My whole life I’ve heard the saying, “Variety is the spice of life.” That’s pretty odd for a society such as ours. First of all, it’s a pretty non-monogamous saying. But beyond that, as a creative, I have to really wonder about the truth of such an epigram. First of all, it may be true. If by “spice” we mean the parallel to spice on a food, then that’s probably true. Variety does make things “interesting.” But this is more like the Chinese proverb of “May you live in interesting times.” Just because there’s spice, doesn’t mean it’s palatable.
But my real issue with this phrase is how it affects the creative. Because to be creative does not require variety, it requires quite the opposite. Being creative requires a routine to generate the ideal situations to create, for ideas to flow. Variety in a daily routine does not allow the creative to get into a grove. The only way I’ve been able to sit and write every day is by having a set time, and a set routine. When I deviate from the routine, I struggle to get my writing done that day. Varying the schedule is not as conducive to creating as sticking with a solid routine is.
Are routines good for us?
I’ve never been a fan of routines until lately. I remember reading a line from Thoreau some 30 years ago about routines numbing the senses. And for what Thoreau was alluding to, I agree. Going through life in a series of routines, taking the same routes, doing the same thing always, will definitely create a robot of sorts. But for the creative mind, those routines create a situation where the brain reaches out for more and starts to create its own ideas. How many great idea men were in menial jobs? Customs House? Patent office? Post office? They took these jobs because they weren’t challenging. This allowed their subconscious the time to work on their true work. The ideas would then spring forth out of the routine, out of the drudgery. I’ve written about how my ideas come straight out of the litter box.
My day job is busy and requires a good amount of flexibility. While I can say it’s not intellectual work, it also does require problem-solving and decision tree events on a daily basis. It’s not mundane, that’s for sure. I have to force myself into mundane situations to get ideas. Sometimes now, the ideas just pop up while I’m doing other things, but more often, I’m cleaning the litter box or taking a shower. That’s when the good stuff comes out. So if variety is the spice of life, what are the meat and potatoes? The routine? The mundane? The predictable? What parts are the essential needs of the body? If I wanted to live an interesting life and wasn’t worried about being a creator, I absolutely agree that variety would be needed. It just doesn’t seem the same for anyone following a creative endeavor. Stepping outside of the comfort zone once in a while, or doing research, is good, but I can’t really classify that as “variety.” Fun, yes. Productive? Maybe?
We have more options these days
I’m not saying it’s good to be agoraphobic. I’m saying that life can’t be represented by a platitude. Variety in our lives adds some color that’s good for us to generally validate our opinions of the world. But as a basis for living a fulfilling life, it falls short. So much of what we consider fulfilling relies on what we create, what we can look back at when we’re older and say, “I did that.” Travel is good, but is it an end-all in itself? I don’t think so. We can experience the world through a computer screen like we’ve never been able to before. High-definition has definitely changed the playing field. I for one, am excited to know that I can tour museums without having to spend hours traveling. I’d love to go to the Louvre again, but knowing that I can look through the exhibits online first, makes a big difference. And in some cases, the experience will be a let-down compared to the virtual one. If you’ve seen the Mona Lisa up close, you know what I mean. We expect more, and when we experience the truth, we can be disappointed quite easily. Our minds have a way of using anticipation to create unrealistic expectations. That’s a spice no one likes.
Does variety lead to success?
I’m reminded of people playing the lottery, or their plans to “get rich someday.” Generally, people’s plan to get anywhere in life is just that, “It will happen one day.” I used to say this with my writing. “I’ll write a book someday.” But I wasn’t writing every day. How did I intend to get the basic skill set needed to write my book? People do the same with their get rich plans. They’ll come into a whirlwind. Yeah, that happens all the time. No, it doesn’t. The average millionaire works 60 hours per week for 20 years before they are a millionaire. And those people have a plan. They work it daily towards their goal. Not everyone can be Tim Ferris with his “4-Hour Work Week” ideas. Which I think are part of the problem in itself.
The expectation that I can get rich with a good idea and very little work each week is an absurd one. And while it might work for the few gifted individuals out there that can make things like this happen, it sets the average person up for failure. Better would be common advice to work towards your goal every day, without ever taking time off. That’s the way success is made. One day at a time. That’s the opposite of variety. It’s doing the same thing every day until you get the results you want. I read this in “The Slight Edge” a few years ago, and it’s become more and more a part of me as I get older and realize that I want to get somewhere I’ve never been. Once you analyze the details, it’s pretty simple.
I wonder how I ever thought I would be a writer without writing every day. I may not still consider myself “a writer.” But I do write every single day now, and that’s the way I’ll get to be one eventually. Success is measured on many different levels. So will I be able to make money from writing? I’m not sure. I don’t have a great feeling for marketing my own work. I’m simply too humble to be an aggressive marketer. But, I do understand basic sales so I might be able to get there with the combination of hard work and a plan. But I will have a lot of material written.
Granted, a lot of that material may be repetitive. I seem to be on a routine kick these days. Sometimes, I find it best just to let the subconscious run it’s course until it moves on. This is probably one of those subjects.
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