Is the journey more important than the goal?

“It is not so much the perfect destination as the perfect path,” says Jonathan Mead, on Robert Jackson’s excellent podcast A Quiet Mind. Is Jonathan right? Do we spend too much time focusing on the end result, and not enough on the path we take to get there?

The journey or the goal?

When I was raising money to go to drama school, I had a very specific goal: to raise £25,000. It was a huge feat of organisation to achieve that. And when I look back, what was more memorable, more meaningful? The moment when I realised I had actually raised all of the money? Or the journey that led to that moment?

It was the journey.

What I learned on that journey was inevitably greater than the moment that the goal was ‘achieved’.

During my fundraising, I had learned to become comfortable with asking for help. In doing so, I had created many opportunities for people to get together to share something. There was a great sense of community and support around me. I felt so blessed to have been helped by so many people. I learned to believe in myself. And I learned that others could believe in me, too.

However, I could not have begun this journey without a goal.

So what can we learn from this? Perhaps a goal is necessary, but can we focus on our goal, while paying full respect to our journey?

And what if our journey takes us somewhere else?

I left drama school before graduation. I was quite unhappy in my years there, even though previously, this had been the course I dreamed of.

Staying on for another unhappy year seemed unbearable. I had stopped enjoying myself and was really looking for an escape. It felt like stubbornly sticking to my goal of graduating would have caused me greater suffering.

When we should put our goals aside, and allow the journey to take us somewhere else?

My feelings about leaving drama school were misguided.

In reality, the goal and the journey are one and the same. In reality, we all want happiness and less suffering. When we want to feel a certain way, we look for a way to achieve it. This creates a goal; ultimately, a symbol of something we guess will bring us happiness.

Sometimes we convince ourselves that only our goal will bring us happiness. Sometimes we are disappointed that our goal did not bring us the happiness we expected.

When I decided I wanted to leave college, I recognised I was unhappy. I did not realise that I could have had a very happy journey, right at that moment. Instead I wanted to move away from external factors I felt made me unhappy.

Jonathan Mead says we should be “not moving away from things, but cultivating a present you want to experience.” The Sufi poets put it another way:

It is not about quenching your thirst. It is about developing a thirst so perfect that you never stop drinking.

It took me ten years of searching to find out that I could cultivate my own happiness.

So have a goal, by all means.  But put it to the back of your mind. How do you want your present to be, right now?

Remember, the goal and the path are one. If what you seek is happiness, start to cultivate it now.

How to describe your ideas

Do you often have to describe ideas to others? Do you ever have to sell your vision to someone? Here are some tips for explaining a new vision, or abstract idea to somebody for the first time.

This is by no means an easy thing to do.  How do you let someone else see what is only in your own imagination?  How can you do it so accurately that a listener can almost see it, touch it and taste your vision?

As you know, I work in the creative industries and regularly have to describe my ideas to others. This extremely important skill was highlighted the other day while in a training session for Creative Partnerships.

We were put into pairs and one partner was given a postcard. Partners sat back to back. On the postcard was a work of art. The artwork was fairly complex.  The task was to describe the postcard to the partner behind, while they drew a sketch from your description. Sounds easy? Not at all!

It is so important to be accurate when trying to sell your vision. Whether your ideas are for a work of art or a future event, if your description is poor, your listener will lose confidence. Or get the wrong end of the stick completely. But if your descriptive powers are accurate, people will clearly visualise your idea, and they’ll be sold! Do you want people to sign up for your ideas? Then try improving your descriptive powers now!

Try this exercise. Grab scrap paper and a pen. I will describe a work of art, and you draw it. Afterwards you can follow the link to see if your sketch is anything like the real thing!

This painting looks German in style. It uses a lot of blues and greys. It is an abstract painting, and the images represented are quite surreal. The style might be called Dada by an art critic. Looking at the picture, it feels heavy and brooding, like a war is going on.

In the very foreground of the picture, at the bottom right hand corner is something that looks like a white, headless, naked female mannikin. Her left arm ends in a red glove and is raised. Instead of a head, a horizontal line balances on top of her neck.

Behind her, in the midground and still to the far right, is something that looks like a grey chimney. The chimney is in five pieces, stacked one of top of the other. The chimney probably takes up about a tenth of the painting’s width and reaches two thirds up. The very top chimney stack is shaped like a watering can. On stack number three is another ‘watering can’ style spout, this time in red and pointing towards the middle of the picture.

In the centre of the picture, in the midground and taking up about two-thirds of the available space, is a grey kettle-shaped cow. We see the cow head-on. The cow’s horns are white and its nose is stuck inside a white cone, that extends upward like a trunk.

In the background of the painting, the top third is thin white clouds washed against a pale blue sky. At the top left hand side, two skinny blue fish intertwine with the clouds.

The bottom tenth of the background is grey. The middle of the background is white. 

Okay, put your pen down and let’s see how well we did.

Click here to see the real painting. Does your sketch look anything like that?

I missed out some details. Try having a go yourself. This will definitely improve your ability to convey your ideas to others. So go on, start improving your descriptive powers and see how quickly you can inspire others by really selling your vision!

Robert Fritz and structural tension

Did you know that tension can be good for you?

Robert Fritz, author of Your Life As Art and Creating, believes tension is the beginning of the creative process.

“I call the relationship between the vision and current reality structural tension. During the creative process, you have an eye on where you want to go, and you also have an eye on where you currently are.”

It is true that as creatives we often have to juggle between two opposing forces: freedom to explore against deadlines, improvisation against framework, playfulness against a need to earn money. The relationship between these two forces is this structural tension. Rather than being an unpleasant experience, however, Fritz suggests that this is desirable, because creativity requires this conflict.

As Fritz puts it, “Tension seeks resolution”. He describes this as a “basic principle of nature”.

Maybe he is right. When the horse cannot reach the leaves high in the trees, evolution helps it grow a long neck and become a giraffe. When a child seeks physical comfort from it’s parent across the room, it learns to crawl, and then walk.

From wanting something that you do not currently possess, you find a way forward.

All creations begin with a vision, an imagining of a future artistic event, that is different from your present reality.

In the gap between reality and vision, you can be your most creative. There you will need to problem solve and find practical ways of realising your ideas.

So why not take a leaf out of Fritz’s book? Remember that conflict is part of the process. And next time you feel like avoiding tension, try embracing it instead. It might just summon your creative genius.

Imagination and visions

Great art always begins with great imagination, or vision. As creatives, we are always looking for inspiration, for that next idea. Sometimes that idea will tumble into our lives by accident. Sometimes an intuition will guide us on a creative adventure. Sometimes we might even call upon a deity or muse to bring us divine inspiration.

Sometimes it is because we as artists have trained ourselves in new ways of looking at life, at what my old English teacher Mr Hoare calked “making the ordinary extraordinary”.

The painter and poet William Blake was a great visionary. Often his art would be inspired by a heavenly vision, and he would call for his paints immediately. His view of the world was certainly extraordinary. When William Blake looked at the sun he did not see a yellow disc, emitting light. He saw a bright star, surrounded by hosts of angels, singing “Holy, holy, holy.”

Using the imagination does not just help with creative productivity. It can aid us in personal growth and transformation.

A young student of mine, Joe, had great ability but struggled in timed tests. He felt pressured by his awareness of the time limit, and this gave him a tendency to hold his breath and become tense. This impeded his ability to answer questions correctly and easily. We worked on this every week. I would give Joe a five-minute test and listen carefully to see if he was breathing. When he stopped, I gently reminded him to breathe.

One day, about halfway through his test, I noticed something change. Suddenly Joe ‘got it’, and started to both relax and speed up his answering. At the end I asked him what had happened. He said that all of a sudden he had started to pretend that he wasn’t being timed. His new idea of suddenly having all the time in the world altered his perception and his behaviour. His imagination had unlocked his potential.

Remember how powerful the imagination is, and how it can not only inspire us, and benefit us personally, but also improve our results.