I have to wait until I sell out of my cat prints. Or maybe when we make the switch to puppy love I’ll take the cat offline and make the switch then. Or maybe I’m just over analyzing the situation entirely and people don’t really care that much.

To the customer that made the request: I might get to you down the road, but right now I’m going to hold out for a while before including dogs into the lineup. Sorry. Some things just don’t mix and it’s that black and white line between cats and dogs that make me timid. Then again, money is a pretty good motivator.

 

Copyright © 2016 Robert C. Olson

Disaster Design

Disaster Design

Random Thoughts, Reviews

In the 1950s we had movies that showed engineers tackling important problems with science and the future was bright with technology making life more manageable and comfortable. I love those videos because it was the heyday for people who daydreamed about endless possibilities. My favorite pass time. Fast forward to today and that kind of thinking is lost. We are a little less hopeful. A little more cynical. And we no longer rely on engineers to solve our problems. Today when you hear someone talk about building something whether it’s the sock in your drawer or your career, it’s typically prefaced with the title “designed”.

We have elevated the design world to almost godlike status. Just look at this new documentary out about big names in the design industry: Design Disruptors.

This is a highly commercialized vision of design is nothing new. It has its roots in the way engineering was marketed. We could probably come up with a few examples from back in the day when engineering used to be the catch word for everything from toys to washing machines. Over the years the language of modern marvels went from “superior engineering” to “well designed” and it has little bit to do with how we have changed our views over the last century or two.

Let’s bring in Foolproof, a book by Greg Ip which takes an interesting perspective on some of our recent catastrophes like The Great Recession and hurricane Katrina. Explaining that as a society we have become overly cautious in a way that allows small problems to balloon into more disastrous problems, the book looks at the battle between two concepts of problem management that has erupted within the last one hundred or so: Engineers versus Ecologists.

By early 1900s ways of thinking, we believed we could control every aspect our world through scientific knowledge. Whip nature into submission. Hunt the last buffalo and reap the endless natural resources in the name of progress. Ip called these people engineers. These are the people who conquered the West taming wildfires or building tremendous dikes and canals so that settlers could use the land more efficiently. On the other side of the table are is a relatively new school of thought that natural processes serve as a control and by interfering we ultimately cause harm to the entire system. These ecologists have fought within the last fifty years or so to allow nature to take its course and you can see it in periodic controlled burns that are supposed to reduce wildfire risk, mimicking smaller naturally caused fires. Under this filter you can start to see a tension throughout recent history as policies become split along this divide with different attempts to address problems of our day either by whipping or nurturing.

In thinking about Ip’s analogies it occurred to me that by midcentury American society was getting high on science and technology. You used to see all kinds of articles, movies, magazines, comics, and TV shows promoting the miracles of modern science. Engineers were working to solve everyday problems and make life better for every man and child.

That language has gone away and probably represents a sea change in crises management thinking, but out of the fight has birthed this idea that life is “Designed.” We have Graphic Designers, Website Designers, Robot Designers, Landscape Designers, Fashion Designers, Furniture Designers, home decor is designed, and cars are designed. We design rocket ships and dams – all jobs that used to belong engineers.

With recent technology and commercial success “designer” has also become a generic word for people who make pretend things that only exist in computers or on the Internet. We draw pictures, we create data files, we plan out events, but we don’t actually manufacture things any more. Since the economy has moved on from production to more imaginary things we needed a new term to describe the things our economy does. It’s the new economy. A new way of doing business that just has shitty words to use when describing new jobs.

Today the term designer encompasses so much partly because it offers commercialized success by making all things sound more expensive. But it also connects the two worlds using the skills and knowledge of one realm with the wisdom and foresight of the other. It interests me to think that Ip’s engineers and ecologists have merged to make designer babies (which a scary thought for a different article) hybridizing these once separate fields.

Once upon time I worked with the U.S. Green Building Council which promotes environmentally conscientious building standards. In this nonprofit is a collection of literal engineers and builders coming together to balance construction with ecological concerns. The perfect melding of control freaks and nature lovers that previously would have been impossible. In this world of people getting all Al Green and blending the engineer and ecologist DNA we tended to use the word design. If only to help lay people understand what the hell we were talking about.

In Foolproof Ip spends a lot of time on the financial crisis saying that the body of policy that is built on old-school engineer thinking is going to create larger problems for us down the road. Unless we can find a way to bleed off some of the pressure. Foolproof gives us the example of the Dutch who have started to move away from the canal systems that are so iconic in their country to more natural designs. Instead of trying to fight nature, controlling water flow by building ever bigger canals and dikes the inevitably break and cause larger and larger chaos, they have started building parks that can be used as natural flood control areas that release the pent-up pressure accumulating in their system. It is a compromise reached with an understanding of how the two worlds intertwine both protecting existing populations and working within the confines natural physics.

With so much bickering in the world right now, especially in politics, it’s heartening to think that there is progress in the world. That we don’t have to be cynical all the time. As a control freak myself I can relate to the kind of thinking that leads to a flattened, standardized world. Yet I know that in the war between man and nature we lose every scenario. What we see in the presidential race I think reflects a worldwide epidemic. There is pressure that has built up and needs to be released before it grows so big that it wipes out entire cities. It’s the blending of ideas that will help us to better manage crises before they happen. Or should I say, “We can design a better world”.

***

Greg Ip’s book is a quick read and talks about historical disasters that you might not have known about. I especially like how he addresses the management styles in relation to the crises we have faced, but I do wish he dove a little deeper into a couple of chapters. The full title is Foolproof: Why Safety Can Be Dangerous and How Danger Makes Us Safe. Check it out.

Photo by Stephen Radford

Copyright © 2016 Robert C. Olson

Take Chances

Steps Into Darkness

Random Thoughts

My beautiful wife has started setting aside time to work on herself lately – I’m so proud of her – and recently she has been thinking out loud about how taking risks is an important part of growth. I agree with her that risks are a part of life and the people that I see growing the fastest are the risk takers, but neither one of us is really a daredevil. So what does that mean for us?

I’ve known for a long time that I wouldn’t fit into a certain mold. I’m not a wheeler-dealer, or fast talker. I’m not able to sell the pants off a chimpanzee or bring people together locked in kumbaya arms even for free hamburgers and beer. At one time I thought I could pull some tabula rasa shit and force myself to become a different person and I actually had some success. Although it was a lot of work and I just ended up feeling like crap and fraudulent. I’ve decided that it’s time to pull back and focus on the things that when distilled, boils down to that brown-black, crusty essence of Rob that’s left after all the water burns off. In a way the riskiest bet you can make is to lay down your identity. That thing that gives you a Spiderman origin story and helps you bind together all the mismatched jigsaw pieces of the world that forms your perspective. If you lose that bet you’ve gambled everything you’ve ever known about the world sending you silently screaming into in a psychopathic dissociative meltdown. Quite a lot to risk.

Generally speaking I think the United States has become culturally risk averse. I hear a lot of talk about crime and there seems to be an abundance of anxiety about it, but when I think about it I can go outside right this minute and freely walk in places that twenty years ago I might have been shot or mugged in. We have warning labels on things that should be obvious. We worry about the tiniest details to the point where young people are now becoming defensive for other people, whether it’s needed or not. People fear government overreach even though nobody has really threatened anything that drastic – well, nobody currently in power that is. The future is uncertain and it’s almost as if we don’t know how to be happy unless we have something to be worried about. In reality things have never been as good as it is right now. It might feel like desperate times, with Paris, San Bernardino, and now Brussels under attack. My heart goes out to Brussels, so I don’t mean to make light of their suffering, however if you ask any Syrian refugee to compare their lives to ours I’m pretty sure you’re going to see a huge dichotomy.

In a previous post I talked about having good people around you and more than a few times I’ve found that to be true. I was born with more bone in my skull than brains so it can take some time before lessons get hammered into my head, but keeping good people around is one condition that has saved my ass time and again while taking risks. Without that firm ground to stand on, without the confidence of being able to retreat into a safe place, and without a cheer-leading section to keep your momentum up it can be difficult to grow.

For those people that I count among my friends all of them live with varying degrees of risk taking. Some have gone more or less solo, chasing down that dream of being your own boss. Something I aspire to. Others are locked in jobs that make them feel like their life is a waste. Something I’m sympathetic to. The best of us find hobbies and interests that make us real people outside of work instead of cardboard cutouts that get propped up in cubicles and storefronts. Wasting away. Trapped in the chains of the economy. Public policy. “Synergy” and oceans of pointless vomit, piss, and shit built up over the centuries and sold as gold bricks by previous generations. We all crave something better, but it can seem daunting to take on massive institutions.

If I look at people who have built a solid business they don’t look like me. Outgoing, gregarious, smart with money, well invested, and well planned. I don’t really see those qualities in me. Others might, but impostor syndrome is a real thing. What I’ve realized though, after a couple of years in the working world, is that no one knows what the f**k they are doing. We are all just making this up as we go. That realization was an empowering moment. It’s as if I was given permission to learn by screwing up, which really is the best way for a thick-headed ape like me to learn, because everyone else is screwing it up right alongside. So when risk goes from something that keeps us up at night to transforming into a life lesson in disguise then it develops into an important tool for growth that you can kind of manage.

Fear, and fear of failure, is a significant factor to overcome especially if you are like me and risk averse. The wife shared an Instagram post with me from designer, Nathan Yoder of Yonder Studios, who points out that sometimes that fear might just be laziness, or as he says, “… sometimes I’m merely too tired to even try failing.”

Lunchtime sketch in the park. The other day I was thinking about the whole "fear of failure" idea. It struck me that, though at times that fear is very real, sometimes I'm merely too tired to even try failing. I think at times we can get so caught up in the stresses and burdens of our days that we don't even allow ourselves the first steps towards something worth fearing to fail at. This can come from past failures which have caused us to become tiresome and cautious or simply from our obliviousness to all that we are capable of. There is so much in life to be thankful and excited for. I don't know about you but I think a world of excited people sounds like a more fun place to be a part of than one filled with pessimistic people and I don't want to be one of the later bringing down the first. I hope that if you haven't found that thing that gets you jazzed that you will soon and, if you find yourself tired of trying, I hope that you will find once again that childlike curiosity that sees the best in others and constantly wants to go, ask, try, and do.

A post shared by Nathan Douglas Yoder (@nathanyoder) on

It’s worth noting that fear might be hiding under the guise of stress so that if you are running from place to place, plugging holes, barely keeping your head above water, its is very, very hard to justify the necessary risks when you are draining your resources on other things. You only need to go as far as the nearest poverty stricken nation to see what desperation does to taking risks. But this rings true for us as well since we work full time during the week, fighting for space to work on side hustle projects.

The United States government and Small Business Administration like to say that it takes five years for a business to sink or swim. I’d be willing to bet that you can tell in three. In the first year you are going to lose money. Just plan on it. The initial investments alone are going to set you back more than you’ll earn. I’ve had to put money down on a press, some screens, ink, paper, websites, Etsy fees, shipping costs, advertising and on, and on. So far I’ve spent more money than I’ve made by a margin so wide it probably makes the Grand Canyon resemble the G.I. Joe sized rivers I made in the backyard with a garden hose when I was a kid. Until my Mother would come out yelling at me to turn off the damn water. The second year you break even because you’ve figured a few things out, but are still learning to walk. In my case I now have a stockroom full of work that I can sell either in person or online. By year’s end I expect to break even after a few sales, recovering from previous purchases. By year three you can actually turn a profit because you’ve developed into a mature business with your shit kind of in order. Hopefully all the ground work that I’ve laid today will translate into stability going into the future that will allow the business to support itself. So that’s what financial risk looks like. Not too bad if you think about it.

Fear, time and lack of energy, all gang up against your hopes. I don’t think it’s hopeless though. If you can schedule an hour a day, a couple of days a week then you can start building steam. That’s something you can decide to do right this minute – one hour during lunch, or after dinner, every Wednesday. Commit to a schedule and do the work whether you feel like it or not. If it’s something you enjoy then you’ll probably turn your mood around anyway, just by taking the first steps. Sometimes I don’t want to draw, but if I force myself I find that I don’t want to quit because I’m having fun. Don’t stop there though. You have to put your work out there. Post it on Facebook and watch people’s reactions. You’ll probably be surprised at what people appreciate and while it’s implausible to please everyone you might find the confidence to take another step further out onto the stage exposing yourself a little more each time. That’s how I did it. And from that seed grows the knowledge that risk is nothing more than a teaching tool to make life better. Because every time you push out a little further, things become more exciting. Packed with potential. We can train ourselves to push the limits, not because a motivational poster told us, but because we have found the intrinsic and extrinsic values of being in control of our lives.

Over time that step out into the darkness will feel less like an abyss and more like an adventure.

F**k Off

Mind My Business

Random Thoughts

One thing about starting a creative enterprise is that everyone is super excited for you. Being a cranky, reclusive artist makes it hard to really appreciate the cheering section, but I’m learning to reframe my opinions so that I can look at it as people being excited for me and not just trying to tell me what to do. It’s one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do.

My Mother and I don’t get along much these days and it’s been pretty rocky for at least half of my life. I’ve been kicked out of the house a couple of times; the last time was when I showed up on a Christmas Morning and my key no longer worked on the front door. I’ve run away a few times too. Once when I was probably five or six years old I cruised across town to where our former neighbors moved, several miles away from home, with only my memory to use as a map. I guess I have always had a pretty good sense of direction.

Lately, I’ve noticed that when I spend time with my Mother I get angsty, irritable, and usually come away feeling really shitty about myself. She’s said some pretty awful things and I’m not claiming to be the best son in the world, but it’s hard to reconcile how one minute she tells me she supports me then spits on my dreams the next. This past winter she was asking about my illustration, how the Art Walk went and everything seemed fine. I admitted that I didn’t make a whole lot of money at the Art Walk, but before I could lay out my plan about how I want to grow this into a full time gig she told me, “You’ll never make any real money from this. Maybe some beer money.”

I was stunned into silence. It made me furious because this is one more shitty comment stacked onto a pile of shitty comments that stretches back to my teenage years when she assured me that I would never make a living as an artist.

Then, in the last couple of weeks some really nice things were happening in my Mother’s world. She was given recognition and a prestigious award for her time on a college board. Something in me told me not to go to the ceremony. I fought it internally for a couple of weeks, having a mental tantrum. I eventually caved thinking, “You know, this is a good thing and it means a lot to my Mother. Let’s just get it over with.” Everything went fine. We had an… okay time. At one point she seemed to be panicking over her speech for the ceremony and I tried to offer a suggestion to which she simply said, “You don’t understand,” and then mumbled something about wanting to read her diary.

There’s that shitty feeling again. But I can shrug it off. This is the way she is and I’m not sticking around for the rest of the ceremony anyway. Only I didn’t shrug it off. Not really. The water was set to boil.

I get a couple of random emails from Mother over the next couple of weeks about how she’s so excited to feel like she’s back in action. Friends that she hasn’t talked to in years – due to her reclusive nature and poor health – are coming out of the woodwork to see her. She feels better than she has in a long time. Whatever.

This last weekend I get an email from a friend that she had lunch with. Someone I’ve heard around the house but not someone that I’m familiar with. He’s asking if I know a trustee at the college where I work. Personally I’d prefer to ignore the email, but my Mother was copied on the conversation to which she responded by saying that she thinks this guy might have something up his sleeve which in my mind reads, “Do me a favor”. Enraged is how I feel. The water starts to boil over because I’ve spent the last ten years building myself up from bottom without asking for a single favor. I feel rage because I am more or less a self made man and people that I know nothing about and a Mother who doesn’t really care about what I am trying to accomplish are putting their noses into my business and I overreact. I spend the morning writing ten or fifteen different draft emails as my anger bleeds off, but by the final draft I feel pretty confident that I have reached the perfect balance of hostility and confidence. So I shoot an email off saying back off – mind your own damn business.

I get a reply, “Yep, yes, yep. Understood. Send the photos from the award ceremony.” I’m a little relieved. Maybe I’m in the clear. But then there’s a follow up to an email. I sent some words to her friend where I explained that my Mother’s house was falling down around her ears and that she needed help. My plan was, still is, if she has such great friends then maybe they would be willing to help her get her head back up above water after years of being ill, unable to clean house, take care of finances, and just being a stubborn mess who doesn’t accept help. She was copied on the email again and she replied that I’m selfish and vapid. We have stopped talking to each other for the moment.

I could go on about all the shitty things we’ve done to each other. Years of complicated history that has verged on abuse. Decades into making this Gordian knot are going to be difficult to unravel but I have a secret weapon in the best person to come along in my life: my wife.

She has done so much to ease the raging beast that burns inside of me and while it’s not gone completely I can say that my wife has been the biggest contributing factor to changing my mindset about letting people into the inner circle. For the first time since probably childhood I feel really good about life largely because of her.

Everyone has advice. It’s not usually solicited and that used to drive me insane. The problem is that it takes much more effort and resources to make things happen that when people start suggesting business ideas I get stressed out just thinking about the extra work. Plus, with all that background noise echoing in my head from years of hostility I start getting defensive. It’s a protection mechanism trying to keep a fragile sense of self on life support and by curling up into a ball or lashing out I can keep that tiny seed safe.

However, instead of giving into those feelings when caring friends talk to me about my work I now just kind of nod, smile, and say thanks. Sometimes I even use the conversation to springboard into trying out new ideas that I’m dreaming up. It’s a small step in the right direction, but I’m starting to see a different perspective now that I surround myself with people who are excited about my work and want to join in the fun of making something cool. It’s flattering and if I can hold on to that then I can start to build on this good feeling I get with such supportive friends.

Framing how you see the world is important. That’s what determines whether or not you push forward and feel confident enough to take risks. But you can’t do it in a toxic environment. The people in your life will either lift you up or tear you down and until you can get away from the people that hurt you, their poison will slow you down. Whatever, whoever is poisoning you, cut it out of your life. Get some space between you and that evil so that you have time to heal and build up your strength. Nothing works better to heal those wounds than being truly loved by encouraging people.

For my Mother, I hope she can find peace of mind too. As I am writing this I am making plans behind her back to bring her friends together in an effort demonstrate that she doesn’t have to keep up her stern facade and live out her hardships alone. I don’t know if it’ll make any difference or just anger her in the way it used to anger me. I can only hope.

But for me, things will get better now. I’m in control of my happiness thanks to the people that have helped me through the hard times. I hope to share that sweet-sweet goodness with my tribe too, because good times are only sweeter when everyone’s dancing at the party.

PS. To any friends out there reading this: keep giving me your thoughts. I love that you guys are as excited as I am and I think you have good ideas. Just give me some time and know that I appreciate everything you do.

copyright © 2016 Robert C. Olson

Planning Sucks

Planning Sucks

Random Thoughts

Heard a great quote recently, “Love the planning. Hate the Plan.” As far back as I can remember with my beer-brain planning was never something that I took seriously. Planning somehow crushed the free flow of ideas and stalled improvisation – an important key to my overall happiness. At some point I learned that my on-the-fly moves were pretty weak. So now I am taking steps to look into the future.

One of the biggest motivators in life is age. Growing old doesn’t really bother me, but I do track the approaching end with a little panic in my heart, because I see how badly our parents are aging. Several friends are finding out after the fact that our parents are having heart attacks, strokes, developing diabetes, or cancer. Debilitating diseases that often get hidden by the people we care about. My Mother, who is well past the age for retirement has several health problems and did her utmost to hide them, in my mind serves a kind of canary in the coal mine.

Given that her genes run through me I can see some mile markers coming up. As far as I can tell I probably have 15-20 good years of work left in me before my health starts heading south for the cold, dark winter. Since my nine to five is very physical I don’t foresee continuing to retirement building sets. I could probably draw pretty pictures from the hospital bed so that seems like a good retirement plan since my savings probably isn’t going to provide for my golden years. Even if our parents don’t blow up the social security dam in one last selfish hurrah before they go the way of the dinosaurs.

Focusing more on this year I have decided to commit to twelve illustrations in twelve months. This is an arbitrary number that you may have come across thanks to the modern miracles of social media. However it is one that may set the bench mark for future work. See, as a Do-It-Your Selfer I don’t really know what the f**k I’m doing so by committing to a number that from this vantage point appears reasonable I can look back from New Year’s Eve 2016 and say whether or not things look good and make adjustment for the next year.

That’s about as good as it gets.

One thing that I’ve discovered in the working world is that all of those grownups that from the outside looked like they knew what they were doing are just making it all up. Nobody knows what they are doing. Everyday provides new and unforeseen challenges for everyone and now that I’m one of those people making decisions (f**king weird) I get to first hand see how things can blow up in your face with or without plans.

That’s what is meant by “Love the planning. Hate the plan.” Plan as meticulously as you want, but be ready to throw it out the window in a moment’s notice, because shit goes wrong.

I’ll probably be able to surpass twelve illustrations for the year. However, now that I’ve committed to twelve illustrations I can start thinking about what it takes to get there such as: how am I going to promote these illustrations? How much will it cost to print them? What is my earning potential for the year? Can I be strategic about what illustrations I create? Who will be interested in these drawings and where can I find them?

I still hate planning. But the urgency of impending doom and the value of being able to see how all the pieces fit together makes planning something that I do now. Albeit on a limited scale. This will probably grow as things start to take off. Coordinating with venues, printers, show directors, manufacturers, and people of the planet Earth will demand it. Since my DIY style is to learn by doing this process will be organic and clumsy, but it’s the way I learn best. The way I think most people learn.

So twelve pictures. Twelve months. I already have three in the pipe and two under development and by the time of this writing it is nearing the end of February. Things are looking good. If you haven’t seen them, check out my recent posts on Twitter, Facebook or now Instagram. I’m going to go plan the next beer to drink.

 

copyright © 2016 Robert C. Olson

Passion Is Overrated

Creativity, Random Thoughts

My entire life people have said, “Follow your passions.” Well what happens when you don’t feel especially passionate about anything?

At some point I noticed that things didn’t quite shine like they used to. It used to be that I got excited about things in life, but now, I realized, that my innocent youth had slipped away during the night and in its place now lives a cynical ass hat. Passion is harder to come by now.

There are probably several reasons for this metamorphosis including internal psycho-social conflicts and past heart breaks. All of which have accumulated into this perfect apathy that now darkens my senses. Makes the world seem grey.

Not that I’m without excitement, but when I consider my future there isn’t anything that sticks out as that one true love that I’m supposed to find. It’s as if after following Disney philosophies of saving myself for the Prince Charming of work-life balance I have waited in vain for the right job opportunity to come along and sweep me off my feet only to wake up one day and look in the mirror expecting a bright young bird laden maiden and instead realize that I’ve become an old witch with a cat.

My old curmudgeonliness aside I have to cringe when people talk about discovering your passion in life and letting it guide you. There was a time when I believed these myths, but after trying to find that secret energy for several decades I’m beginning to think that there is more to the story than people are letting on.

When I first started out doing graphic work I was excited about the proposition of making money from art. I was more than ready to turn my passion for creating into fuel for a money machine that would sustain me. It was more difficult than I imagined. My dreams weren’t crushed exactly, because I’m still pursuing a variation on that theme. However I did learn an important lesson: passion doesn’t last.

Up until very recently I would think that maybe there was something wrong with me. Why couldn’t I find something to be passionate about? Where was my Prince Charming?

Passion is a tricky myth to get around in my line of work. I frequently study other artists looking for things that I can incorporate into my habits. The best artists out there have single-mindedly pursued their craft and pushed the limits of their talents over time improving their skills. Many people who end up at the top of their class credit passion as the thing that drove them to their single minded success.

This is where it starts. The perspective of people who have already made it is like gospel to the uninitiated seeking the promised land.

Artists, often temperamental, can be very critical of their own work. Good artists use that dour energy to drive harder on the next piece and over time it’s this lack of confidence that pushes an artist to become better at their craft. But then something strange happens: one day they get out of bed and realize that they are in a completely different place then they were a decade ago. Suddenly people are asking questions like, “How did you get to be so great?”

If the artist is lucky he feels good about his body of work and the achievements he’s wrought. So upon reflection he thinks, “I feel pretty passionate about my past and present work now so that must be the key.” I don’t doubt that people feel passionate, but the message becomes “Feel something so intensely that it pushes you through the hard times.” Seems simple enough.

Having tried that strategy I know first hand that passion eventually runs out. That emotion isn’t built for long distance running. In fact it’s kind of a lazy emotion only good for a quickie. Think about your first date: it’s all exciting in the beginning. We get dressed up, put on perfume, make sure to fart in the bathroom and not in front of our new partner. But spend a couple of years together and the makeup goes away, we prefer sweats to real clothes, and farting has become an oddly competitive sport. That honeymoon period always ends with the excitement evaporating. Things never stay sparkly and new. The passion doesn’t last.

When we make passion our ultimate goal we end up chasing something that only happens occasionally, mostly by accident, and almost always after we have passed through difficulty. What the real goal should be is achievement. That’s what successful people are mistakenly passing off as passion, because it’s the projects that they worked so hard to finish that makes them feel good about their resume.

I draw because I like it. I don’t wake up everyday feeling like I have to draw, but I like the challenge and I want to get better at it and make money… someday. It’s the same reason that I build furniture from old pallets. It makes me feel accomplished. Like I’m contributing to the world. But I wouldn’t describe it as passion. I don’t feel like I have this overwhelming lust for life work. It’s just something that I happen to be interested in for intrinsic reasons.

The passion comes when someone buys a poster, or tells me that they really want that chair I made as a gift for a friend. When other people, especially strangers, get excited about the things I create I get excited. And that’s the passion that people are trying to express when they give advice about being passionate. That’s the heat-of-the-moment, flash-in-the-pan kind of emotion that only happens after I’ve poured sweat, and swear words into all the bullshit of making the thing.

After a couple of decades of wondering why it’s not working for me what I’ve finally decided is that passion is oversold as a miracle cure for feeling shitty about life and now it sounds like snake oil to me. You may not feel the same way and that’s fine. For some people it probably feels like passion day to day and you should consider yourself lucky if that’s the case. From my point of view it doesn’t hold water and I think that I can do better by redefining my goals.

When the passion fades and you get married, have kids, adopt a dog, you don’t stop loving your partner. Your relationship takes on new meaning because you’ve grown past passion. If you do it right your relationship turns into a deeply caring friendship. A kind of love that is – granted – earned through a little pain, but through each challenge met that relationship becomes stronger. Over time you might say that you kept the passion alive, but really it was something stronger. Something that became a part of you and in a sense is shared between you and your partner. I think it’s the same with your work. The passion gets you through the door, but it’s achievement that keeps you going. Strive for achievement. Not passion. Passion is overrated.

Shit Advice

Online Advice Sucks

Business, Random Thoughts

For a couple of years now I’ve been chipping away at creating a business with some minor success. Although I’ve never… let’s say allowed myself to become fully independent, it’s partially the fault of crappy internet advice. When I was getting started my initial thinking was, “I can Google anything and learn.” Now I know better.

Used to be that I would absorb everything that people wrote about freelancing and graphic design. Online advice was useful for telling me that I needed a formal agreement and that I should have a process and tons of other 101-type shit. Yet when it came to delving deeper into subjects there was either no information to be found or it was hidden behind a paywall. More and more I found myself becoming distanced from what people said.

Everything that I was coming across was built on the clique-ish idea that you can build off of your previous career and attend magical conferences for hundreds if not thousands of dollars. To me it was like the rich elite telling me how great and easy their life was and that anyone could achieve this lifestyle if they just copied their model of living, morals, and philosophies.

My needs, hopes, and dreams are completely different from that. In a way I feel like the working class of the design world and the closest thing that I can call My Tribe are people taking cues from DIY and Punk aesthetics that have created their own space. I’ve found inspiration from others who have bucked the system and found their own path which I am now starting to take control of and develop in my life.

But it’s taken a long time because I put my faith in people who probably have something to offer for a certain group, just not for me. Since there is so much shitty advice in the world for people like me I feel like I should offer a tip to people who maybe feel some sympathy pains,

Finding your own way is hard because no one else has done it and no one else can tell you how to do it. Stay the course. Follow the things that interest you and you will find people like you and work that fits your personality.

That’s it. That’s all I have to offer. I’m not saying I’m qualified because I’m still trying to get off the ground myself. However, for people like us I know that all the other advice out there sucks because we are tinkerers, flipping things around, testing, probing, asking questions. This is a constant work in progress that will always create a desire to invest in yourself and your interests. These things will change over time as you develop and get better. And it will get better if you follow the one person who knows you best: yourself.

If you are like me taking the slow road to getting on the self employment train then you probably have the same start up cost concerns. You are probably trying to figure out how the labyrinth of business regulation works and still uncomfortable with your style. All of the “Top Tens”, “Quick Tips”, and “How To” articles suck for people like us because they are not meant for people who have to start with essentially nothing. There really isn’t anything there that applies to us. So when people write about working harder (like this article) and how life is actually tough – it resonates with me, but I don’t see working my side hustle as hard. I see it as enjoyable and challenging. I want more of it. I feel addicted to it and I’m willing to push myself further, not because I have some deep burning passion that I discovered at a seminar, but because I just like drawing.

Life doesn’t have to be hard. There is resistance from time to time and I am happy to bitch about how things are stacked against us. However you and I are still doing our own thing that we probably won’t quit doing. We will figure out what works for us. Customize it. Evolve or get out of the game because it’s not what we thought, but then it morphs into something else since we are not happy with just standing still. The most dangerous thing about reading articles that tell you these life truths is that you can fall into the trap of “I’m not like these people and I probably will never be.” It prevents you from even trying in the first place and the best thing you can do for yourself is to test it out. Just dip your toe in the water and if it sticks go with it. Don’t worry about following the rules or doing things the “right way”. Just do it and figure it out as you go.

When you are building from the ground up – when you don’t really have the resources to jump in – the only way you are really going to learn anyway is by doing it little by little, setting one stone on top of the other. That’s probably the best way too, because now you can learn while you earn. Have people pay for you to hone your skills and talents. Plus with your ass on the line these lessons will stick with you long after you have forgotten stupid, pointless articles like the one you are currently reading.

So the best thing to do is to ignore all that shit that people try to tell you and follow through with you ideas. Make mistakes. Get better. Start with nothing.

Sensitive Artist Type

Creativity, Random Thoughts

Just read an article describing artists as sensitive people who contradictorily rely on both outward, boisterous expression and quiet, inward solitude to keep themselves in balance. I’ve never really thought about it, but I think there is an element of truth to this concept.

Recently I’ve been thinking about my work style and temperament. As a general rule I find myself really driven and productive for a period of time followed by a sudden crash and a complete and total desire to do fuck all, as the kids over in the land of Eng say. I’ve always accepted these two extremes in my life, but others haven’t been quite so understanding. At least one friend asked me if I was manic. And I’ve openly wondered with my wife if maybe I didn’t suffer from bouts of depression.

With the perspective of this article (linked above) added into the mix, I think the whole package makes a little more sense when plugged into the model of a sensitive creative type: I get overstimulated and need quiet alone time to recharge. Some of my most cherished moments are alone, removed from society and culture. It is in solitude that my mind works best to come up with new ideas. And I’ve described myself as a little shy and socially awkward, but I also feed off people’s energy; if they are happy I’m happy; if they are sad I am sad. Plus I have these extreme moments where my highs are really high and my lows are pretty crappy: one moment happy and boisterous; the next quiet, reserved, and I’m a crabby prick.

Thinking back to the short period of time that I worked as a true freelancer (not just moonlighting like I do now) I would work solid ten, twelve, fourteen hour days for about three months. Then, running full force into a wall I would wake up late one morning and decide that I’m eating cookies and playing video games and nothing else. I am aware that I turned into a bag of shit, but I always figured that I gave too hard and my body shut down in order to preserve my health. Looking back I think there was a psychological need to recharge as well.

The one sign that there was, is, mental exhaustion is that after about two weeks of going full retard I would start getting twitchy again. My hands would crave some kind of craft and my mind would start spitting out new ideas even if they weren’t illustration related. I would find myself back at the desk creating again without reason or rhyme.

Now that I work full time on top of a side hustle that rhythm has changed a bit, but remains essentially the same: a period of sprinting followed by a period of exhaustion. These days I have a busy season that follows the school’s semester schedule. Mostly hitting hard toward the middle-end of fall and spring which I find really draining and I get pretty whiney. Then it takes me a couple of weeks to recover. During the off months is when I get most of my work done since I can direct energy to more creative pursuits, but once we hit our busy season my work drops off.

The frustrating thing is that I feel like I should be able to push harder. As one friend recently posted on Facebook, in order to achieve you must be able to push past the pain. I agree with this for the most part, except that I’m lazy, but taking into consideration all the things we have to keep in balance the real struggle is what do you focus on and what do you sacrifice?

While having full time employment is – to borrow from religious folk – a blessing, I would rather be working on my illustrations and prints. However, I know that I am not going to make a living off of my art yet, because I’m taking the slow road, but this current side hustle will need some more investment to get off the ground in a sustainable way. Yet, I can’t help feeling that if I quit my job and focused on my side hustle, trying to make it a full time gig I would a) feel a fire under my ass since it would be my only source of income, and b) be able to dedicate the time needed to get out there and promote the business like it needs to be.

Also I’m curious to see whether or not I can wrangle in this up and down cycle I’m on and better manage the energy I put into life on the whole. With the theory that I will get more enjoyment out of life if I can spread the energy out more.

For now all I can do is keep plugging away with the goal of achieving self sufficiency. At least now I know that I’m not totally crazy and maybe I can figure out a strategy to work with my temperament. One thing that has become a really important aspect of life is to take vacation time that separates me from normal life. Solitude is what I cave to recharge and if I can tap into a little bit of beauty in the process then all the better the recovery will be with the added benefit of inspiration.

Side Hustle

Competing Against Nothing

Random Thoughts

Living in California you almost have to have a side hustle. It’s expensive here and pay hasn’t exactly kept pace with living costs. Check this out: if I want to buy a house near where I live in Orange County you have to come up with, on average, $600,000. With 20 percent down for typical loans that’s $120,000, more than the average income in the state by about double. It’s a small chunk of what it costs to live in paradise, but it just goes to show that if you’re going to make it here you have to earn some extra scratch.

One of the things I like about living here is that a lot of people have that side gig and it’s not just to make money. We’re dreamers striving for happiness – hedonistic to the core. Not too long ago a couple – friends of ours – went off the grid. She went freelance locking in video work with a pretty stable company and he reconnected with a former job to negotiate a work-from-home deal. This is the perfect example of turning that dream of making your side-gig into a full time job coming true and I’m really excited for them.*

The funny thing about all this is that the very things we are pursuing may be eroding the ground our dreams stand on.

Almost a decade ago now I remember getting really excited over stories of how people were creating these great, collaborative, social projects to help people and make the world a better place. Things like Wikipedia have been an incredible free resource built on people’s good will. And when people couldn’t find it for free they would steal it through sites like Pirate Bay.

Now, I’m more hesitant. How do people make a living doing this kind of stuff? And how do we side-hustlers compete against the growing pool of free resources?

An interesting take on this whole free/sharing economy comes from Dan Pink, speaking at RSA, who points out that people are seeking fulfillment in their off hours and participating in projects and hobbies that create a sense of purpose rather than a steady income. Drive, it would seem, supersedes financial reward which explains why we are seeing seemingly contradictory behavior of giving away work for free.

The video is worth watching:

In an interview article from Vice Paul Mason talks about how social and technological trends are undercutting capitalism. Economic value has become detached from actual production costs and refocused on social impact. We are more concerned with reducing environmental pollution and achieving work-life balance than profits (at least, outwardly). Additionally companies are turning to more automation. Amazon’s pursuit of flying delivery drones and Google’s self driving cars will cut deeply into the delivery industry which employs a lot of people. It’s as if, Mason points out, we are living in a world where the goal is zero.

There are still Googles and Facebooks in the world that are making more money than the governments of some mid-size countries. And as far as my circle of friends demonstrates no one has given up employment altogether. Most are still working full time on top of their hobbies and side-jobs. So I don’t see the “End of Capitalism” as Mason describes it. At least not in my lifetime. But I do see that there are trends that will affect my side hustling people.

Take for example Miya Tokumitsu who recently wrote “Do What You Love: And Other Lies About Success and Happiness”. Pretty dismal I know, but her claim is that companies have caught on to Dan Pink’s idea: that people will work to create meaningful projects without pay; then encourage the behavior on behalf of the company’s profits.

Home-based business, soloprenuers, freelancers, crafters, and makers are a kind of return to pre-Industrial Revolution cottage industries where households used skills and trades to make income through various channels. People have taken up the call for homemade, handmade, bespoke, and other interests in part out of fascination for a bygone era of industry, but also to fill the gaps left in our economy.

As a side hustler I am forced to compete with free things all the time. If this trend deepens it could spell disaster for a part of our economy that serves to bring the amenities of life within reach. Then again it’s in my job description to convince you to support me and come up with new creative things that make you “ooh” and “awww” and hand over the cash. Isn’t it?

*Side note: my friend’s freelance gig crumbled, but forced her to pick up the slack and dig into solo-hustle mode.

Photo Credit Todd Quakenbush

 

copyright © 2015 Robert C. Olson