In Support of the Creative Unambitious
They say you’ve got to be relentless and ambitious in pursuit of what you want. But what if they’re wrong? What if all that striving keeps…
They say you’ve got to be relentless and ambitious in pursuit of what you want. But what if they’re wrong? What if all that striving keeps you from the very thing you strive for?
Don’t aim at success. The more you aim at it and make it a target, the more you are going to miss it. For success, like happiness, cannot be pursued; it must ensue, and it only does so as the unintended side effect of one’s personal dedication to a cause greater than oneself or as the by-product of one’s surrender to a person other than oneself. — Viktor E. Frankl
I have a particular tendency to buy into this idea that Frankl and others of similar mind promote. The concept suggests that success is arbitrary and ultimately illusory because as soon as we realise a measure of success, it disappears. It does not endure. I have had the first-hand experience of this so many times.
In sport, in business, with finances; the thrills never last. I remember the day about 15 years ago as I sat in my van with a cheque with a big number on it. It was the clear profit from a property sale with tax already paid, and I should have felt ecstatic, but I didn’t. I was glad I had it, and I thought about what I could do with the money, but it was very matter of fact. I subsequently lost it all but even in that, there was little or no emotion.
Whenever I would win a large piece of business the buzz would last about five seconds. Completing dozens of marathons and ultras brought with it only a mild sense of achievement. Winning tournaments in team sports, the feeling was the same — “ok, what’s next?”
I have since come to recognise that winning is transitory and unfulfilling. Material success can be like a sugar rush when what we really need is a square meal — something more substantial.
Problems arise for us when we become hooked on applause and material measures of success, like a junkie on crack. So these days I support the unambitious. I advocate for no planning, no goal-setting, no forebrain initiated ego-filled ideas of success.
Instead, I promote doing for its own sake.
When we work primarily for the enjoyment and fulfilment the work brings, then we’ll likely have the endurance required to ride out the tough times. Extrinsic motivation will never match up to the motivation that comes from the personal gratification obtained from the work.
That really must be the foundation stone of undertaking anything worthwhile.
I first came across the concept of Purposeful Accident reading an article by the author of The Language of Man, Larry Robertson in the Creativity Post. Robertson said; “Creativity isn’t the result of a formula”, and I knew straight away that I was reading someone who had similar ideas as I did about creativity and work.
So in good old Austin Kleon style, I stole it (borrowed it), and over the past couple of years, I have been developing the idea.
I define Purposeful Accident as follows;
Purposeful Accident is the materialisation of favourable conditions which come about subsequent to our purposeful engagement in creative work, undertaken primarily for its inherent enjoyment, without ulterior motive or conscious intent to manipulate or to gain advantage or profit.
Now, if you’re not already tired of reading this theme in my writing, then you will likely be. But I feel the conversation around success needs some balance because there is far too much promotion of the merit in material pursuits and arbitrary ideas of success.
I’m not against material things. I am absolutely a materialist — how could I not be. But I am not a materialist in the sense that most would consider materialism. I enjoy things, but they do not hypnotise me. They are, as Frankl said; “…a side effect of dedication”.
Besides, there is no such thing as material; there is no matter, there only seems to be from the limited perspective of our nervous system. So to be consumed by material pursuits is naive and eventually, we each need to figure that out.
I could suggest you give this idea a go, try it out, but that’s impossible. Purposeful Accident is not a system that you can apply. It is a consequence of moving from a particular state of mind and usually, this state of mind develops in us as a result of trying too hard.
It’s like we suddenly realise that we’ve been knocking on a door behind which there is no one to answer.
So what’s the solution?
It may seem like no advice at all, but the truth of the matter is that there is no advice. You’ll need to get into it and figure it out on your own. Keep showing up, persevere, and then one day the success you crave will show up.
Paradoxically, when it does show up you won't care for it and you’ll laugh your head off.
Thanks for taking the time to read my stuff. Every morning you’ll find me sharing a new thought on life, art, work, creativity, the self and the nature of reality on The Reflectionist. I also write on The Creative Mind. If you like what I’m writing, join my email list to receive the weekly Sunday Letters