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Weekly 3: Contributing to the culture


Idea Journal Weekly 3

January 19 · Issue #122 · View online

We combine 3 ideas to help you think differently and be more creative.

Summary: Invest in yourself. Share your talents. Express your art. (~4 min read)

#1. “Add to the needed diversity of culture by creating something that reflects your uniqueness.”
Author Robert Greene writes in his book The Laws of Human Nature that each of us has “a higher and a lower self.”
We can feel the higher self when we finish what we start, when we think of others before ourselves, or when instead of merely reacting to events we step back and strategize about the best step forward. 
The lower self is the more primitive part of our nature. We can sense it when, for example, we take everything personally, when we want to escape reality through some addictive pleasure, and when we waste time.
Although we’re most often floating between the two selves, if we look closely, we have to admit that the lower self is the stronger one. As Greene notes, it takes awareness and effort to bring out the higher self: “If nothing impels us to do otherwise, we naturally become indolent, crave quick pleasures, turn inward, and brood over petty matters.”
Greene suggests that the key to making the struggle between the two selves more even is to cultivate what he calls the “inner authority.” The inner authority serves as the voice of our higher self. We can hear it at times, but it’s often faint.
Our job is to increase its volume. 
When we listen, this is what it tells us: 
“You have a responsibility to contribute to the culture and times you live in. Right now, you are living off the fruits of millions of people in the past who have made your life incomparably easier through their struggles and inventions. You have benefitted from an education that embodies the wisdom of thousands of years of experience.”
Greene points out that it’s easy to take this all for granted, but that’s the view of spoiled children. 
Instead, we should recognize that the world needs constant improvement and renewal: “You are not here merely to gratify your impulses and consume what others have made but to make and contribute as well, to serve a higher purpose.”
For Greene, you can serve that higher purpose by embracing what makes you different. The key is to know yourself thoroughly: your tastes and inclinations, the fields that naturally attract you, and then work every day to improve those skills that reflect who you are.
As Greene puts it, not following this course is the real reason you feel depressed at times. Such moments are a call to listen to your inner authority.
#2. Be generous with your talents
In his book The War of Art, author Steven Pressfield writes that if you were meant to help find a cure for cancer or to write a symphony and you don’t do it, you not only hurt yourself.
You also hurt your children, your community, and the broader world. 
The most inspired creative work is not a selfish act or a bid for attention. It’s a gift to the world.
As Pressfield puts it: “Don’t cheat us of your contribution. Give us what you’ve got.”
#3. A broader definition of art
In his book Linchpin, author and marketing guru Seth Godin defines art as “a personal gift that changes the recipient.”
And an artist is someone who uses bravery, boldness, and creativity to challenge the status quo and create art. The more people you change, and the more you change them, the more effective your art is.
For Godin, the medium of expression doesn’t matter. 
There are artists who work with oil paints or marble, and artists who work with business models and numbers.
Andy Warhol and Shakespeare are artists. But so is Jill Bolte Taylor, the scientist who keeps us spellbound for eighteen minutes as she tells the story of her near-fatal stroke. And Craig Newmark, founder of Craigslist, who revolutionized classified advertising.
If you find yourself struggling to realize your own artistic contributions, Godin recommends what he calls the “If only” exercise.
For example, “I could be more creative if only … “
The exercise highlights what’s holding you back, and eliminates excuses.
As Godin notes: “‘If only’ is an obligator, because once you get rid of that item, you’ve got no excuse left, only the obligation.”
Here are a few other examples: 
I could ensure my project has a bigger impact if only … 
I could lead the team more effectively if only … 
I could find the courage to make a difference in my work if only … 
Quote of the Week
“Your goal in life is to find out the people who need you the most, to find out the business that needs you the most, to find the project and the art that needs [sic] you the most … You’ll never be good at being someone else.”
- AngelList founder investor Naval Ravikant in an interview on the The Knowledge Project podcast
Idea Journal
Idea Journal
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