Fame as a by-product: Steve Martin

Here’s one more paean to finding your own glorious unique path:

I was seeking comic originality, and fame fell on me as a by-product. The course was more plodding than heroic: I did not strive valiantly against doubters but took incremental steps studded with a few intuitive leaps.

~ Steve Martin, Born Standing Up: A Comic’s Life

Our culture rewards flaming originality. All the things we fear most when we’re young are the very aspects that make us sought after when we’re older:

  • Nonconformity
  • Self-expression
  • Standing out from the crowd
  • Being different
  • Being weird
  • Thinking for ourselves
  • Taking untrod paths

These are your strengths now. This is what people will pay you for. After you’ve become comfortable enough to let it shine day in and day out.

It’s as true of celebrities as it is of creatives as it is of your favorite Starbucks barista.

It took Steve Martin years to hone his unique view as a stand-up comic. It took that wild and cosmic novelist Tom Robbins till his mid-thirties to figure out his writing voice. (Part yodel, part Yoda.)

That’s really good news. Because only you can be you. Start now. Let you through! In everything you do. Let you through!

For you 

Evan Griffith
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Click here for (occasional) notes at the intersection of creativity and spirit. Once a month, maybe.

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Death by a thousand opportunities

Two of the latest audiobooks I’ve listened to emphasized this: 

Fewer priorities means greater effectiveness.

It’s not a surprise I’m drawn to books that ask you to lean down rather than lean in. Business thinker Jim Collins uttered one of my favorite all-time quotes:

If you have more than three major goals, you don’t have any.

Collins was referring to the propensity for organizations to take on too many initiatives, to the point of ineffectiveness. People do this also. I do this! I’m a people too.

So I seek out those who remind me to keep it simple. 

Laura Vanderkam in 168 Hours: You Have More Time Than You Think argues that it’s our abundance that leeches the life from our days. 

You know, when you try to learn flamenco guitar, run a business, culture homemade yogurt, court five people for your new polyamory lifestyle, develop a Pilates core, raise a couple kids, faux finish the new sacred space you’re creating in a corner of your bedroom, and collaborate on a graphic novel while becoming a social media star. 

On Tuesday. 

Vanderkam calls it:

Death by a thousand opportunities.

For you 

Evan Griffith
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In 10 minutes I can . . .

Banksy in America
An alleyway off the main street in Park City, Utah 

In 10 minutes I can . . .

. . . send a thought out into the hive mind via social media

. . . do a short yoga/exercise burst

. . . respond to an email thoughtfully

. . . add some flesh to an idea I’m working on

. . . connect with someone important in my life who I don’t see often

. . . take a short walk

. . . meditate

. . . send love

. . . find reasons to smile

. . . try to count the people I admire

. . . breathe deeply and fully, letting it all go for a few minutes

. . . engage a stranger

. . . bestow a small kindness

. . . read something meaningful

. . . snap a photo

. . . absorb my surroundings

. . . feel my place in the great nest of creation

. . . write down a dream

. . . text a note of appreciation

. . . record a random thought

. . . conjure up a family mini-adventure

. . . fall into a reverie

. . . envision a thriving world

. . . jot down one significant thing said to me recently that might otherwise get lost in the wash of time moving along briskly

. . . send a love note to my lover woman wife

So many possibilities when 10 minutes suddenly opens up in my day.

(Inspired by Laura Vanderkam in 168 Hours: You Have More Time Than You Think)

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The difference between a habit and a practice

Artwork by John Joseph Hanright

Brushing your teeth is a habit. Yoga is a practice.

Driving your car is habitualized behavior. Improving your tennis game is not.

Eating with utensils is habit; conscious cooking is exploration.

In a practice, exploration and expression are key. Not so with habits. Once you have the habit down you cease exploring. You are no longer stretching yourself to brush your teeth better. In a practice you are always seeking better. Better skills. Better connection. Better flow. Better execution. Better expression.

When you sit down to eat you are not seeking to draw the best from your utensils. Yet . . . in a practice . . . that is all you ever seek. To draw the best from yourself.

There is a sublime nature to a practice. You take on a practice because it is deeply meaningful to you. Play is as important in your development as is effort. There is an impish, frolicsome side to a practice as much as there is a serious intent. The whole of you is consumed during your time of practice. 


When you come to your practice you come ready to spark. You expect to gather the best in you and set it to your purpose.

(You spiritualize your creative work by treating it as a practice.)

For you 

Evan Griffith


You, Creator
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When the real adventure begins

Sometimes the real adventure begins when the planned adventure ends.

We’ve just returned from an epic art road trip that took us in big loops through 30 states. There’s a moment of vertigo upon the cessation of a trip. A what now feeling.

What’s next is where the real adventure begins. The one we all grapple with every day. How to make routine meaningful. How to infuse experience with élan.

For those of us who are creative — and we’re all creatives in this era — it’s about finding our way into powerful work.

In the spiritual traditions I admire it’s about opening up and letting spirit energy through into what you do. 

That’s where the adventure begins. In the moments that might seem repetitive, in the chores and rhythms of the same-seeming days — it’s all about discovering the fire in routine moments. 

That’s how you know you’re alive to life. When there’s a little singe to it.

For you 

Evan Griffith
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What is your work?

A smashed bottle cap somewhere in Texas.
What can I say, I find these things beautiful . . . 

What is your work?

Have you thought recently about what is essential and what is trivial in the context of your goals for your life?

Driving across Texas will spur thoughts like that. Long hot miles under an unrelenting sun will have you questioning the underpinnings of your existence. By mile 300 you’ve entertained every little thought your mind can conjure . . . by mile 400 you’re on to the important questions . . . Texas is just getting started at that point . . .  you have 500 more miles to ponder.

Laura Vanderkam in 168 Hours: You Have More Time Than You Think defines work as activities that advance you toward the career and lifestyle you want

Everything else is not work.

That’s a refreshing reduction. There’s no room for padding. That half an hour spent floating through the internet like an invisible butterfly . . . not work. Even if you’re at work. Those emails you get tangled in that have zip to do with your purpose. Not work. 

How much of what I think is work is unnecessary?

It’s good to play. It’s healthy to create a rhythm of on task, off task. Still, Vanderkam doesn’t allow you to pretend you’re working more than you actually do. 

I don’t know why I’m saying you when I really mean me

As I near the end of an epic road trip — five plus weeks — I am eager to redefine work for myself. So I know what not work looks like. So I can recognize when I’m doing it.

With pretend work it’s easy to be lulled into feeling pretend overworked. 

Identifying pretend work liberates me into meaningful work. The work I’m meant to do.

(From there, when the work is done, it’s a simple hopscotch into meaningful play 😉

For you 

Evan Griffith
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From peace, love and understanding to gun worship

On the road to Jackson Hole, in a small town in Wyoming, I ate at a diner where the pony-tailed older owner packed a holstered gun on his hip.

In a matter of days I’d traveled from the peace, love and understanding vibe of Santa Fe to gun worship country . . . Because we spent several days in both locales it was a striking juxtaposition.

In the diner and throughout gun country you see signs like this:

I believe in gun control. Use both hands.

In Santa Fe you see bumper stickers that read:

Namaste

. . . or . . . 

Coexist

. . . written in the symbols of major religions. 

Seemingly opposite strands of thought coexist in America. Many would say uneasily. I would say awkwardly but with the greatest of ease. 

In my family as in many others, there are liberals and conservatives. Yet we enjoy each other immensely. Unless, of course, I’m ill informed on their true feelings about me. 

<wan smile>

In every creed there are people who defy certain tenets of that creed. Catholics who practice birth control. Conservatives who think the state should not prohibit gay marriage. Liberals who are against abortion.

It’s the sign of a mature society to accept the greatest amount of diversity in thought without unraveling. Just as an enlightened mind can appreciate the interests of others without participating.

America may seem bipolar . . . but really it’s an example of profound inclusiveness.

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See this pull tab dangling from the back of this bottle’s cap?

See this pull tab dangling from the back of this bottle’s cap? It’s for a ginger drink my son fell in love with out west: Bundaberg Ginger Beer.

Design rules in this era. The color, the simplicity, the way it eases your way into your drink by adding a playfully elegant element . . . 

Years ago I was hiring young designers in New York. Their followups cemented their hiring offers. One young American-Asian woman followed up with a folded rice paper thank you, embossed with a Chinese symbol on the front. 

The texture of the paper, the graphic element, the careful folds insuring we just as carefully unfolded the message, the succinct reasons she wanted to work with us . . . all of it cut through the clutter of the many interviews we’d been conducting and moved her from a possible to a hell yes, let’s hire her.

Another designer we hired followed up with a lengthy list of what she loved about our organization (and me) and what she thought she could bring to it — hand-penned in voluptuous calligraphy.

Whatever you can do, add a stamp of originality to it. It needn’t be overblown. Simple works. As in the pull tab on the bottle above.

For you 

Evan Griffith
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Roadside serendipities

What are we really traveling for?

We travel for novelty. Newness. Something that opens a door in our mind and leaves it ajar . . .

When you’re on a road trip it’s all about the serendipities that pile one on top of another, filling the spaces of your day with small wonders.

See the man above?

We met on Canyon Road in Santa Fe, New Mexico, that angled road populated by more galleries than I’ve ever seen side by side. Anywhere. Not in New York or LA or Chicago will you find so much art shoulder to shoulder. All in adobe structures that even in their modernity take you back a thousand years.

There I was parked under a tree, perched in the second row of seats in our van, with the side door slung wide open. The family was elsewhere and I was finishing up work stuff via phone and laptop.

Several people stopped by to ask about the van. If you scan through previous posts of the past month or two you’ll see a few photos of it. It’s impressive. Gun metal grey. Large. Tall. Capable. People want to know what you’re doing with it.

This guy came up admiring the van and wondering about our travels . . . I in turn wondered about a slender tube of a suede case he had slung over his shoulder. He brightened, the way you do when someone notices something you treasure.

He pulled out a Native American flute . . . and played it for me. It’s high pitch lyrical simplicity transports you to another space. Suddenly you’re not in a pueblo town. You’re in the Southwest barrenscape, centered in the wind, ancient vistas splaying out before you.

Expression abounds. From the diner I just ate at in Wyoming dedicated to freedom and gun rights (the pony-tailed owner was packing a holstered handgun) to the metal creations welded together in front yards across America to roadside memorials for those who died traversing those roads.

Expressifying binds us together. For millennia it was survival that did so. Then trade, for a better life. Now, layered on top of those, is meaning. Isn’t it beautiful that a stranger can add meaning to my moment simply by showing up . . . and expressing who he is . . .

For you 

Evan Griffith
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Click here for (occasional) notes at the intersection of creativity and spirit. Once a month, maybe.

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