"The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes but in having new eyes." ~ Marcel Proust
I love that quote. It’s about life's inner journey, learning to see things differently, and how that changes EVERYTHING. Your thoughts, your actions, your results, your life.
It's one of those quotes that took time to sink in. I wasn't sure what to think of it the first time I read it. But then found the idea of "new eyes" popping back into my thoughts whenever I came across perspective-changing insight.
The thing is, so many of us seem to drift along with tired eyes. Half-asleep at the wheel. Curiosity on life-support.
New eyes can be hard to come by.
This article is about awakening your artistic potential. How to recognize the opportunities you have all around you. How to become remarkable at anything you do. And how to become indispensable at work.
You don’t have to be a Picasso or Rembrandt to make a difference. Just engaging in your art can enrich anything you touch. And bring that sparkle and newness back to your eyes.
I wrote this article to help people on my team see their work differently. To regognize new possibilities. To understand the joy of engaging the best of yourself at work.
I would like to say they all expeienced a dramatic epiphany, but let's just say a lightbulb turned on for a few of them. And that was enough to prompt me into refining the article and sharing it here.
Framework, canvas, construct, call it what you like.
Take a blank piece of paper. It has a defined size. Defined borders. Nothing special.
You can pick up a pencil and draw upon that paper. You’ve just transformed that paper into a canvas for artistic expression. You can create something remarkable within the boundaries of that particular framework.
Most of us made our share of refrigerator art as children. We understand the paper-as-canvas concept.
Another familiar example is an athletic framework. Once you step onto the playing field, you enter a defined arena of performance. Hockey rink, basketball court, football field, baseball diamond – they’re all frameworks.
Our lives are full of such frameworks. Except most aren’t so obvious as that piece of paper or athletic arena. The borders are invisible, the boundaries aren’t clear. It's easy to overlook them.
Here's the thing. Many of us have forgotten how to be artists and performers. We don’t even see the invisible frameworks and creative opportunities all around us.
Somewhere along the way we stopped looking at the world through curious eyes. That spark of creative curiosity we held as a child gave way to the cold certainty of an adult's viewpoint.
As curiosity vanished, fear gradually crept in to replace it. Fear of making a mistake.
Did you love coloring books as a child?
Coloring books are more an exercise of conformity than art. You’re already given a completed framework. The lines are all there to color within. Not much room for artistic expression. The sparks of curiosity and creativity are missing.
There's not much challenge or risk to coloring books. Bad things don't happen if you color outside the lines or choose an inappropriate color.
Art is courageous. You put yourself and your art out there for the world to see, and people can respond positively or negatively. There's a sense of naked vulnerability.
You take risks and expect reactions - some level of acceptance or rejection from others. Actually, you'll mostly get indifference, because few will give any indication they care.
Somewhere along the path to adulthood, many of us lose our artistic touch. We seek the safety of having things predefined for us, especially at work. We follow the Industrial Age Model of trading our compliance for dollars.
The structure is all drawn out and our job is simply to comply. We become conformists who show up everyday, keep within the lines, and stay out of trouble.
Play nice and avoid mistakes - we were taught that way in school and we've carried that approach with us into adult life. We've all been indocrinated into a compliance-based model. Good little students evolving into good little workers.
With employee-mindsets, we turn our work into coloring book exercises. Once we can achieve competance, we set ourselves on autopilot.
With our job mentality, boredom sets in from a lack of creative spark. Work becomes a grind.
Can you imagine spending your whole day coloring within predefined lines? Your hands complete the task, but your heart and mind aren't engaged. Is that how you want your life to be?
According to Seth Godin in Tribes, the Industrial Age model we've relied on for the last century has now crumbled. Traditional jobs are scarce and compliance isn't safe anymore. And that's why adding ART to your work is so vital to sustaining your passion and your value in the marketplace.
To be an artist, you must choose and commit to being one. That means breaking out of that safe coloring-book approach.
On one end of the spectrum you have that coloring book and the expectation of conformity. On the other end you have a totally blank canvas without any guidelines.
Having no lines to guide you can seem paralyzing. With endless possibilities it’s difficult to even begin. That's the challenge of art.
Here's an idea. Why not have the lines half drawn out? Some structure, with enough room for creativity and fun.
Think of your work that way.
Each day you get to improvise within a structured framework. You have room to express yourself within flexible boundaries.
You can think of your work as a stage production. A portion of the production can be as carefully orchestrated as a Shakespearean play. Where every line is rehearsed and delivered with precision.
The other component is improvisation. That’s where you can add your personal touch upon the canvas as Picasso did... with PASSION and spontaneity.
Move past those rehearsed lines and focus upon injecting fun. Breath life into your performance and engage your audience in full participation.
Note: As a child protegy, Picasso demonstrated he was fully capable of drawing with great precision. In his evolution as an artist he moved beyond the tyranny of precision and would intentionally push the limits of artistic expression.
He was incredibly prolific, producing a massive body of work. Not all of it good mind you, because he was constantly taking risks. Constantly experimenting and evolving.
Combine the two and you get the reliability of the structured framework with the spontaneous, engaging aspect of unstructured improvisation.
That’s where your work becomes art. Structure alone will get you factory parts. Improvisation alone can lead to random junk.
Some people excel at the improvisation and struggle with the structure. But mostly it’s the other way around. Most want to play it safe and have everything drawn out in advance. And nobody wants to cross a line and be told they made a mistake.
Are you the sort to play it safe at work? To rarely engage your imagination or venture beyond the safety of pre-defined lines?
Why live trapped inside coloring-book rules?
Security is mostly an illusion, especially these days. Your only REAL security is your ability to produce remarkable results. Or as Seth Godin describes in his book Linchpin, being INDISPENSABLE.
About opportunity: Distinguish between a one time thing and something that will be continuously repeated.
Structure is extremely useful for the repeated stuff. Invest time in improving the orchestrated framework for the repeatable parts of your work. Nail that part down. Then work on developing an encore-worthy performance to accompany it.
Customer interaction offers an opportunity to apply the improvisational component of your performance. Imagine it as an expressive dance instead of a precise march. A remarkable experience instead of a simple transaction.
I can't tell you how to do it. How to be an artist. How to be remarkable.
If there was an easy formula, there wouldn't be any creativity or magic to it.
You have to tell your compelling story. Add your dintinctive contribution to the mix. Dance your crazy dance upon the dance floor.
Either that or join the hoards hovering on the sideline. The ones afraid to reveal themselves. The TGIF crowd.
Here are some secrets to artistry...
Once you engage as an artist, you become energized by creative tension. This is a combination of two driving forces - a dissatisfaction with the ways things are, and an excitement of how things could be.
The creative gap is that difference between what is and what could be. With artistic vision, you're able to to close that gap - first in your mind's eye, then in the real world.
The key to creative tension is to be constructive about things. Wishing things could be better won't make it so. And complaining certainly doesn't help. You want to feel dissatisfaction and excitement as driving forces, and take action upon that.
Leadership author John Maxwell calls the dissatisfaction side of creative tension "constructive discontent." He considers it an essential leadership quality for problem solving and raising standards. You can call the other side of creative tension constructive optimism. It's equally valuable for an artist or leader. Especially for exploring new opportunities.
Once struck by artistic vision, you have those driving forces to energize you. Recognizing that creative opportunity, you can pour yourself into the creative gap to change, improve or begin something.
That's the power of manifestation. Taking an idea and bringing it into reality.
Steve Jobs at Stanford 2005
The late Steve Jobs, Founder and CEO of Apple, was an extraordinary artist driven by these two forces of creative tension.
He was an artistic visionary within the tech-heavy world of Silicon Valley. While others could write elegant code, he extended his artistry to everything he touched. Watch his Commencement Address to the graduating class of Stanford in 2005.
His discontent showed in how notoriously demanding he was in constantly striving for "insanely great" products.
His optimism showed in his ability to create what coworkers called a "reality distortion field" that temporarily suspended disbelief and in many cases allowed the impossible to be made possible.
Apple not only created remarkable products, Steve Jobs applied his artistic vision to every aspect of a business, including their wildly popular retail stores. He helped built Apple into the world's most successful company. He also managed to help Pixar become a phenomenal success.
He didn't accomplish this all himself. His unique gift was in recognizing the potential of things, and bridging the gap between those with technical genius, those with creative genius and those with business savvy.
And in the true mark of an artist, he didn't do all this for the money - being paid only $1 per year as CEO of Apple. Yes, his stock options made him a multi-billionaire. But that's only because he grew the company back to prominence from death's door.
Love him or not as a person, one can't help but appreciate him as an artist. He was a Digital-Age Picasso. The Bob Dylan of technology.
He certainly put a dent in our universe.
People think of artistry within the confines of traditional frameworks - oil on canvas, an ornamental vase, acting on a stage, ice dancing and such.
Beautiful things, but impractical for everyday life… That’s how most of us view art.
Once your eyes are open to possibilities, you can spot those invisible artistic framework opportunities all around you.
Words on paper, food on a plate, the way you dress, a conversation with a friend. There are infinite ways to create something remarkable within a new framework.
This article is just another framework. A collection of words made to inspire change. Practical AND artistic.
It’s easy to carry on unaware of frameworks and artistic opportunities. To end up stuck inside a job of limited possibilities and blame it on the job... It’s easy to pretend that apathy is somehow cool. That results don't count if you can show you don't care... It’s easy to keep searching for that framework perfectly matched for your dormant passions to magically fall into your lap...
Wouldn’t you rather be playing life at the kick-ass level? Delivering remarkable on a daily basis instead of drifting along barely in the game?
Do you want to be in the arena, or one of those 'timid souls' passivley sitting on the sidelines?
Only you can turn things around. No one will do it for you. All you have to do is recognize hidden framework opportunities and commit to improving your art.
Once you recognize the frame, engage your passion. Step up with your on-stage persona and cast your artistic touch upon the opportunity at hand.
See what comes of it. How it makes you feel. How it makes others feel. Making the effort to deliver something special always has its rewards.
Martin Luther King Jr. on personal excellence: “If a man is called to be a street sweeper, he should sweep streets even as Michelangelo painted, or Beethoven composed music, or Shakespeare wrote poetry. He should sweep streets so well that all the hosts of heaven and earth will pause to say, here lived a great street sweeper who did his job well.”
You’re on your way to becoming a true artist.
People go searching for their bliss. They’re trying to find that perfect framework. That wonderous place where passion abounds and joy flows towards them.
That’s backwards. It’s not about the framework.
Realize that any framework is only a vehicle, a conduit for your artistry. The bliss you feel is a byproduct of engaging your passion and contributing something of value to others. The bliss is in BEING an artist.
Don’t operate in zombie mode and make the excuse, “This isn’t really my thing.” As if the framework was the reason for a total lack of curiosity, enthusiasm and artistry.
No imagination. No inspiration. No initiative. It’s easy to passively plug yourself into things and tune out. That’s the Slacker’s Way. The path of least resistance.
You don't have to be fully engaged 24/7. That wouldn't be sustainable. But so many of us spend much of our days drifting along in zombie-mode. Half asleep. Waiting for something or somebody to inspire us.
The world values artists, not zombies.
Don’t be waiting for that perfect framework to rescue you. That golden success formula where you can fall out of bed every morning and land in a soft pile of money.
At some point you have to TURN PRO, as author Steven Pressfield calls it. Where you gear up and take your game to a higher level. Where you dedicate yourself to pursuing your craft.
Steven Pressfield descibes turning pro this way, "Where you stop dicking around in the shallow end of the pool and start taking yourself and your craft seriously."
There’s magic in the term ‘bloom where you’re planted.’ School, work, life – all opportunities to practice your art.
Engage more. Contribute more. Turn your work into an expression of your art.
Your life will never be the same.
Natural talent is mostly a myth. Instead of heaven-sent or inherited gifts bestowed upon the lucky few, the reality is that most of what we consider talent is honed by years of devoted effort. Those who relentlessly practice their skills get better.
Yes, people have aptitudes. But the secret ingredient of excellence isn’t aptitude. It’s passion. It’s caring. As soon as you start caring about what you do and the contribution you make, you align yourself towards excellence and are open to creating art.
It’s the ones who CARE who keep going, keep practicing, keep experimenting and keep giving. They can’t help but develop their skills, their talent, and their art.
Talent isn’t a gift. It’s a REWARD for your devoted efforts.
Those who believe natural talent is essential for success remain stuck as amateurs. They assume they don’t have enough talent to make the grade and give up too easily. They never make it past the kick-ass threshold.
Lack of so-called natural talent becomes a ready-made excuse for uninspired effort. In falling for the talent myth, you’ll fail to develop the skills, habits and disciplines you need to excel. And your potential will continue to wither on the vine.
So what framework should you choose? As many as you can.
Make the choice to practice artistry each day, wherever you can find opportunities. All that dormant inspiration and imagination will begin to flow again as curiosity awakens.
Don’t make the common mistake of waiting to feel inspired. That’s waiting for a framework to grab you or some great teacher to appear and light the way. You’ll drift towards zombie-mode while waiting for that perfect framework to appear.
Don't wait for the 'right time' because that doesn't exist. This isn't a clean, tidy process. So get dirty with it today.
Author Steven Pressfield writes about Playing Hurt... "Athletes play hurt. Warriors fight scared. Mothers give birth cursing, and babies emerge to daylight bawling and thrashing and wishing only to turn around and crawl right back where they came from. The act of creation, particularly self-creation, is messy. It hurts. It’s terrifying."
Be like Picasso. Take initiative and use frameworks at hand in new ways. Picasso would create art on a table napkin. He also helped pioneer various new styles af art.
Keep experimenting and find frameworks that work for you. Frameworks that spark your curiosity. Frameworks where creativity can flow from you as an expression of your passion and generosity.
Find frameworks where you can make a difference in people’s lives.
Find frameworks that help you connect with others. The joy of artistry is in exploring your art and sharing your gifts. That’s why you won’t find as much bliss in solitude.
Art by nature involves a sharing of your gifts. Something of value given freely, as opposed to a purchase or exchange. A contribution of your best stuff. And the recipient walks away feeling better for it.
When you give, the universe tends to give back. Not immediately mind you, and sometimes not in ways you would expect.
When you can help make others happy, healthy and successful, wealth is attracted to you.
Example: Your kitchen can be a place of artistic creation and generosity. A place where you can share your culinary creations with family and friends. Your friendship is enriched.
If you love cooking, watch the movie Julie & Julia to see a great example of discovering frameworks. They both were compelled by passion and curiosity. They both found unexpected success in writing about cooking.
Find frameworks in your work. Here’s why:
Those claiming burnout aren’t always over-stressed. Many are just under-passionate. They stopped caring along the way and their work became a tedious chore.
No curiosity in their eyes, no artistry in their work and no energy in their attitudes.
Artistry is a choice. No one can force you to be fully engaged or deliver that exceptional level of contribution.
Once you say YES to artistry you must choose where to apply your creative spark. Which projects to focus upon. Which skills to master. Which tunes you’ll dance to.
If you’re in the service industry, a simple service interaction can be performed with enthusiasm and joy. Such interactions become your canvas, your opportunity to create a unique experience that transforms someone’s day.
How you see work is how you perform it. So why not ‘change eyes’ by choosing an empowering metaphor?
Work doesn’t have to be a battleground or a grind.
Why not make your work a masterpiece? Stay curious and engaged. With each day’s experiences add new layers of color to the canvas, new complexities.
Sign your name with pride. Start delivering today.
Now, go back and read that opening quote again... Do the words “new eyes” mean anything different to you? Do you feel a spark of curiosity as to what adventures tomorrow will bring?
The fun begins…
About the Author: Dr. Joe Bulger is a cosmetic dentist from Toronto, Canada and the owner-founder of Royal York Dental. A prestigious office serving West Toronto since 1950.