This year I am not setting any goals. It is going to be my most ambitious year. How will that work? How does great ambition look without meticulous goal-setting?
In today’s Insider Post, believing in a positive sum world, reclaiming my attention, and more. Also, scroll to the bottom for free seats in two Zoom events this week!
The SneakyArt (Insider) Post goes out to paying subscribers, offering a backstage pass to all my work, and a front-row seat to my journey as an independent artist, writer, and podcaster.
🔁 Becoming Process-Oriented
My 2020 began with big goals and grand visions. First, they were stalled, then postponed, and finally dashed to pieces. Reeling from the onslaught of negative news, I looked for something that would help me focus on my primary responsibility as a creative person - to create things.
Goals can be helpful. Pinning your hopes on a distant goal, you can push yourself through difficult times. Like the promise of an oasis in the desert, like a light flickering at the end of the tunnel.
But in those early days of the pandemic, the desert looked endless, and there was no light at the end of the tunnel. There was only me and what I could do with my time. I needed to find something that was fulfilling in and of itself.
That is how this newsletter began. That is how the Podcast began. I did not have a precise idea of what direction they would go, or how they might look after a year or two. I did not know if they would even last a year or two. But I knew what I wanted to do. And I knew that it would be good to make a habit of doing those things.
I shared the idea in Ep 29 with Koosje Koene, when she spoke about resolving to “do only what is fun” as an antidote to social isolation. One of the more profound questions we discussed was -
“How should a creative entrepreneur measure their accomplishments? Can fun really help get to the big milestones?”
This was her answer.
Over time, I have come to think of it as a process-oriented approach versus a results-oriented approach. The differences are subtle but profound.
One year after our conversation, Koosje released a wonderful book with her best ideas and tips for artists. We recorded another episode to discuss this great achievement.
✍🏼 Good Habits and Resolutions
🔢 This year I want to get over the illusion of numbers.
In Ep 43 of the Podcast, Jim Richards and I discussed how the instant gratification of likes, and follower counts on social media, distract us from following our own creative compass.
“When a measure becomes a target, it ceases to be a useful measure.” - Goodhart’s Law.
A social media following is a useful measure of popularity. But what does it mean? My IG account exploded last month. As of this morning, I have 160k followers. Six weeks ago I was at 21k.
Should I keep doing things the way I was before? Or should I change course? Should I become the kind of account that attracts half a million people? What would that look like? Could I even do it?
More questions. What happens after the Eye of the Algorithm turns away, having had its fill of me? Should I chase after it? More questions. Should I think about virality every time I sit down to draw? Should I waste time drawing something if it cannot become a viral reel?
It took me a long time to look past social media and these awful questions that have no answers. Now I can feel the machine reeling me back in.
Going back to Goodhart’s Law, I could set 500k as a follower target.
What would that do? With eyes on the prize, the fastest path would be to pay Facebook to promote me. The Algorithm would then flood my account with bots and fake followers and a minor percentage of real, new followers. Instantly, my follower count - that useful measure - would become completely useless as a measure of anything.
Numbers are an abstraction of reality. This makes them useful. You can use them to fit real, complicated things into simple equations. But if you live your life inside these abstractions, you lose depth, perspective, and (quite literally) your sense of what is real.
Writing to you keeps me grounded in reality. No BS. No algorithm. Just the good lines and some good words. Thank you for being here.
📈 This year I want to believe in a positive-sum world.
I want to believe in a world in which doing good for others does good for me too. But it is challenging.
We are conditioned to interpret life as a zero-sum game - that resources and opportunities are limited, and that every time someone else wins, we lose.
This year I refuse to be in competition. My life is not something so trivial as a race. It is a trip. Other people are not competitors. They are fellow travellers.
📲 This year I want to own my attention.
The smartest minds of my generation are making PPT slides and writing code for harmful, destructive megacorporations. It is the same old game of colonization, but the playing field is our minds. To control our attention, to track every eyeball, to sell us trash we do not want, so they can mint billions for an oligarch-of-choice, and get some scraps in return.
I am expected to regard these colonizers as intelligent people and this invasion as some kind of respectable business. But I do not.
It will be my hardest struggle this year.
Colonization, to extract value from something even at the cost of destroying it.
🏃🏽♂️ This year I want to push to 100%.
I am an 85%-er. I begin with great energy. I strive past obstacles with enthusiasm and dedication. Then, when I am close to the end, instead of following through, I slow down. I let the moment pass.
I hope to change this. I need to change this.
😤 This year I want to become comfortable being uncomfortable.
When I was artist-in-residence on Vancouver public transit this December, every drawing session was a tremendous challenge. I was extremely conspicuous in a bright blue jacket, with a sign saying Sneaky Art beside me. I had to acknowledge the people that noticed me. Once, I had to speak into a camera.
I had to let myself be seen.
It was terrifying but it had to be done. And I am glad I pushed through the discomfort. I need to remember this feeling when I face this year’s obstacles.
A Short List of Things that will Terrify me in 2023
Completing, and hitting send on, my book proposal
Launching a Kickstarter campaign (Did I mention I am going to do a Kickstarter this year too?)
There is a fear of failure. And there is also a fear of success. Can you see it? Can you help me make sense of this?