All creativity begins with the moment of conception.
That little piece of kindling that gets the fire going. That initial source of inspiration that takes on a life of its own. That single note from which the entire symphony grows. That single spark of life that signals an idea’s movement value, almost screaming to us, something wants to be built here.
And so, in this blog series, I’m going to be deconstructing my favorite moments of conception from popular movies. Each post will contain a video clip from a different film, along with a series of lessons we can learn from the characters.
Today’s clip comes from the planning scene in Up in the Air:
Stare into the mouth of panic and see possibility. The hard part about dreaming is, once your dream comes true, you have to learn to live with it. You have to exist in the world that you created. You actually have to do something with the idea that you killed yourself for. And it’s kind of a bittersweet symphony. Because the pride and joy and satisfaction of achievement is quickly replaced by the fear and vulnerability and pressure of reality. Just ask anyone who creates for a living. The moment you wrap on a new project, kick out the press release and announce to the world that your new brainchild has finally arrived, you’re immediately gripped with quiet panic. And you starting asking yourself these strange new questions. Are you sure you’re ready for the world to see you as you really are? What if you can’t afford to follow this dream anymore? What if you’re not the same person as you when the dream started? And if so, does that mean you have to readjust your dream so it reflects something that satisfies you when you step away from it? Campbell explained that the final stage of the hero’s journey was bringing the elixir back to the ordinary world. Turning back to help humanity along the difficult path that you yourself have just walked and conquered. But what if that’s not enough for you? What if you sense the beginning of a different and more courageous dream? It’s highly neurotic, but it’s also human nature. And nobody seems to want to talk about it. So we have to confront this reality. Because not facing the fire doesn’t put it out. Can you answer all the questions about your dream?
Create positive tension for yourself. When my wife and I decided to relocate across the country, I wrote a press release. Mainly because it was funny, but also because I didn’t want to lose momentum. I didn’t want another reason to back peddle on our dream. What’s interesting is, the moment we shared that press release with the world, plans started to align. Not because we earned a ton of headline impressions, but because we had created positive tension for ourselves. The press release painted us into an accountable corner. Not through distress, but eustress. Constructive conflict. Intensity through total involvement. That was our strategy to increase motivation, adaptation and reaction to the environment. And it worked. Within four short months, we had downsized, combined, relocating and restarted our lives. Best hundred bucks I ever spent. Proving, that when you lose momentum, self propulsion is the only thing that will move you forward. It’s like printing business cards for a company you haven’t started yet. That commitment device creates social pressure and positive tension. By virtue of physically handing them out to people, you’re forced to reckon with the infallible judgment of reality. A place with enough social pressure to make sure failure isn’t interpreted away. How could you increase your commitment by creating unacceptable consequences of failing?
Shake off the shackles of expectations. Natalie is overflowing with plans and ambitions and deadlines for her perfect life, complete with a perfect career, perfect community, perfect husband, perfect car and even a perfect dog. But she’s discovering that life can be wildly underwhelming. And that people will thwart your expectations every way you can imagine, and in many ways you can’t. This movie reminds me of my twenties, when I had enough goals to keep god busy. And I accomplished every one of them. But the strange part is, I wasn’t any happier. I just had a thicker resume. And so, I started to realize that I didn’t need a goal, I needed a process. A system. A set of practices I executed on a regular basis to increase my odds of happiness in the long run. As my favorite book states, only reasonable goal in life is maximizing your total lifetime experience of something called happiness. So I focused on that. And life got a lot happier. Because when you prioritize achievement over contentment, burdened by the belief that you haven’t done enough to be okay with yourself, happiness has a hard time bubbling to the surface. You have to roll an awful lot of rocks up an awful lot of hills, just to get a taste of that sweet air. But when the anxious part of you is finally resting, no longer suffocating under an avalanche of expectation, it’s amazing how freely the vomit of happiness spews out. Lesson learned, goals are overrated, deadlines are jokes and plans are procrastination in disguise. What if you allowed themes to emerge in your life, rather than force your own expectations upon it?
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