Monday, October 21, 2013

Unleash The Creator In Us

Life is a cycle. We go through the same phases, over and over again. Some seasons seem shorter, some seasons seem longer.

We spend our lives, from childbirth to death, on three basic actions - we consume, we comment, and we create. Like seasons, some actions we wish they lasted longer, some actions we wished they passed on faster.

We all start as consumers - as a child, being weak and naive, we rely on others to feed and nurture us. Then, we also develop into commentators - as an adolescent, gaining intelligence and independence, we begin to form our views and philosophies about the world around us. Finally, we also become creators - as an adult, we are driven to create value to the lives of others.

The complexity of the model reflects the depth of my graphic designing skills.

Life is a cycle. But sometimes, we spent far too long being stuck on the same phase, and need to move on.

We Like To Binge - A Lot

To survive, we need to consume. Eat food, drink water, breathe oxygen. Basic stuff. We all want to consume the best stuff - delicious food, purified water, and clean air. It's natural to want the best things in life.

What do you in your free time? Go to the cinema or sit through a marathon of the latest season of 'How I Met Your Mother'? That's a form of consuming. Read a book on quantum mechanics or Shakespeare's 'Hamlet'? Intellectually stimulating, but that's still consuming. Go to an art exhibition or jazz concert? Classy, but that's still consuming.

When you think about it, most of what we do, day in and day out, is to consume things that someone else created. We relax, and let our eyes, ears, taste buds be tantalised. Vicarious enjoyment. Hardly any of our own effort put in.

"It's not that bad", you protest, "I still go to the gym and play 'Candy Crush' which is a real brain-teaser". Sorry, I know there's some effort involved, but you're still consuming, because the ultimate purpose is self-gratification. Maybe you (and your partner) are proud of your abs and top score - but in the greater scheme of things, unless you're channelling your physical prowess and strategic thinking to clean the streets from crime like Batman, then you're not being very useful to the rest of society.

I was once a hard-core consumer. Devouring books, playing computer games in cyber cafes for 10 hours a day and never missing an episode of 'Friends'. As I grew older, I slowly condition myself to cut down on all these blissful but pointless drivel. I do enjoy the occasional feasting and partying. There's no harm indulging in our guilty pleasures. The point is to avoid excessive consumption.

I led Leeds United to 10 Premier League titles and 7 Champions League trophies on Championship Manager 2001/2002. I'm pimpin', I'm pwnin', I'm the King of the World!

Lord Buddha exhorts us to follow the path of the "Middle Way". On Mark Zuckerberg's Facebook page, he lists 'eliminating desire' and 'minimalism' as his interests. Basically, they believe in a life of moderation - control your desires, and you control your consumption.

Pause a moment to reflect on your life. How many things do you consume every day? Do you really need that second cup of coffee in the morning to kick-start your dormant brain cells? Do you really need a pack of cigarettes or a new pair of shoes (or two) to relieve your stress?

Consuming is easy. Too much of it makes us greedy and lazy. We like to be takers, not givers. And we end up taking more than we really need, and giving away less than we really should. That's the trouble being a hard-core consumer.

We're no longer babies. We're adults. It's time to stash away our toys, stop screaming out for ice-cream, ignore the smiling models telling us what's hot and what's not. It's time to grow up.

We Like To Talk - A Lot

When we're not busy consuming, we're busy talking about what's going on with the rest of the world. You know, like how we start the day getting all excited and saying things like "Oh my god, did you see the tiny, tight skirt that Gina wore to office today?" and "Bloody blind ref, that was a blatant dive".

We like to comment about things, from a distance. Pass compliments and criticism. Suggest changes in some general and vague terms. We like to comment a lot, because commenting doesn't take much effort and delays the phase of taking decisive action. Like consuming, commenting is rather easy to do. We can linger for hours at the bar and cafe idly gossiping about who's dating who and complaining about the current state of the economy and politics. Then we go home, sleep, wake up and restart the whole process of consuming and commenting on what had just consumed.

With the rise of social network, we have more solid platforms to speak our minds, with less fear of retribution. The good news is that it promotes freedom of information and speech. The bad news is that it leads to an overload of spam and noise. It's suffocating.

I'm not afraid to walk away from conversations that I have no interest in. I'm honest, that way. I can be a good listener when you need to pour your heart out, but I have standards and won't put up with silliness like your pet cat's indigestion. Where's my manners? Well, my definition of kindness is to save both our time. By walking away, I get to move on with my life, and you get to move on with yours (and find someone else who's happy to listen to and engage with you). It's a win-win.

After years of careful analysis, I have deciphered the secret code used in high-level communications, code-named "Etiquette".

In our world today, commenting is contagious. Some people naturally love to talk. Some don't, but feel pressured to, in fear of being overlooked and undermined. A lot of people assume silence means consent (in the game of politics, in the game of love), but it isn't necessarily so. Yes, we have the right to speak up. But we also have the right to remain silent. Most of us, in civilised societies, are good in knowing how to speak up. But we're terribly bad in knowing when to shut up. 

Mahatma Gandhi says it best: "Speak only if it improves the silence". I can't think of anything better to add to that gem of advice, so I won't.

I'm well aware that I'm commenting a lot, as I write this. Shouldn't I take my own advice and shut the f**k up? Fair point, but I'm putting a lot thought into what I'm writing, and I'm writing for a purpose - to create.

We Don't Create Enough

I've not found a cure for cancer. I've not empirically established the existence, identity and whereabouts of God. I've not set up a school for poor kids.

I've not created much in my lifetime so far. That's the cold hard truth. When I was studying, I represented the country in competitions and held the position of Class Monitor, Prefect and Librarian (not all at once, of course) - but that's hardly anything to shout about. When I was working, I crafted legal submissions that not only won cases, but were reproduced extensively in the judges' written grounds of judgments (some reported and published in local law journals) - but aside from judges and lawyers, who really gives a shit?

It's actually not hard to create something. A family could be easily created by accident, due to over-consumption of alcohol. A business could be easily set up, selling things manufactured somewhere else, repackaged and rebranded.

To create something of value - that's the hard part. That's the part I still struggle with. In a sense, that's why I left my previous job. I felt I wasn't creating anything positive and tangible. For the most parts, I was helping the rich get richer, at the expense of the poor, weak and vulnerable. Justice? When money talks, even justice listens.

In the past, I was mainly a consumer and commentator. For the future, my goal is to be a creator.

A watch and calender only tells us what time it is. This diagram helpfully reminds us what time we should be living in.

And that's exactly why I started writing regularly again. I don't have much of an audience. But for the few that I have, I want to entertain and enlighten them. I want to write stories. Real, insightful stories. Not the water-cooler stories that begin with "Something funny happened to me on the way to work today...", but the kind that leaves a lasting legacy.

That's my dream. What's yours? Everyone has their own. You can create in your work, or outside your work. It can be as simple as spending more time at home to create good kids, who will go far in life and stay out of trouble. Or it can be something ambitious, like creating a new technology that will change the way we live for the better. Don't just create anything. Create something that adds value to the lives of others.

What if we fail? Well, failure is not an option... No, as much as I would like to say that, I would be lying if I did. Yes, when we create, we risk creating something so crappy that don't even deserve a place at a kindergarten art exhibition (like all the pictures I created in this article, some might say). But so what if we fail? At least we tried.

Let's say I try to make it big as a songwriter. Only to fail miserably. All those hours every week locked in my room - singing, jamming on my guitar, composing notes and lyrics - all gone to waste. Well, but so what? When I die, at least I die knowing I tried my best to make my own music, instead of spending those hours watching other people living their dreams on 'American Idol'. It's more meaningful to spend our time trying to create something beautiful, than to keep consuming the same old stuff we have consumed a thousand times over.

Parting Message

Life is more than just about consuming and commenting. We are all creators, in our own right. A teacher, a musician, a sportsman, an architect, an artist... it's up to each of us to discover our own calling. 

And by writing this article, I hoped I have created a catalyst - to awaken the creator in you.

This message is brought to you by the Book of Genesis. 

My parting advice to you, and myself, is simply this: 

"Consume less, comment responsibly, create more."

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