Where Are You Going?

Last week’s post included the sentence, “Few of us end where we were aiming when we set out, and we may find that we’re really glad that we learned to sing somewhere along the way.” Since writing that, I’ve thought about it and decided that maybe it deserves some more discussion.

The fact is that most of us do not end where we were aiming when we set out. This is an idea that can be taken at least two different ways, both of which are, I think, valid. In one sense we do not end at the target we set when we set out on our life or professional journey. In another sense, the work that we create often does not end where we planned for it to go.

In both cases, many of us end up at a place that is far superior to our original target.

The process of making art requires that we leave room for discovery and serendipity as we follow where the process takes us. For example, writer Austin Kleon started making the trailer for his new book with all sorts of plans; however, he soon discovered that there was much to be eliminated and even more to be modified. He says, “I like the idea to change as I’m working.Even if you have to throw half your work out, it’ll lead you to something better.….Let your “mistakes” during the process actually feed back into the idea. Absorb the mistakes into the piece.” The work that results from such an approach has a tendency to be more organic than work that is totally and completely preplanned.

An approach such as Kleon’s, however, does not mean that planning should be dismissed. Many artists, Kleon included, begin with a very firm plan in mind. The trick is to be adaptable and to allow ourselves to be open to new ideas and pathways as they arise.

This is true of our careers as well. The blog Brain Pickings quotes Bill Watterson, creator of Calvin and Hobbs: “The truth is, most of us discover where we are headed when we arrive. At that time, we turn around and say, yes, this is obviously where I was going all along. It’s a good idea to try to enjoy the scenery on the detours, because you’ll probably take a few.

Again, planning is not to be dismissed. My constant advice to students is for them to decide where they are going. Of course, like almost everyone else, the vast majority will end up somewhere different, but the selection of a target and the movement toward it is hugely important. Otherwise, they have a tendency to go nowhere, in almost every sense of the phrase. Once a goal is targeted, movement starts, and those detours that Watterson mentions happen along the way. Like the accidents in making art, they often lead to more and better opportunities for satisfying work.

Some people do end up where they started to go, and good for them—so long as the work is satisfying. Most of us, however, end in a very different place than the one we imagined when we first started out. Again, the test is not whether we got to our original target, but whether where we got to is fulfilling.

Likewise, if the art that we make is exactly what we imagined when we started, good for us. If, however, we incorporate mistakes and let he idea change as we proceed, then good for us as well. What matters, after all, whether in our professional journey or in making art, is not the initial impetus or whether we stayed on track, but what the journey taught us. It’s called process, and it takes us where it will. We can only benefit.

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Date: Monday, 30. December 2013 0:14
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