Don’t Play Candyland, Shake Your Rubik’s Cube

 

I remember a time when I wouldn’t try anything new or out of the ordinary because it seemed like every time I put in the effort I would end up being disappointed.

I would fail.

It’s funny because now I have the complete opposite mentality – I jump into things headfirst, feeling like whatever happens, I’ll be able to make the best of it – but at the time my fear was debilitating.

I listened to the same music I had always listened to, seldom willing to change it up for fear of not being able to sing along or recognize the beat as it started.

I played the same games (Risk, chess, Monopoly) and hung out with the same people, certain that if I tried to expand my circle of friends or hobbies that I would be incapable of performing up to my own standards or meeting the standards of the new acquaintances.

I knew I was smart and I knew that I was creative, but I was terrified of flexing those mental muscles for fear that I would find my limit. So long as I didn’t fly too high, I would never find out just how far was too far and the risk of being pulled back down to earth was minimal.

Unfortunately, this also meant that I stagnated.

While home for the holidays, I’ve been perusing some of my childhood possessions that my parents recently uncovered, buried under closet-rubble. Board games, action figures, sketchbooks.

Paging through piles of old drawings, I found that there were a few years where my style didn’t change AT ALL.

The work was good – a whole lot better than most people my age, which is why I was on the fast track to becoming a fine artist, taking all kinds of creative AP courses and figuring drawing and such – but from 2001 until 2003, it was the same old stuff. Same themes, same techniques, same sense of space and emotions evoked.

I’m glad I put dates on them, otherwise I wouldn’t have been able to tell them apart.

Then something strange happened in 2003: I became an Editor for my school paper and had to meet some serious deadlines.

Up until this point I had been writing and doing artwork for the paper, and I had been taking all of the same art classes expected of a young art prodigy, but those didn’t do it.

What did it was the responsibility that came with the ‘Editor’ position. All of a sudden it wasn’t just my grade and reputation on my shoulders, but that of everyone on the staff.

To bear the load, I had to innovate.

The way I was working previously worked great for me, and very likely I could have kept the same routines and rhythms going for decades into the future, but because of this environmental change I was forced to evolve and figure out new ways to do what I was doing before, plus more.

And it all changed at once. I can pinpoint the exact day that it all happened in my sketchbook, and looking back I can’t even remember drawing it, but the evidence is stark.

The style – previously good but stagnant – shifted into something familiar but much more experimental. Jazzy, even.

Everything in the book from that point on isn’t perfect, but it’s interesting. Whereas before I could fill a notebook with really solid drawings, now I would have a 70/30 split. A full 70 percent of the work had now become AMAZING; much better than anything I had done before.

The other 30 percent were failures.

Or were they?

Honestly, even the failures were interesting, and some of them clearly led to better solutions down the line.

So my unflawed reputation was tarnished, but overall I grew. And grew. And grew.

It’s amazing how changes in one aspect of your life can lead to dramatic shifts in completely unrelated areas.

Something to think about if you’re feeling trapped or stagnant.

If the problem is too big to tackle head-on, why not aim for a sneak attack, via some other facet of your personality or day?

If you shake any piece of your life hard enough, the untouchable problem area is likely to be rattled and come loose, allowing you to jump in and reshape it.

As a former gamer, I like to think of it this way: life is not Candy Land, it’s a Rubik’s Cube.

There isn’t one path to happiness, and every move you make can change the big picture.

24 comments

  1. Change is hard for a lot of people. I work in computer support, and I see it time and time again. People long to have new computers, yet they are afraid to make the change. They don’t want to upset the balance and sense of comfort they had with their old computers. It seems really strange because you would think people would be excited to upgrade, but that’s not always the case.

    A few years back I went through a phase where I tried to do something new every day. Sometimes it would be something as simple as trying a new dish at my favorite lunch spot. Other times it would be meeting new people or kayaking a new river. During that time I found several new favorite meals, met some great people, and went on some fun adventures.

    • I actually did something similar, trying out something new every day. In fact, I guess I’ve undertaken several experiments like that, in different areas of my life.

      I always emerge from them like you did: feeling great about myself and full of vigor for life, knowing that I’ve got a stockpile of new favorites to enjoy and memories to recollect.

  2. So true. Furthermore, when you stay stagnant for enough time your muscularity in that area (i.e., relationships, writing, contribution, etc.) begins to atrophy. I believe there’s an old aphorism about either climbing the mountain or sliding down it that applies here.

    • It’s a lot like a guy who works out a lot, but only his biceps.

      Sure, his biceps will be big, but he won’t be able to do anything with them, because all of the supporting muscle groups won’t be up to snuff. Further, his biceps COULD be stronger if his overall physique was healthier, but instead he’s stuck where’s he’s at, no more gains possible.

  3. Great entry.

    I do the same thing in my drawings. I only draw things I’m comfortable with, (I have dozens of pictures of dancers and people standing there looking pretty). Then, yesterday I was in a weird mood and decided to draw something I wasn’t entirely comfortable with (people with their clothes sewn on to them…yuck) and even though they’re not my favourite drawings, it was kind of neat to draw something I wasn’t bored of.

    • Keep on experimenting! I can always tell when I’m in an innovative mood because I get that desire to start trying out different kinds of clothing, different media for communication, etc.

      Grab on to that feeling and ride it as far as it takes you. Figure out what got you there if you can, too, so that you can make it happen more often in the future!

  4. Yeah, this really is true. I’m in college right now, and I couldn’t figure out what I wanted to do with my life. So, I experimented with all but one major, that I figured was untouchable. Turns out I was wrong.

    I got rid of the constant major in my life (the one that was keeping me down) and I replaced it with a major that incites my creativity and curiosity. I have already found things I like about my new paths, and I am glad that I finally decided to stop the stagnation.

  5. It’s frustrating to look back on times when things change for you, and realize that it took [blank] for you to realize it. My [blank] was a friend of mine having a stroke at age 18 and dying about a week and a half later. Toughest funeral I’ve ever been to. But then, what happened was I dropped the fixation on a girl I was chasing for two years (waste of my time) and started pursuing LIFE. I hate that my buddy had to die for me to realize that, but I’m forever grateful that I realized it before I wind up in the casket.

    Great post, really makes you think!

    • It is amazing to look at the catalysts for change…they can be just as interesting as the changes themselves.

      More than once it’s been a simple walk through the park or conversation with a friend that has shook something lose and resulted in a dramatic lifestyle shift. Crazy.

  6. The Rubik’s Cube metaphor is perfect.

    I’m a fan of the butterfly effect – the idea that an infinitesimally small change can make a ‘ripple effect’ of larger changes down the road – and that’s exactly what this post describes.

    Shaking up your life in one way can bring other completely unforeseen changes down the road.

    My biggest problem: I’m great at doing things that effect me internally and only change my world, but I’ve started to realize I have to pour my energy outward, into the “real world” where others are free to critique my stuff and collaborate with me. Maybe it’s time to guest post more? Skype more? Or just do everything I’m doing – just kick it up to a higher level.

    Nice, thought-provoking post, Colin.

    • I’d say just applying that philosophy more broadly across your lifestyle would have a larger impact on others. Everyone you come into contact with will then be brought into contact with what you believe, but in a non-pushy, non-invasive way.

  7. It is amazing to look back at old belongings like that, to see the growth. I typically get to see some of those things when I visit my grandparents, who cherish everything I created when I was younger.

    It really gives you a perspective into who you are today, and defining moments of when you realized the person you actually are.

    Great points Colin.

    • It’s definitely a good time when you stumble across a legitimate time capsule.

      I snapped shots of some of the more meaningful or interesting drawings to peruse through later, though they’ll be in the back corner of my hard drive, now, not my family’s house :)

  8. Why not burn all the old drawing and junk and keep the ashes or take it all to the local thrift store?

    • I’m actually recycling the drawings (the ones my parents don’t want to keep and hang up), though I’m not sure what the benefit of burning them would be, much less keeping the ashes..?

      The games are actually my family’s, and I don’t think they’d be too thrilled if I went through their stuff and started giving it away.

  9. Keeping the ashes after burning would remind one that everything eventually end up as tiny particles.We all turn to dust.Good that your recycling the drawings.Have you influenced your parents or relatives to be minimalists themselves?I think if I had a kid who changed his approach I’d learn from him and do the same.No criticism of your parents-just wondering if it’s changed their outlook in anyway?

  10. Risk or chess, your previous games, might be more applicable. A Rubik’s cube involves only your participation. The other games ask that you balance your own moves against those of other parties. Perhaps more similar to life.
    Your move.

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