Putting Our Fears Into Perspective

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Let’s be honest for a moment – the internet can be a scary place.  Every time we publish a post, write a tweet, upload an image or share some work online, we hope for positive feedback, but fear the opposite, rejection, criticism or even hate.  Maybe, this isn’t even a digital problem. Haven’t we all experienced thoroughly analogue forms of disapproval or contempt at some point in our lives?

Fear And The Total Perspective Vortex

Amongst the notes of congratulations as No Missing Tools was released last week, was an email from an old friend and fellow musician. My friend was summing this fear – a fear that holds many of us back from sharing our creative work with the world.

“It’s a brave move putting stuff out there – the internet (indeed, the world) can be such a brutally ‘total perspective vortex’.”

In Douglas Adams’ humorous Sci-Fi series, The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy, The Total Perspective Vortex was the ultimate torture device, the joke being that if anyone really, truly understood how small and insignificant they were in perspective to the size of the universe, they would surely go mad.

“When you are put into the Vortex you are given just one momentary glimpse of the entire unimaginable infinity of creation,
and somewhere in it a tiny little mark, a microscopic dot on a microscopic dot, which says, ‘You are here.’”
– Douglas Adams, The Restaurant at the End of the Universe

My friend cited The Total Perspective Vortex without realising there are several pages devoted to it in No Missing Tools. What if, instead of fearing insignificance, we embraced it? I agree the Internet can be like The Total Perspective Vortex, but I also believe this is a good thing that can liberate us to be bold and brave in our creative endeavours. As I said, in the book,

“I’m constantly talking to creatives who complain no one is paying any attention to their work. My reply is, “Great! If no one is listening, you are free to do anything you want!” When audiences are tuned into us, there are expectations; there is resistance to moves in new directions. But if you are isolated, why not just be bold and crazy and make your version of a giant stone statue in the Pacific?
No Missing Tools, pg117″

A Better Perspective

It might feel like the whole world is waiting with baited breathe to hate our work, but actually, the total opposite is true, the whole world is largely going to ignore everything we do. So, that photo you posted on Instagram got 20, or 200 likes. There’s another 200 Million Instagram users who didn’t even know your photo existed!

The true madness is being obsessed to the point of anxiety over what a tiny slice of humanity thinks of us. It’s not just that we become crippled with fear, we also lose perspective on the significance of the things we make and the work we do.

“Life is not about finding our limitations, it’s about finding our infinity.”
– Herbie Hancock

The real gift of engaging in creative work, in any kind of work really, is dipping our toes in eternity, making something that, however small, misunderstood or flat-ignored in this moment, might live on long after we’re gone, or connect with people we have never even met. We will never really know how far our work can reach across the universe, so why not just make our biggest, boldest most authentic selves known, especially since our place in time and space is so small, so fleeting and so tiny?

“…every day we do things that could live on for years, even longer than the few years we have on earth. The tree we plant, the wall we paint, the song we record, or the furniture we make could still play a role in someone’s life 50 or a 100 years from now! I love that the music of Willie Johnson – a blind son of a preacher, born in 1897, who started playing on street corners with a homemade guitar as a child – is out there, drifting through space on the Voyager probe.
No Missing Tools, pg118″

No Missing Tools: Creativity In An Age Of Abundance is available now. You can pick up a copy a paperback copy on Amazon for U$16 (also available in Amazon UK or Amazon EU), or order the Kindle version for U$6.79 (also available on all the global Kindle stores, check your local price), if prefer and there’s even a digital multipack available for U$10 through GumRoad that includes the pdf, mobi and epub versions (use the code “abundance” for a 25% discount till the end of the month on this version). Finally, there is a numbered, limited edition, hardcover version, printed in Japan available for U$65 direct from my studio in Tokyo.

No Missing Tools – Out Now

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As children we experience the world as an inherently creative place. Any old box can become a train, a spaceship or a house. With just a few colouring pencils we can create the next artistic masterpiece, or bang out the greatest drum solo ever. But, as we enter adulthood, creativity becomes more challenging and we soon start to doubt whether we have what it takes, either in terms of talent or tools, to make a creative mark.

But, what if there were no missing tools? What if we could tap into those early impulses that motivated us to create with so much freedom and confidence? No Missing Tools is my attempt, through stories, examples, suggestions and a little hard research, to try and piece together a way to be more creative and to understand our creativity better.

It’s now over ten years since I came back to creative work full-time and No Missing Tools: Creativity In An Age Of Abundance is the distillation of everything I have learnt in that time. Experiences I’ve had, books and research papers I’ve read and most importantly, conversations I’ve had with literally hundreds of creatives, everywhere from dusty fields in the Himalayas, to boutique cafes in Hong Kong.

I’m really proud of this book. I’ve spent the better part of a year working on this and had the chance to collaborate with some great editors and designers to make something that I feel will be helpful to a wide range of readers, not just photographers and musicians. And, although I’ve been blogging for a long time now (nearly 14 years) No Missing Tools is also the most revealing and personal thing I’ve ever written. There’s a lot of stories in the book’s 282 pages that I’ve never shared before.

No Missing Tools: Creativity In An Age Of Abundance is available now. You can pick up a copy a paperback copy on Amazon for U$16 (also available in Amazon UK or Amazon EU), or order the Kindle version for U$6.79 (also available on all the global Kindle stores, check your local price), if prefer and there’s even a digital multipack available for U$10 through GumRoad that includes the pdf, mobi and epub versions (use the code “abundance” for a 25% discount till the end of the month on this version). Finally, there is a numbered, limited edition, hardcover version, printed in Japan available for U$65 direct from my studio in Tokyo.

No Missing Tools – Limited Edition Version

This week my first book, No Missing Tools: Creativity In An Age Of Abundance, goes on sale through Amazon, Kindle and digitally via GumRoad. I also want to let you know about a special edition of the book I’m currently putting the finishing touches on.

No Missing Tools _LE

I’m a book lover. It’s not just that I like to read, I love to savour the fine details of how a book is made; the paper, the typefaces, the binding, the cover art. I’m proud of the paperback and digital versions of No Missing Tools. But, I also wanted to indulge this book-loving side, given that I know so many of you are also fanatics about type and design, by making a special version of the book.

The Joy Of Japanese Paper

Particularly since Japan is such a special place when it comes to paper and printing. Back before I lived in Japan, I would always spend some of my time when visiting Tokyo, in bookstores pouring over the local books. The design, the varied sizes, the cover ideas and the paper always felt so fresh and appealing. The book-lover in me yearned to play in this field.

No Missing Tools _LE-2

So, I’m working with a local artisanal printer to create a special edition of No Missing Tools. These will be covered in red linen (actually it’s “Shrimp Brown”), with gold lettering (the photo is above is a draft version). The text will be printed on gorgeous matte, ecru paper. It was a lot of fun to compare paper weights, printing densities and binding techniques before deciding on the right combination of elements for this book.

How To Order

The print run will be short, with only 50 signed, numbered copies available for U$65 each including postage anywhere in the world (plus a free copy of the digital pack, which includes pdf, mobi and epub versions). After the early announcement a few weeks ago, the limited edition is already almost halfway to being sold out.

If you would like to reserve a copy then please get in touch via the contact form. The limited edition version of No Missing Tools will reach you in early May and I hope you enjoy the book as much as I’ve enjoyed putting it together.

No Missing Tools _LE-3

The Cold Pizza Problem

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“It is better to create than to be learned, creating is the true essence of life.”
– Barthold Georg Niehbur

We can start to understand the role of creativity in our lives by looking at our deepest, longest held motivations. This is why our personal stories are so important. Un- derstanding the development of our biographies and the context around them allows us to find focus and direction in our creative lives.

Let me explain this by reference to what I call the cold pizza problem.

All of us have food we turn to when life is too much. For me, it’s cold leftover pizza (hey, don’t yuck somebody else’s yum). For you, it might be chocolate, corn chips, sug- ary drinks, or alcohol. Maybe it isn’t a food at all. Maybe it’s checking your Facebook page, or daytime soap operas.

One fundamental problem in life is figuring out how not to spend all day in bed, eating cold pizza and watching daytime soap operas.

All of us have potential motivators in our lives; things we should be doing. The problem is these should-dos don’t always leap out from our soul or address our innermost desires. These should-dos don’t always drive us to live a creative life. They sometimes drive us to cold pizza and daytime soap operas instead. It’s a way of seeking comfort through simple, unchallenging pleasures.

Getting in touch with our own biographies can allow us to find motivators that do address our innermost desires and thus, keep us away from cold pizza.

Effort, passion, drive, and commitment are all part of the motivated life. Having them will help you overcome the cold pizza problem. But, there’s also another aspect connected to the word motive, and that can help us understand the rhythm of creative living. It’s the idea of a motif.

A motif is a recurring theme or idea found in a work of art, maybe a series of memorable notes in a piece of music, a pattern in a visual artwork, or a phrase or pattern in literature. In our life stories, there are often motifs that bear the seeds for our best creative work, provided we give them enough space to grow and flourish.

Self-help books typically start with an assumption and a promise. The assumption is there are, in fact, two ver- sions of you. First is the tied-down, overworked, stressed, underachieving you. Then, there is the sexy, liberated, fully realised, soaring-with-the-eagles version of you. (Self-help books call this the real you, as if the things you have to do every day—work at an office, food, sleep—aren’t real at all.)

The promise is that if you can dare to dream of a future, a vision, where the real you is let loose, then you can somehow work backwards from there to change your life, typically through a series of clearly signposted steps you write for yourself.

This dualism is attractive. Life certainly can, at times, push us into a box, where our existence feels like a poor match for either our skills or our potential. But the dualism can also be unhelpful, since there’s nothing stopping us from imagining an idealised version of ourselves we will never be able to realise.

This is similar to the holidayer’s paradox Alain De Botton describes in The Art of Travel. De Botton had been considering a holiday to Barbados and recalls the joy he felt poring over brochures filled with tempting images of white sandy beaches and exclusive bungalows, set in a secluded jungle paradise.

Once he got to the island, of course, he found his physical self totally unsupportive of his desire to enjoy the holiday, as he suffered from a sore throat and headache from the flight over, insomnia from the heat of the island, and an upset stomach from bad hotel food.

As delightful as the idea of a holiday always is, the problem is that once you get there, it’s actually you that is there. We look at a travel brochure and see beautiful people enjoying a carefree holiday. We picture ourselves doing the same, but we aren’t those people in the brochures; we have the same stresses, physical ailments, and other concerns that we had in the other time zone at home.

We run into a much larger problem when we try to dream up better futures for ourselves. From the comfort of our sofas, it’s easy to play the “if only” game. (If only this was in my life, then everything else will sort itself out.) But everything is interconnected; changing ourselves is seldom, if ever, possible through one big act. Big changes require thousands of small decisions over a period of time. This is even true when circumstance or catastrophe force changes upon us.

Rather than look forward, to some idealised future, I’d like you to consider looking back, to the good in your
past. Creating a path for our creative work is not unlike sketching a map, we draw from the paths we have travelled, we mark out the contours, the hills and valleys we have travailed.

This is at the heart of understanding our motivations, the process of identifying and understanding the urges and impulses that fuelled our previous creative endeavours.

Partly this will include an inventory of our successes, along with taking stock of our failures, as well as the things we tried to do but either couldn’t complete or simply put off because we lacked the confidence or skills.
These inventories are doubly important in our current times. We no longer live in a world of limited tools and limited access to information, ideas, and education. Rather, we live in a world of abundance. For anything you want to do, the resources are there, often free and almost always easily accessible, for learning what you need to create what inspires you.

Oftentimes the biggest limitation to our creativity is the outdated belief that access to the skills and information required for creative work is difficult to find, costly and hard to understand. Once we let go of that belief, a whole realm of possibilities, things we have tried and failed at, things we have only imagined, suddenly opens up.

This is an extract from No Missing Tools, my new book, which will be released on April 14. You can pre-order the paperback version for U$16.00 from Amazon, or the Kindle version for U$6.99. There’s also a full digital pack, with PDF, ePub and mobi versions available from GumRoad for U$10.

No Missing Tools – Available For Pre-Order

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We’ve made it! My book, No Missing Tools: Creativity in an age of abundance, is finally available for pre-order.

About The Book

No Missing Tools is partly a memoir, a way to tell my creative story. But, it’s more than that, it’s a reflection on what it means to be creative in this digital age, when we are swimming in so many ideas and so much information. I wanted to write something that discussed how creativity has changed and also, gave us some hope for the ways we can make the most of this unique moment in history.

At the start of last year, my calendar kept throwing up reminders; ten years since I left academia to go back to music full-time, ten years since I started this blog to document that process of change in my life. I thought it might be fun to mark that with a little eBook, pulled from blogposts written during those years. But, cutting and pasting old articles written over many years isn’t the best way to write a book, much less to tell a story. And, I felt after all this time, I had a story to tell.

It’s a story about how we find and sustain our creativity. No Missing Tools begins by looking at our earliest creative experiences, before focussing on the often misunderstood cornerstone of creativity, inspiration. Then, after considering our place in the universe, the book considers how we approach our working days, before ending with some reflections on the process of rest and recreation.

How To Pre-Order

No Missing Tools will be released on April 14, but it’s available for pre-order today. You can pre-order the paperback version for U$16.00 from Amazon, or the Kindle version for U$6.99. There’s also a full digital pack, with PDF, ePub and mobi versions available from GumRoad for U$10.

About The Limited Edition Version

In addition to the paperback and digital versions, there will also be a traditionally bound, hardback edition of No Missing Tools, which is being printed here in Japan (on gorgeous paper) and will be limited to 50 signed copies. I’ve mentioned this a few times over the past months and with orders already coming in I’m expecting it will sell out fairly quickly. The price is U$65 including postage anywhere in the world. If you are interested in putting your name down for one, please get in touch.

On Getting Here

Putting together 60,000 words wasn’t easy. The project took the best part of a year and I’m extremely thankful to my family for being patient with me, especially through the autumn of last year, as I put in very long, occasionally emotionally charged days, getting the manuscript finished. I’m also extremely thankful to Matt Gartland, Yi Shun Li, Dustin Tevis and all the team at Winning Edits for the work they did on the editing and design of the book. And, I’m also deeply grateful to the early readers who volunteered their time to read and comment on the drafts of the book. Finally, I have to thank my community of friends, around the world, who kept showing an interest in the book and sending messages of encouragement and support. Thank you!

How To Decisively Move On After A Major Project

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Right now I feel empty, like I have nothing to say. It’s a natural feeling at the end of a big project.

I’ve spent most of the last 12 months of my life working on No Missing Tools and now that it’s nearly ready for release I’m facing that big black chasm we all confront at the end of a major project – what to do next.

Having been here before, I know how easy it is to get stuck after a major project. So, here’s some ideas for how I tackle the gap and how you might be able to move more decisively from one major creative project to another.

Reward And Celebrate

It’s only fitting to tie a bow around completed projects. If they’ve gone well, we should celebrate the achievement, before parking it in the trophy cabinet of experience. And, if things didn’t go smoothly, then it is always a relief to say goodbye. Either way there are toasts to be made and thank yous to be said or written.

And, whether the project succeed, failed or went on to something in between, this is the moment to reflect on the lessons we learnt.

When the production schedule for No Missing Tools was decided I booked a little weeklong ski trip while the layout was being done. It was a week when I knew there was little for me to contribute. That time away was the perfect opportunity to get some distance from the project and make notes about how I might approach my next book. You might want to codify what you’ve learnt into a blogpost, a video, a manifesto or some other tangible thing you can share with others (I’m planning an epic blogpost on independent publishing).

Open Yourself Up

In order to complete a project our focus always ends up becoming narrower. When I started writing No Missing Tools, I was thinking about every aspect of creativity, but by the end of the writing, I was mostly deleting things that were not relevant to the main themes of the book. Along the way, I was spending less and less time making music or photos as the editing and design of the book took over all my time.

But, creativity is about being open to the world. At the end of a big project, it’s time to open the windows of our soul and let in some fresh creative air.

Give yourself permission to soak in whatever kinds of experiences fuel and inspire you. I’ve literally got it all over the next few weeks; travel, films, books, galleries, exercise, shopping, time goofing off in the studio – everything I’ve been putting off or doing less of in order to get the book done. Whatever you’ve been denying yourself in order to finish your project, now is the time to order a double serving!

Engage With Smart Creative People

If you want a really transformative tip at the end of a big project, this is it – go find really smart creative people and hang out with them. I don’t mean hang out in a social media, water cooler sense. I mean find a way to deeply and meaningful work with them, learn from them or in some fashion, let them into your world.

Nothing will kick start your creativity faster than adding some fresh good quality faces to your roster. We naturally feel stale and shorn of ideas at the end of a big project. So new collaborations, especially ones with people who have a sharp creative process, will liven up your transition to the next big thing. For example, right now I’m bringing all these new people into my creative world.

Mentor – in No Missing Tools I develop some of my previous thinking about the importance of mentors. After that, I had to take my own advice and find someone to fill that role for me. I’ve been fortunate to secure a respected artist, who is a creative and commercial success, from outside the worlds of music, photography and writing to help me be more bold and adventurous in my next projects.

Web Designer – I’ve DIY’d my websites since the 90s. Back in the days of HTML frames I was a core contributor to the King’s College London site and I’ve built a few commercial WordPress websites over the years. But, the last redesign of this site three years ago, took me most of a month and honestly, I was never happy with the result. Now I’m working with a great designer and already thinking more sharply about how I want this site to work in the future.

Copywriter – for years now I’ve been complaining about my inability to write a good bio or about me page. It’s a struggle for most creatives. But, rather than continue to whine about it, I’ve found a copywriter with great major agency experience, to coach me on writing better explanations of my work and projects.

Photo Editor – I’ve benefitted a lot in the past from image critique sessions with photographers and gallery owners. Now I’ve booked a session with an experienced photo editor to go through 200 of my best images from the past 5 years and whittle those down to a small section of 25 or so images I will highlight on the new site.

Photographer – the last time another photographer took my photo was 2011! Since then I’ve been reusing the same old images, most of which are self-portraits (is it a selfie if you use studio lights?). So, I contacted a Tokyo based portrait photographer I admire, who only works with natural light, to shoot some fresh new images for this site and my social media profiles.

All these people are not just giving me services I need, they are making me think in fresh dynamic ways about the style and substance of my work and helping me clarify what I should do next and what it should look like. They are people who’ve travelled a good way down the road and have great stories to share.

Find Your Next Big Thing

The space between delivering on our last big announcement and finding the next big project to announce can be a little dangerous. It’s easy to get stuck, spending too long either coasting off our last success or, wallowing in defeat and despair.

I hope these three ideas, Reward and Celebrate, Open Yourself Up and Engage With Smart People can help you navigate this space well. The examples I’ve given are the way I’m doing it after a really big project, the biggest one I’ve tackled in years. I’m sure if you give yourself some time, you can fill in your own ideas for look back, look out and look up as you embark on your next big creative adventure.

Chinese New Year 2015

Chinese New Year
Today marks the Chinese New Year and the start of the year of the Ram (or sheep, or goat, feel free to debate that one in the comments section below). For seven years I lived with Chinese New Year as the major holiday on the calendar in Hong Kong and Singapore, but the truth is, growing up with such a large and vibrant Chinese community in Sydney, the festival has always been top of mind at the start of every year.

Gong Xi Fa Cai! Kung Hey Fat Choy!

Of course, Chinese New Year is hardly a small, regional event. With over 100 countries holding celebrations (roughly 1 in 6 people in the world) and as The Guardian pointed (Chinese new year 2015 – in numbers) in China citizens spend more than double what Americans spend during Thanksgiving on shopping and food. Fitting when we consider that more than double the population of the US will be on the move in China over the weeklong holiday, visiting family and home towns, not to mention the huge numbers across the rest of Asia, especially Hong Kong and Singapore who will be taking international breaks at this time.

Despite the increasing ambivalence towards organised religion in most developed countries, major traditional celebrations are not going away. This is not a bad thing. Celebrations like Chinese New Year might be open to political exploitation, especially as state-run Chinese media try to wrap the festival up in nationalist propaganda, but the celebrations also mark important ways in which individuals connect with family and community.

Red Packet Reality

The traditional giving of red envelopes with cash, (lai see), was a fascinating and humbling experience. The notes in the envelope should be new (or fresh and near new) which usually means a special trip to the bank. Parents give lai see to kids, bosses to employees, married couples to their single friends, but also you give lai see to others whose services you regularly rely on. I always gave lai see to the doormen and concierge at my building because they were such a helpful part of life and the staff of the restaurants and cafes I ate at every week.

In fact, the practice always made me reflect on the human relationships that made up my typical day. It’s easy to take for granted how many people help our day run well, but once all those coffee cups, postal deliveries, hailed taxis, meals and, appointments start getting measured out in red envelopes, it all starts to feel more substantial and interconnected.

Cleaning Or, Bringing In The Luck

Chinese New Year also marks a time to clean one’s home, to make room for good luck to come in, while dispensing with old and broken things that have no place anymore. And, while I don’t believe my good fortune it tied to when and how I tidy my home, there is something rather nice about starting the new year with a clean and organised home and workplace. In Japan, there is a similar tradition to cleaning before the calendar new year and it felt great to greet guests at the start 2015 in clean home and start the working year with everything in its place.

Of course, the language of “spring cleaning” is still commonplace, but I like the idea of fixing it to a date in the calendar. In a way, it’s liberating, as a household the custom of the big annual clean becomes less controversial, less of a thing to fight over or debate.

Truth is we need rituals that help us reflect on our habits of clutter and consumption. If our lives are too full of junk, then we simply don’t have room to be open to whatever the coming year has to offer us, we’ll be too weighed down either to respond, or to enjoy gifts life might have in store for us.

No Missing Tools

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Next month I will be releasing my first book. It’s called No Missing Tools: Creativity In An Age Of Abundance.

No Missing Tools is the biggest project I’ve undertaken in years and it has consumed a huge slice of the last 18 months of my life. Originally I set out to create an eBook of old blogposts, from ten years of writing on creativity. But, it soon became clear that in order to really do the subject justice, I had to dig deeper and peel back the layers, both of my own creative journey and also what it means to be creative in our age of abundance.

I believe we are living in an extraordinary time. So many of the tools and resources required for creativity are more readily available now than at any stage in human history. But, our ideas about how to express our creativity are locked outdated cultural assumptions that are no longer helpful to us.

I wanted to write a positive, hopeful manifesto for the souls who have read my blog over the years, the brave and resilient band of individuals whose creativity shines through in small and not so small ways.

No Missing Tools has plenty of stories and experiences I’ve never shared before along with examples from contemporary creative practice and insights from recent academic research. I also discuss some of the books, poems, films and of course music that say something about what it means to be live a creative life.

Divided into five chapters, No Missing Tools looks at how to discover your motivations, recognise your sources of inspiration, understand your place in the world, focus on your creative work, and rest and recover in ways that prepare you to be even more creative.

I’ve done my best to make sure No Missing Tools isn’t just a book for musicians and photographers. I asked my editors to push me hard to ensure the examples in the book touched on all sorts of creative pursuits, like design, cooking, painting, film-making, writing and even parenting.

In a few days I’ll be announcing how you can get your hands on a copy of No Missing Tools. The book will be available through Amazon, The Kindle Store, iBooks and also in a limited edition printed here in Japan. But, for now I just wanted to let you know a little more about No Missing Tools and I look forward to making the book available for you to read.

7 Things We Learned About You (The Readers Of This Site)

Last month I decided to survey the readers of this site, to find out a little more about your tastes and habits. It has been years since I did something like this and the results were fascinating and a lot of fun to read. Rather than bore you with a lot of explanation, I decided to put the seven key insights into an infographic.

2015-FernandoGros-Survey-Results

Conclusions

While designing the survey, I wasn’t interesting in collecting the normal demographic information (age, location, job, etc). When it comes to online communication, our tastes, interests, habits and passions matter so much more.

Plus, I’ve been a crossroads for a while now, wondering where to go next with this site. The survey was another part on drawing a new map, not just for this site, but for my work as well.

So, do you see yourself in the results? I’d love to hear what you think, either in the comments, via email, or over on Twitter.

Why We Are Always Beginners

Fortress Rajasthan

It’s that time of year again, when the gyms start to feel less crowded, the diet books begin to gather dust and our email inboxes overflow once more. Despite being only a few weeks into 2015, we can already feel those brave, bold New Year’s resolutions slipping away. It’s like the sun is already setting on the dreams of a better life.

New Year’s resolutions are seductive. We all long to focus only on the things that matter to us. I believe we crave the feeling of control that comes from having mastered something, having moved beyond being a beginner — but in so much of life, we are always beginning, always facing something we have to learn, or re-learn.

Learning To Be A Beginner

As a kid, I played a bit of golf. While golf is normally seen as an exclusive sport, I was fortunate to grow up in a neighbourhood of Sydney that had some decent, affordable public courses. My friends and I would hit the fairways after school with our hand-me-down clubs and second hand balls. None of us were great, but by the time we graduated high school, we could post decent scores and get around more challenging courses.

I came back to golf in my early 30s, after moving to Delhi. A friend invited me to play on a spectacular championship course. It was a harrowing experience. I scored 147, which one caddie suggested might be the worst score ever posted at that club. Perhaps the only achievement was not giving up, as mishits, lost balls and penalties pushed me towards double the kind of scores I had registered as a kid.

All my previous experience didn’t matter, I was a beginner again.

Embrace The Beginner

I’ve lost track of how often this kind of experience has cropped up. When I went back to music full time in 2004, I had to re-learn the whole recording process. Last year on the ski-slopes, I felt like a complete novice again, nervously making turns on a beginner slope.

One thing all these experiences have in common, is dealing with changes in technology. Computers have replaced tape machines, memory cards have replaced film, and sports equipment, from skis to golf clubs have been significantly improved. Technology has changed technique.

Even if we don’t take a break from something, like I did with golf, it can still feel hard to keep up. Take web design, where the ideas that felt new and fresh 10-12 years ago (like html frames) are now useless and even concepts from 3-4 years ago (above the fold) are now being abandoned.

In every field new ideas and technologies keep making us feel like beginners again. It’s tempting sometimes to throw our hands in the air and say, “I give up, this is too difficult.”

Rethinking Difficulty

My Japanese tutor is very good, but she has the unfortunate habit of introducing new concepts by saying “this is very difficult.” While it’s true Japanese grammar is challenging, this approach puts the learner on the defensive. It’s kind of the opposite of the way I approach learning in my normal creative work.

“Nothing in music is hard, just unfamiliar.”
– Kenny Werner

When I first read this quote by Kenny Werner, it quite literally blew my world apart. We are encouraged from an early age, especially at school, to assume technically impressive things are difficult and therefore, out of our reach. Werner’s quote is part of a worldview that turns this on it’s head. It’s a more open, abundant view of our potential that reminds of another favourite quote, from Steve Jobs.

“When you grow up you tend to get told that the world is the way it is. And your life is just to live inside the world: Try not to bash into the walls too much, try to have a nice family life, have fun, save a little money.

That’s a very limited life; life can be much broader once you discover one simple fact. And that is, everything around you that you call life was made up by people that were no smarter than you.

And, you can change it, you can influence it, you can build your own things that other people can use.

Once you learn that, you’ll never be the same again.”
– Steve Jobs

Feeling like a beginner is a natural part of the creative process, not some mark of failure or weakness. Beginning again doesn’t mean we are failing at life, it means we are making the most of the life we have, continuing to grow and allowing ourselves to be open to the fresh, new ideas around us.