6. What’s it for?

I’ve been questioning the creative activities in my life as of late. Does everything I create need to have a purpose? Am I focussing on the right creative objectives? Will I look back when I’m older and regret the potential opportunities I could have had to make my work more meaningful than just a self-motivated personal project?

I have a lot of different creative outlets. As I grow, I’m starting to break them down to determine what kind of value they bring me. I started thinking this way approximately a year ago. During that time, I remember feeling frustrated because I wasn’t able to dedicate my whole being to certain projects and my work suffered for it. My poor decision making made my life feel static, like I was living in a bubble and unable to create any type of force to break through.

I felt that the collective responsibilities of being an adult obscured my ability to fully express myself creatively. And I convinced myself that it made me less of an interesting person. The people that I looked up to who I felt were genuine people with very interesting outlooks on the world and whom expressed themselves with so much energy and passion, had very little holding them back (in my opinion). Maybe that’s why I consider them genuine? Of course I could be wrong. I don’t know them more than I know their Twitter feed. In all honesty though, those heros of mine just have a better grip on their ability to express themselves to the fullest without compromising their lifestyle. That’s why they’re heroes. Because they do things I can’t.

I decided to start looking at my work with more urgency. With a kind of all-encompassing gusto as if I found out the exact day that I was going to die. Morbid—yes, but I was slowly on my way to maximizing my creative outcomes.

The situation I was in made me feel that my personal projects were a giant waste of time, and everything that I should have been doing, should have led to something tangible that contributed to my career. I was at the point where I could have done one of two things; I could have continued doing what I was doing and ignore my intervening inner self or try something different. I had a much-needed internal dialogue with myself and came up with a simple strategy to help my decision making process. I promised myself that every time I do any sort of work on a project, I would ask myself ‘what’s it for?’

If I intermittently ask myself ‘what’s it for?’, then I have an opportunity to either move forward on the project or quit and work towards something more meaningful. It’s a way of checking myself when nobody else is around. Kind of like the reliance of auto-save. This trick helps me polarize what’s important versus what’s not.

I can’t tell you how many hours I’ve saved in mindless creative meandering by the addition of ‘what’s it for?’ to my creative process.

Three simple words have become one of my most efficient pieces of technology and one of the most commonly used tools in my mental toolbox. It’s strange to think of words as technology. It doesn’t sit very well at first. The mental image of ‘technology’ is a dazzling allure, but not accurate. It’s much more than nuts and bolts.

A common misconception that most people share (including myself) is the idea that technology is a physical entity that you can view with your eyes, touch with your body or interact with in space. Abstract ideas and concepts in thought-form tend to be neglected as technologies because they do not share the physical form of familiar tools. It’s really weird because technology is defined as a collection of techniques, skills, methods, and processes used in the production of goods and services or in the accomplishment of objectives. When did the concept of  ‘technology’ become so heavily imprinted on us that it can only be a physical object? A hammer is not a technique, a MacBook Pro is not a skill, and a KitchenAid® Mixer is not a method.

In contrast—a sarcastic remark is technology; a nickname is technology; an acronym is technology. But I’m sure some, if not most, would argue this point.

In my personal experience, you don’t hear too many people talking about their ability to sharpen their mental tools. That’s why I love ‘what’s it for?’ so much! Because it’s shapeless, weightless, formless, and lives in my mind. There’s no baggage. It’s portable, accessible and incredibly versatile.

As a clock measures time, ‘what’s it for?’ measures the quality of my time being spent. In a way, it re-quantifies time.

An example—when I was in art school in the mid 2000’s, I had a roommate who was very good at rationalizing the complexities of life (not hard because I was a dummy). She did it in an honest and almost self-deprecating way without the use of corny metaphors or analogies. We parted ways after graduation. She went into the workforce and I went to design school. The first time we spoke since we separated, we talked about how different our lives had become—especially hers. She so elegantly told me, “when you’re young and in school, you have all the time in the world, but no money. But when you get a job and start working full-time, you start having money, but have no time to do anything.” She gave me a pretty accurate sketch of the professional landscape. As life goes on and responsibilities shift, time becomes a premium commodity. Time may actually be the most valuable commodity on the planet. To squander it comes at an unforgivable cost.

Wasted time carries a heavy price because time is man’s greatest nonrenewable resource. It cannot be reproduced. It’s finite. When it’s gone, it’s gone.

All the more reason to be aware, agile, and constantly be adding new tech to your mental toolbox. 

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