Maxing Out Your Creative Expression

“A goal is not always meant to be reached, it often serves simply as something to aim at.”Bruce Lee

One creative goal I’m obsessed with is to have a collective skillset to create any idea. Put another way, the ability to go from idea to reality with minimal to no friction.

Imagine, for a moment, you are a professional musician. A good one too. You know how to play multiple instruments—guitar, piano, drums, cello—you also can sing and create lyrics. And to top it off, you’ve honed your recording, mixing, and mastering skills too.

When you are at this level of creative mastery, then you can go from idea to reality very quickly and at a premium level of quality.

You can take a simple hum you start singing in the shower, to a full song published on Spotify and Apple Music at an astonishing speed.

You can see this kind of creative expression everywhere—entrepreneurship, podcasting, painting, app development…

This ability is accessible to anyone. We just have to put in the time to practice, learn, and hone our creative skills.

We all have ideas, but not all of us take the steps to create them. There are many reasons for this, but the one that stands out to me is friction—just because you have an idea, doesn’t mean you currently have the skills to make it. You could learn how, but that would take time to figure out. And if you’re a self-starter like me, maybe you do figure it out! You have an idea, and you “just in time” learn what you need to make it.

But most people don’t. There’s too much of a gap between their idea and how to make it real. They mentally get in their own way and psych themselves out from trying.

What I’m after is the ability to create any idea. (Very humble, I know.) Part of this goal is fantasy—I can’t learn every skill—but simply by aiming for it, I can become a much more capable artist the longer I stick to it.

I love the idea of having an idea for a painting, and then just painting it. Or have an idea for a business and then doing it—creating a prototype, validating it, spinning up a website, creating a marketing campaign, and then selling it.

Not to say that I’m waiting for perfection in order to create.

Having greater creative expression is an ongoing, iterative process. We don’t just go from version 1.0 artist to version 7.5. We iterate and grow little by little. Daily work. Consistent effort. Until suddenly our creative arsenal starts looking like Batman’s toolbelt.

The goal isn’t to collect skills just for the sake of collecting them, nor to take on 50 jobs at once.

The goal is to be the best josh-dang creative I can be because I love making things and I desire to keep getting better and better at it.

Why? Because it’s fun, it’s inspiring and I can’t not do it.

Plus who doesn’t want to look like Batman?

STAY BOLD, Keep Pursuing,
— Josh Waggoner | Daily Blog #1067

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Late Night Ramblings on Learning

“He who is not everyday conquering some fear has not learned the secret of life.”

Ralph Waldo Emerson

My go-to methods for learning these days are reading books, podcasting, and daily habits. But I’d like to get out of my comfort zone and experiment with other forms of skill acquisition.

There’s nothing wrong with reading (and I don’t plan on stopping anytime soon!) Read a few great books on a subject and you’ll be 80% of the way towards competency. But there’s only so much you can pick up from a book. There also needs to be hands-on learning and experimentation.

It’s so easy to fall into the trap of jumping from one book to the next without properly considering how to apply and test what you read to your own life. It’s easy because there are so many flipping books!

As for daily habits, I find it a fantastic way to add practices to your life (even if you don’t think you have a lot of time to spare) add a consistent, momentum to practice what you want to master.

But there’s only so many daily habits you can add to your day. If you have a full-time job and you sleep the healthy recommend 8 hours a night and you add in time to eat, you’ve got about roughly 6 hours left in the day. That 6 hours is powerful and can add up over time, but there’s only so many times you can slice that 6 hours down. So after maxing out your daily habits, then what?

What are some additional alternatives to learning?

How can we increase our ability and capacity to learn?

How did renaissance humans—polymaths/universal minds—from history become so exceptional in multiple skills?

These are a few of the questions I’ve been pondering.

I want to experiment. Turn over every rock and see what others find most effective and see if they work for me too. Weekend challenges. Bootcamps. Thirty-day challenges.

Effective is the word. I’m not necessary after learning more faster for speed’s sake, or quantity just to have more skills—I’m after potency.

I want to unlock the doors to wisdom. This sounds dramatic, but it’s true. What makes someone wise? How can we make better decisions in the moment? How can we live a life true to ourselves? How can we stop holding ourselves back with fear and uncertainty?

We’ll have to figure that out ourselves.

STAY BOLD, Keep Pursuing,
— Josh Waggoner | Daily Blog #1048

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UnLearning

“If your mind is empty, it is ready for anything. In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities; in the expert’s mind there are few.”

Shunryu Suzuki

Half the battle with learning is not getting in your own way. It’s often not what we don’t know, but what we think we know that’s holding us back.

A part of becoming skillful at something is to be continuously working on your knowledge base and re-approaching the fundamentals.

Mastery in your craft is as much about relearning (reinforcing) the fundamentals and unlearning bad (or outdated) habits than learning new things.

“It ain’t what you know that gets you into trouble. It’s what you know for sure that just ain’t so.”

Mark Twain

In the beginning, learning the fundamentals can be boring (especially when it’s not paired with fun). Take learning the piano, for example. Practicing scales. Learning music notation. Chords. Working the muscle memory in your hands. Practicing playing notes with the left and right hand simultaneously. All of this is great and will enhance your abilities to play anything, but it is also tedious hard work. When you are just starting out, it’s better to take a stab at learning a few songs you love, or mess around and make your own songs first. Once you have a couple of wins, go back to and learn the fundamentals. I love scales now. I don’t find them boring at all, because I know that getting better at them will increase my ability to play across the board.

When we re-approach the fundamentals, we are coming from a more experienced mind. Things we couldn’t see at first becomes more clear each time we look at things from a fresh perspective. We couldn’t see, not because we were bad or dumb, but because we are inexperienced and didn’t know what to look at.

Things can become outdated quickly. Every year (more like every time we turn around) some new piece of knowledge, technology, or idea comes out and changes how the world works.

The problem is we can easily dismiss new knowledge for things we already know. This can work, for a little while anyway. But if we hold on to outdated or false information we eventually become stale. Alternatively, we can adopt a “strong convictions loosely held” mindset. I learned this idea from one of my favorite podcasts, The Drive, with Petter Attia. Strong “Convictions Loosely Held” roughly means holding on to your knowledge, values, and what you believe to be true, but being open to change and always testing your assumptions about what you think you know to be true and accurate.

Needing to relearn or unlearn things doesn’t mean we’ve wasted our time, or that what we know is irrelevant. Everything we learn builds on something that came before. We do need to stay up to date as much as we can (especially if your skills are in a fast-growing environment, like technology or medicine). This can be overwhelming (because of the firehose of information) but trying to learn everything at once is not an effective way to be skilled. One small thing at a time. One small actionable lesson adding to the next.

As long as we are willing to be life-long learners and continuously try to improve ourselves, then we are in the right mind space.

The only ones who become irrelevant are the ones who refuse to let go of bad habits and stop learning.

STAY BOLD, Keep Pursuing,
— Josh Waggoner | Daily Blog #1047

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Practice What You Want To Be Good At

“If you really want to be world class – to be the best you can be – it comes down to preparation and practice.”

Robin S. Sharma

After 3+ years of writing a blog each day, I can officially say that my writing has improved. Am I the best writer in the world? Heeeeeeeell Nah. But I’m better than I was 3 years ago. I’ve also gotten better at knowing what’s good work versus bad. Reading helps, surround yourself with great prose and eventually you’ll absorb some of the magic.

What’s eye-opening is what consistent practice can give you. I have a long way to go before I can earn the title of “pretty great writer” but that’s part of the journey. Not to say that improvement is inevitable on its own. We have to work and challenge ourselves every day in order to discover mastery.

As long as we keep consistently practicing, then it’s inevitable that our skills will improve.

If something is important to you, be it a skill or something that brings you joy (like hiking or listening to music or staying connected with friends) then you need to make it into a practice. What your practice will look like is up to you. It doesn’t have to be daily. It just needs to be integrated into your life.

The same goes for things we want to change.

For example, there’s something I’ve noticed about myself that I’m not happy about—

I suck at talking about myself and articulating my ideas.

I know to get my ideas across with words on paper or a screen, but when it comes to words flopping out of my mouth, I’m a joke. Not always. But a noticeable amount. I’d like to blame it on being tired or stressed, but those are just excuses.

The reason for this is pretty obvious:

I’m not practicing speaking. I’m not practicing communicating.

We only get better at what we practice.

It’s a simple idea, but one that’s easily overlooked.

I don’t expect my golf swing to improve by working on my dance moves. Why should I expect otherwise with writing and talking?

Writing is to talking as learning the piano is to learning drums. They’re in the same category of skills, but they have their own unique sub-skills.

Writing has improved my thinking, but it hasn’t improved my articulation.

The only thing that can do that is practice.

STAY BOLD, Keep Pursuing,
— Josh Waggoner | Daily Blog #1036

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Hands-on Experience

“Be brave. Take risks. Nothing can substitute experience.”

Paulo Coelho

For the last eight weeks, My sister Hannah and I have been driving down to Atlanta to take a metalsmithing class. I’ve always enjoyed the tactile and clever nature of making things with my hands.

However, besides playing music, I’ve spent the last several years mostly creating in the digital world, so it’s been nice to learn a new skill that requires a lot of physical dexterity. I’m still a baby metalsmith, but even so, it’s been fun so far, and I’ve learned quite a lot.

Learning something new can be intimidating—until you get your hands on it. It’s the period before you begin—before you’ve experienced what it’s like—that is usually the scariest.

Professionals always make it look easy, but they were beginners once too. The path to mastery may never have an ending, but it always has a beginning.

Whenever you feel intimidated by something, it’s better to jump right in and discover things for yourself. It’s the classic FDR phrase he spoke at his first inauguration, “the only thing we have to fear is…fear itself.”

This potentially applies to all experiences, not just learning a new skill.

It’s better to be stung by laughter and people calling you are a fool than to fearfully say nothing or do nothing and think yourself a fool.

STAY BOLD, Keep Pursuing,
— Josh Waggoner | Daily Blog #1026

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Find Out For Yourself

“Where the spirit does not work with the hand, there is no art.”

Leonardo da Vinci

One of the best ways to learn is to teach yourself. While having a personal coach or an online course can accelerate learning, it’s hard to beat hands-on experiences.

(Not that these are mutually exclusive—stacking experience on top of mentorship is a fantastic way to learn if you have the opportunity to do so.)

One pattern I’ve noticed (in myself and in others) is how easy it is to watch someone do something, like woodworking, programming, or dancing, for example, or read a great book on a particular skill, but not actually practice the skill yourself. It’s like second-hand learning. We watch a YouTube video of someone making music or handmade pasta, but we never actually get around to doing it ourselves—even though we want too! We’re already on to the next video, next course, or next book.

Lately, I’ve been trying to avoiding doing it, but in the past, I’ve gone through many books back to back without actually testing and applying them in my own life. What’s the point of reading a business book, for example, if you aren’t going to use it or at least try parts of it out? So we can talk big and be more informed? As if.

Better to not read, then read not apply.

Finding things out for yourself is part of the joy that comes from learning new things. Without experience, you lose some of the passion and drive that comes with learning. It’s the classic phrase “Use it or lose it”. Without visceral experience, our new information isn’t all that important to our brains, and will quickly fade out of our noggin’s, replaced by newer and more exciting information.

All that being said, get dirty. Practice what you learn. Test things out yourself. Cut out some paper. Practice some scales. Make it your own.

STAY BOLD, Keep Pursuing,
— Josh Waggoner | Daily Blog #981

Recommended Reads:

Hell Yeah or No

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All I Know is that I Know Nothing

“To know, is to know that you know nothing. That is the meaning of true knowledge.”

Socrates

The realization that you don’t know much as you think you do is a humbling and important experience.

There’s a great line by Richard Williams, Director of Animation for Who Framed Roger Rabbit that encapsulates this feeling perfectly. He was finishing up his first animated film, The Little Island, and around that time Disney’s Bambi came out in theaters. “… I saw Bambi again and almost crawled out of the theatre on my hands and knees. ‘How did they ever do that?’ I’d learned just enough to realize that I really didn’t know anything!”

You have to be a little naive and arrogant in the beginning when you are just starting out on a new venture (be it a business, project, prototyping an idea, learning a new skill, etc). Otherwise, you’ll know too much to start and overwhelm yourself.

Knowing what you know now, would you have started if you knew how hard it would be to get where you are?

You have to be naive and inexperienced enough to try new things.

Zen Buddhists describe this is having a beginner’s mind. A beginner’s mind is open and ready to learn.

Eventually, you learn a thing or two about your craft. You start making things, designing things, selling things, and get good enough to move things forward. Product sales role in. Your design clients like your work. Your art gets praise. Your song gets applause.

But then you see a professional at work. You see someone who does what you do, but a hundred times better. Heck, you didn’t even realize your guitar could do that. For example, take one look at some of the designs on Dribbble and you’ll realize your designs are garbage designs. “Are they using the same app I’m using?? How do they even make colors and shapes look like that??” The same is true for any skill, venture, or activity. And you realize that—

There’s a lot of incredible creatives and entrepreneurs out there.

It’s painful when you realize you aren’t as good as you want to be.

(It’s also painful when you see someone doing things worse than you are, but they are getting all the praise and attention—Topic for another day.)

But this is a great place to be in. This is another one of those pesky turning points that separate those that succeed and fail. You could stop. You could let someone’s brilliant work make you feel down about yourself and lead you to quit. Or—

You can let it lift you up and inspire you to do better.

Knowing that there’s a lot you don’t know is a great mindset to be in. You’ll learn must faster and more effectively. Humility leads to growth. Once you get past the initial ego-sting of realizing you aren’t the best, you can use the brilliance of others as an experience to seek out advice and to get better.

STAY BOLD, Keep Pursuing,
— Josh Waggoner | Daily Blog #913

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Zero Motivation Part 5: Remember Why You Do What You Do

Note: You can read this motivation series in any order, but if the thought of reading something out of order makes you want to curl up into a fetal position and stare off into space here’s are links to the others in order:

Part 1: Start Small
Part 2: Use the Fear of Inaction to your Advantage
Part 3: Creating something each day.
Part 4: Change your approach

Motivation Part 5: Know Your Why.

“Know yourself to improve yourself.”

Auguste Comte

It’s difficult to muster up the energy to do anything if your heart isn’t in it. No amount of trickery or cajoling will motivate you to do something you ultimately don’t want to do. At least without consequences.

The problem is sometimes we don’t know that our hearts are not in it. Or even worse, someone else does everything they can to convince us this is what we should be doing — despite how we feel.

You see this all the time with parents forcing their kid(s) into a particular job, like being a lawyer or engineer, when the kid(s) clearly would rather focus on dancing, music or running.

I don’t blame the parents. 98% of the time a parent is doing because they want the best for their kid(s). The parent is older and more experienced in the hardships of life than the bright-eyed kid who thinks (s)he’s invincible.

There’s much more to it, but I think it comes down to a difference of strategy. The parent wants their child to be happy and they know that safety and security is the best way for them to do that. The kid wants to be happy and they know that creative expression and pursuing their passions is the best way for them to do that.

Happiness likely is the balance between just enough safety and security and just enough passion and challenge.

Too much safety and you boredom yourself into conformity. Too much challenge and you are stressed out of your gourd. And both conformity and too much stress lead to unhappy campers.

First, we must know what we are passionate about. otherwise, we’ll try everything wastes our energy or let others dictate our lives for us. Then, we can begin to find a way to pursue our passions while also figure out how to live, save money and eat.

That could mean our passion is our job or we find a way to support our passion through selling our work or find patrons. Or it could mean our passion is what we do in our free time. By day, we are accountants, by night, we are YouTubers!

Once we have a good idea of what we like, finding out why we like it is a whole other matter. There’s some great work out there on this, particularly Simon Sinek’s writing.

Knowing why you create is slippery. Maybe it’s because you like to express yourself and the way you’ve found to do that is through design. Maybe a goal is driving you, like to be one of the best or to be admired. Maybe curiosity it’s what drives you. You can’t help but ask another question and figure out what’s behind the metaphorical mountain in front of you.

Whatever it is that drives you, make sure it comes from within. Don’t let external drives like fame, fortune, and power be your only motivator. Each one of those can take you far, but I hear they can leave a bad taste in your mouth if that’s all you care about. Fame, fortune, and power are side effects to impactful work, not the ultimate goal.

Once you know your why, you can remind yourself every day what you must do.

Knowing yourself also allows you to avoid any pitfalls or temptations you know will trip you up. If you want to avoid eating ice-cream, then having it in the house and serenading your name every time 10 PM rolls around. Get it out of the house! The same with anything that is taking you away from your craft. If Netflix is distracting you from creating, then unsubscribe. Don’t think of it as a permanent decision. You can always resubscribe next month. Think of it as an experiment to improve your practice.

One of my big goals is to be someone worthy of the title “Renaissance Man”. I want to be a true multi-disciplinary — a master of many skills. That drives me to always keep learning and challenging myself. This is one reason why I write. This is why I can create and learn all day, and never get tired. My body and mind may fatigue, but my spirit doesn’t.

What’s your driving goal?
Why do you feel called to your craft?

If you want to be an incredible guitarist, what’s stopping you?
If you want to be a regarded programmer, then start coding.

Knowing yourself also allows you to avoid any pitfalls or temptations you know will trip you up. If you want to avoid eating ice-cream, then having it in the house and serenading your

Always remember why you do what you do.

And then get to work practicing it.

STAY BOLD, Keep Pursuing,
— Josh Waggoner | Daily Blog #899

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The Currency of Knowledge

“Let us tenderly and kindly cherish, therefore, the means of knowledge. Let us dare to read, think, speak, and write.”

John Adams

“Knowledge has to be improved, challenged, and increased constantly, or it vanishes.”

Peter Drucker

Money isn’t the only thing that gets you far in life. Although an important component of any entrepreneurial or creative endeavor, you could argue money is the least important resource. (Blasphemy!)

Not to say that money is easier to come by — it takes a lot of work and skill to create money. But there’s no limit to how much you can make (There might be false limits or mental limits that cap you, but technically, if you think about it, you can make as little or as much as you want.)

Time, energy and knowledge, however, are more finite. There’s only so much time and energy we have to give. By the time you’re old enough to read and understand this, you’ve already given decades of your time and energy.

Knowledge has limits as well. There’s only so much we can fit in our brains at once, and the amount of knowledge we can obtain is in sync with our time, energy and finances. Knowledge also ‘has a half-life’. Some things are tried-and-true, but most of what we know will likely be irrelevant a decade or so from now. Real knowledge is the principles and patterns beneath a skill that allow you to learn and relearn to your curious heart’s content.

If you are in school or have a full-time job like me, there are only a precious few hours we have to give.

But here’s the things: knowledge is a powerful currency that we (who are lucky enough) have access too. Knowledge is free. Yes, there’s paywalls and cliques and a dozen other obstacles and distractions (which I’ll get to in a second), but our interconnected lives have leveled the playing field. There are truck-loads of knowledge out there online. A few ads later and you can watch how to build a business on YouTube. Through podcasting and TED talks, you can listen to conversations with the smartest people on the planet. We are all a few clicks away from learning anything we ever wanted to learn.

Knowledge is a powerful currency that levels the playing field.

And that’s me only thinking about individuals. When we create connections with likeminded people and/or build teams dedicated to building something purposeful, our knowledge currency multiples.

But. (And this is a doozie.)

In order to cultivate more knowledge, we have to stay focused and put away our distractions as much as we can. There’s a lot of people out there who are highly skilled at a lot of things that don’t add up too much. Not that being highly skilled is what life’s all about. (Some of the best things in life can’t be created by achieving.) But the question is, are your distractions owning your life?

You have the power to learn anything.

Now you just have to put in the time.

STAY BOLD, Keep Pursuing,
— Josh Waggoner | Daily Blog #863

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Time Well Spent

“My favorite things in life don’t cost any money. It’s really clear that the most precious resource we all have is time.”

Steve Jobs

“The time you enjoy wasting is not wasted time.”

Bertrand Russell

One thing you learn very quickly when pursuing a creative skill — or any skill for that matter — is it takes more time than you think it does.

A skill isn’t just the skill itself, it’s also everything that surrounds it.

Let’s say you’ve grown up on boxed foods your entire life, and one day you decide you want to learn to cook. Great! Cooking is a useful skill to have. Not only can home-cooked food be better for you and taste 10x better than 90% of restaurants and 99% of packages foods, but you’ll also be able to share with other people who are in your life. (Food gatherings = closer family, more connected community.)

But wait, there’s more to cooking than the time it takes to crack a few eggs in a pan and call it dinner (although, some nights are like that). Cooking is multiple things combined:

  • Research
    • What do I want to cook? How do I cook it? What do I cook it with? How long?
  • Experimentation
    • What if I tried paprika? What type of acid flavor do I want to use? What happens if…
  • Pick up
    • Getting to the store, Playing where’s Waldo with each grocery item, waiting in line or waiting for your delivery, Going home from the store.
  • Prep
    • Washing, Chopping, Dicing, Salting, etc.
  • Cooking
    • Getting the oven ready, watching the food cook, etc
  • Eating
  • Cleaning
    • Dishes, Leftovers in the fridge.

All of this is worth the price of admission, but as you can see it’s going to take a lot longer than you think it might. (You can see why meal prep, food delivery, and dinner delivery companies are on the rise.) And it’s not just cooking that requires a lot of time to do it properly. Every skill requires time. There’s a hidden cost to every skill (and everything we do).

This is why the majority of Renaissance people are terrible at managing their time.

I’m bad at this. When I hear about some rad interesting skill I want to jump in immediately and learn it. Now, there’s a time for trying new things and expanding your skillsets, but if you want to master something, you’ve got to prioritize it by giving it your most valuable resource: time.

Time management is essential to finding mastery and living a meaningful life.

Which means we have to be picky about where and who we give our time too.

The best place to start is to figure out where all your time is going.

RescueTime is an automated time tracking app that will show you where you spend your time during your digital life.

Dig around in your iPhone or Android phone settings and you’ll find similar screen time averages.

I’ve also personally be thoroughly using my calendar app to track every minute of my day, so I know how much time I’m spending doing what.

Not knowing where your time is going is letting life steer you, versus your controlling life.

STAY BOLD, Keep Pursuing,
— Josh Waggoner | Daily Blog #862

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