Posts about Musings

New Year’s resolutions for creative people

I’m the sort of person who needs a list of goals in order to accomplish something. Early every year, I come up with a theme for the year and a few goals to help me keep my focus. 

This year, my theme is about hunkering down and fostering my creativity. With that in mind, I’ve got a few goals that I think will be useful for anybody who wants to do something creative in 2019

  1. Grab life by the balls. if you’re going to do something, do it wholeheartedly. Not halfway. Doing something halfway is worse than not doing it at all.
  2. Consume less. Create more. For me, this means spending less time on YouTube and my Nintendo Switch, and more time making things. This isn’t a challenge to work more. It’s a challenge to spend more time playing your favourite instrument — even if you play poorly. You don’t, and won’t, always make good things. That’s okay. 
  3. Be aware of your needs. Do you need a new camera? Find the right one for you and buy it. Don’t waste hundreds of hours on research or the comments on DPReview. Just figure out your needs, go get the thing, and start making stuff. One day, we’re all going to die. Don’t waste time.
  4. Read more books. This is a notable exception to Goal 2 because it encourages slow thinking in a fast-paced world. We need more of that. 
  5. Say no to that which limits your creativity. Like bad clients, Netflix binges, and hangovers. This one is hard. You will fail. Get up and try again. 
  6. Act in the face of fear. I’m borrowing this from the great Steven Pressfield (The War of Art is amazing and you should make it one of the books you read for Goal 2). Fear is what keeps us from being creative and becoming who we’re meant to be. Stare that fear in the face and make the thing you want to make. Then you can declare victory, but not mastery, over the fear. Remember, the fear can fight again at any time. It wants to crush you. It knows no limits. But, then again, neither do you…


Not long ago, after a long and trying day spent in meetings, I made the 90 minute drive back to my home in silence. No podcasts. No music. The stereo in my car was off.

On the highway, I heard barely any noise. Only the low rumbles of my winter tires, and the whooshing of surrounding traffic as we passed each other, driving into the sunset.

In today’s dizzying world, where we often fill the silence with social media and fast news, the silence and the isolation feel increasingly rare. They create an opportunity for slow thinking — for quiet contemplation.

More than ever, I think slow thinking is exactly what we need.


One of the client projects I’m working on right now is, among other things, focused on establishing transparency. The client is in a field known for disreputable people, and they want it to be clear from their branding and their website that they’re different. That you can trust them. That’s a great goal to have, and it’s the essence of proper branding. But it’s hard to measure.

I’ve been working through what that means for a while now. If it’s not a measurable goal, how do you track it?

I was chatting with a colleague about content strategy recently, and somebody said that it’s not about what we say — it’s what we do.

Transparency, like so many other things online, is hard to demonstrate without action. Our actions are the determiner of our values.

One of my goals this year is to be more transparent about what I’m working on and what I’m doing. To begin with, I’ll update my Now page more. I haven’t updated it in a year. That’s next on my todo list today.

But it also means sharing more of what I learn with my colleagues, and becoming a more active part of the community. For me, it means a return to more regular blogging.

If the past two years have taught us anything, it’s that social media isn’t working. It’s an empty vacuum. If we want to contribute — if we want to be visible — we need to own the space we’re publishing in. We need to learn together.

The most transparent, honest thing we could admit to is this: none of us know anything. But we’re always learning. As Samuel L. Jackson says, I’m trying, Ringo. I’m trying real hard.”And that’s all any of us can do.


I recently returned from two weeks away, in a different continent, with Airplane Mode on the majority of the time. When I opened my inbox yesterday, I felt slight horror — and fascination.

I couldn’t believe the number of emails I had from brands and organizations. Year-end retrospectives, dozens of editor’s pick” articles to read, LinkedIn emails I never asked for, and well over a dozen weekly article” emails that I never read to begin with.

I unsubscribed from almost all of it.

Newsletters are in vogue right now. I’ve told organizations to write them for over a year. I’m part of this problem. But before we send more of them, let’s ask if we deserve the attention we get from being in somebody’s most private and important digital space.

We should all unsubscribe.

Quality and quantity

I’ve been thinking a lot recently about quantity and quality. Quality is better than quantity,” they always say. But is that true in practice?

Are the perfectionists really doing better work than the people who launch things frequently?

Michael Jackson wrote hundreds of songs — some counts go over 500 — before selecting the handful that appeared on Thriller. Stephen King has written dozens of books, but we only ignore his lesser material in favour of his classics. It took Edison over 1,000 attempts to invent the lightbulb.

At some point, experience breeds perfectionism.

Yesterday, I didn’t get my newsletter out in time. I’m a day late writing than this. I was waiting for the perfect idea, and had been stumped for days. But if I had a habit of writing more frequently, the ideas would have flowed more freely, and I would have made my own self-imposed deadline.

Would it have been perfect? No.

But that’s okay.

Nothing is.

What I learned from practicing guitar for 6 hours a day

When I was a teenager, I was a voracious guitar player. After school, I came home and practiced guitar. I have no memories of doing my home work, but I do remember plugging in and practicing. At one point, I realized I was playing, on average, about six hours a day.

Every Wednesday, I went to a guitar lesson with a private instructor. (I was fortunate to have parents who could afford that luxury.) Once a week, I went to band practice. Twice a week, I was in the basement studio my bandmates and I made to record basic demos. And every six weeks or so, we would play a show to a live audience at some dirty bar somewhere. 

Each show was about forty minutes or so, which was (in hindsight) a generous allotment for a high school rock band. Assuming my estimate of six hours a day was accurate (and I think it was pretty close), I would practice 252 hours for every forty-five minute show.

Here’s what I learned from all that practicing: The act of creation is not a sprint. It’s a marathon. It’s the slow and steady toil of practice.

It’s much easier to write a song, or perform at a concert, if practicing your instrument is a daily habit.

I think we need to have the same attitude with our businesses. If we want them to be successful, we have to practice. I don’t mean that you need to publish something every day on your blog, or that you have to quit your day job and devote your days to your artisanal footwear company. (I didn’t drop out of high school, in case you were wondering.)

But you do need to practice your craft, whatever it is. If you’re a preacher, you need to witness. If you’re a writer, you need to write. If you’re a musician, you need to practice your scales.

It isn’t for the sake of perfection. I want to discourage you from expecting perfection of yourself. Nobody ever attends a perfect concert, and one of the football teams in a game has to lose.

But the team that practices is more likely to win in the long run, and more likely to learn from their mistakes.

Changing habits

For five years, I ran three to seven times a week. When I started running, I was fifty pounds overweight. I ran for an hour a day, every day, for four months. By the end of that four month period, I was at a weight I hadn’t been since the seventh grade.

Since then, I’ve put back on about ten pounds (and am now at a pretty healthy weight), but I kept running three or four times a week for five years. To add perspective, within that same time period, I’ve started a business, graduated university, met my wife, and become a married man.

Some habits die hard — but maybe they shouldn’t.

About a month ago, I finally quit my regular running habit. I read an excellent article about the biology of belly fat and muffin tops. It’s a bit over my head, but here’s what I got out of it: did you know that belly fat is the most stubborn fat on the body? The article suggests that weight training is better for burning stubborn fat than cardio, because of long-term gains in calorie burning attributed to strength-based workouts.

In order for it to work, you have to:

  • Stop running (almost), to prevent your body storing fat.1
  • Eat less and do only short workouts at the gym.
  • Or alternatively, you can eat more and do longer workouts at the gym.

Your body will slowly use up its fat reserves naturally, meaning it will displace and shrink the fat cells in those stubborn areas. So long as you’re consistent.

In the past month, I’ve noticed a slight reduction of fat in that area. So has my wife. Like most positive changes in our bodies, the results are slow to come, but they’re meaningful. I say all this to say one thing: sometimes, in life and work, we have long-lasting habits. Maybe our lives and our work would be better off if we spent some time revising and changing them.

  1. This is the part that’s most over my head, so correct me if I’m wrong. The article makes it sound like if your body notices that you’re eating well and you’re getting lots of cardio, it shifts excess fat to the belly for leaner times. It will burn the fat later, when we start eating less and getting less exercise while food is scarce. This served us well when we were hunter-gatherers. It does not serve us well as urbanites. ↩︎

A question about side projects

My father is always working on side projects. When I was growing up, he spent weekends building a new shed or deck, fixing the garage door for the thousandth time, or designing a new workshop for himself.

In hindsight, these projects were very specific: they were all large and time-consuming, they began on paper, they often involved learning new skills, and they always required building something with his hands.

It’s that last detail I’ve been having trouble rectifying over the past couple years. Like my father, I’ve spent a lot of time working on side projects. They’re long, time-consuming projects that I do during breaks or quiet periods between client work. They always involve learning new skills. But they rarely, if ever, involve building something with my hands.

Like my client work, all of my side projects are digital. My father doesn’t build things for a living, so his side projects are an escape. I don’t know if mine are the same thing. As an industry, we (particularly digital designers) tend to struggle with the echo chamber. Our ideas and creativity feed off each other, and become very self-perpetuating. Our work becomes homogenous.

And most people in our industry recommend side projects as a way to attract potential employers and clients, even though — in that regard — these side projects are actually unpaid spec work.

I’m guilty of digital side projects — I’m working on a huge one right now — but I can’t help but wonder if we’ve collectively missed something.

Would our industry be more rewarding, fulfilling, and creative if we all stepped away from the screen and made tactile side projects that required us to make something with our hands?

A little bit of resolve

I never used to be interested in making New Year’s resolutions, and I still don’t like calling them resolutions”. Resolutions imply that you need, in the immortal words of Dave Grohl, a little bit of resolve” to see them through. And it makes me feel like they need to take a whole year to complete, when in reality some goals may only take two weeks to implement.1

A lot of people I respect and admire have written out in detail what their resolutions are. I have a list, but I think most of them are boring. They mostly revolve around changes in my personal life, which I don’t mind sharing:

  • In June, I’m marrying the love of my life (insert mandatory cuteness here). I’m thinking a lot about how to win the 2015 Award World’s Best Husband after the wedding day, and about the goals my fiancée and I have set for ourselves in our life together.
  • After the wedding, we’ll be living in Toronto — the hub of the universe”, in case you’re not from Canada and aren’t familiar. I live about an hour from there now, but irregardless, it still implies a large shift in clientele and my current business relationships. I want to keep my business above water during this change. Apart from gaining deeper knowledge of my finances (which I have hired a bookkeeper for), I have no further business goals than that.2
  • My friends and I are launching the Wildfire Community this year, probably in the next month or so (I hope). I want to have a positive impact on my hometown of Guelph, even if that means I have to be involved in making it a better place from my future home in Toronto.

Most of my goals revolve around these circumstances, and as a result, all my goals involve being mindful as a spouse and as a leader. They involve looking after myself, so I can take better care of the people who are important to me. And they involve equipping the few people I lead to become better leaders than me, so they can make the world a better place than I alone could.

I know I don’t necessarily believe in New Year’s resolutions”, but I do believe in mindfulness and in self-improvement. Setting manageable goals and coming up with an action plan to achieve them is important. And sharing what you’re attempting to do is important too, because it keeps you accountable.

So I’m sharing my goals here for prosperity. I hope that a year from now, when I look back on them, I’m able to recognize where I grew and where I re-aligned my priorities as the year progressed.

  1. Most New Year’s Resolutions seem to be about better habits, which really shouldn’t take longer than a couple weeks to implement if you strategize. It’s creating a strategy that’s so difficult. ↩︎

  2. Most people who have business goals” that I’ve talked with are, in my estimation, faking it. For example: without a concrete marketing plan to develop stronger customer acquisition, increasing sales or customers by 10% is not a goal. It’s a pipe dream. Most business goals can be boiled down to a desire to remain sustainable as a business, and I don’t think there’s any shame in a business owner saying their goal is to be sustainable”. ↩︎

On Robin Williams

This week, Robin Williams sadly passed away. I think every member of my generation — really, everybody under 25 — can relate to the loss we feel. Robin Williams was with us throughout much of our childhood. For some of my friends, his role in Mrs. Doubtfire alone was enough to make them want Mr. Williams as a surrogate father in their own lives, when they were living in similarly fractured homes. He was a brilliant actor, a wonderful comedian, and an inspiration for so many of us. For me, his performance in Good Will Hunting taught me more about what real love looked like than any traditional romance film.

What shocked me the most about his death wasn’t just the manner of it. What shocked me was how alone he was. In the days since his death, we’ve learned his wife slept in another bedroom the night before he died. I don’t know if she did this every night, or if it’s even true, but its implication astounds me: we all crave intimacy.

I struggled with depression a lot in my youth. In university, I had a serious drinking problem. In hindsight, I can admit these things, but when I was going through them, it was easier to pretend the issues didn’t exist. I had neither intimacy nor a real sense of community in my life. Both are necessary to fluorish.

When I found community and started building real and loving friendships, my entire life began to change. My outlook is wildly more positive, my faith is a real priority, and I have a healthy romantic relationship for the first time in my life. Community changes everything.

There’s this sad myth that creative people do their best work when they’re alone. People believe that depression and isolation breed creativity. The myth exists because we believe Hemingway wrote alone. It exists because we think Steve Jobs was a rebel who did his best work when he rejected every societal standards and treated other people poorly. This myth exists because we think Tolkien was a hermit, or that Picasso’s art existed because of his fractured relationships with his mistresses. It’s simply not true.

Hemingway and Picasso hung out in the same cafés and went to the same parties. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis were close friends, confidantes, and creative allies. Steve Jobs did his best work when he was surrounded by a team who made him better. The best art anybody has ever made was made in community.

And the best life anybody ever lived was in community.

You need to know three things if you want to do good creative work. First of all, you can do it. Seond of all, you are worth it. Thirdly, you have value. When I was depressed, I didn’t know these things. I drank because I didn’t know these things. The only way to learn them is by surrounding yourself with a community of people who want to tell you.

If you’re struggling, know that you’re not alone. Get help. Trust me, it’s not a sign of weakness. Talk to me if you think it will help. I don’t even have to reply if you don’t want me to, but I’ll keep you in my thoughts and prayers. The only way to get somebody to pull you up is to reach out.

We need more people like Robin Williams. We need them to make us laugh. To show us things about ourselves that we’re too blind to see. To inspire us when things are bad, and to remind us that a child-like sense of creativity is always a beautiful thing. But most of all, we need these people to know their worth. Because the stigma surrounding creativity and mental illness is worthless.

You have value. You are worth it. You can do anything. Now go make the world better.