The most powerful question you can ever ask is, “What do I want?”
You can create your life just like an artist creates a beautiful painting.
It is knowing what you want to create that is the challenge.
Most of us don’t know what we want to create in our life. We may say that we want to be happy or have a lot of money, but not be able to articulate what gives our life meaning and a sense of fulfillment.
We are taught to focus on the “how” to do something rather than on the “why” we even do it. Schools and other educational institutions will encourage us to focus on the process of learning a skill, such as writing or programming, but not on what we will create in our life.
This narrow focus causes us to believe that we have limited choices. We end up choosing things (jobs, material possessions) that have little to do with what we really want. When we don’t choose things that express our deepest values and highest aspirations, we are plagued by doubt and indecisiveness. We live our life never getting emotionally invested in what we are doing. After all, we didn’t choose to create it in the first place.
One of life’s “threads of truth” is when we ignore our inner voice and what really matters to us, we will not invest ourselves in what we are doing. We will deliberately hold ourselves back, always doing things out of a sense of obligation or to stay out of trouble.
Most of all, we feel powerless to forces beyond our control.
We feel this way because we believe that we can’t have what we want. This is compounded when we see those around us not creating what they want.
And that is why a lot of people will take issue with the title of this article. They will say, “I have no choice” and that “I just have to grin and bear my life.”
But this approach to life ignores all the creators who have created things that seemed impossible at the time.
When you look at creators who have created the life they wanted, they will say that they had a vision of what they wanted. They asked themselves, “What do I want to create in my life?” They then took the bull by the horns and did whatever was necessary to achieve their vision.
A recent interview with Arnold Schwarzenegger on the Tim Ferris Podcast reveals how a creator will have a clear vision of what they want and will do everything in their power to create it.
“I’m always a big believer that if you have a very clear vision of where you want to go then the rest of it is much easier. Because you know always why you are training five hours a day. You always know why you are pushing and going through the pain barrier and why do you have to eat more and why do you have to struggle more and why do you have to be more disciplined, and all of those things become much more clear. It’s not like “Oh my god, I have to do another 200 sit-ups. It is more like I can’t wait to do another 200 sit ups because that will get me one step closer to have the abs that I need to win that Mr Universe.”
“That’s my goal. I see myself clearly on that stage winning the Mr Universe. I see myself very clearly getting the trophy, standing there with the trophy, raising it above my head, and having 100s of body-builders around me, or below me on stage, looking up and idealising me, including the 1000s of people that are watching them. That was always my clear vision and that is what always inspired me to go all out.”
Schwarzenegger created a vision of being Mr Universe, and because he clearly knew what he wanted, he took all the steps necessary to achieve his goals, no matter how big or seemingly impossible. He said he took this approach with everything he achieved, from becoming an American citizen, to creating blockbuster films, and achieving governorship of California.
Rather than be held back by every obstacle or problem on his path, Schwarzenegger focused on his end goal, surpassing anything that got in his way.
All creators follow the same approach as the former governor of California. They know what they want and will use the creative process to bring their vision into reality — regardless of the circumstances.
Creators by their very nature don’t focus on their present circumstances, such as how good or bad things are, but on what they want to bring into the world. Circumstances are mere things that exist that need to be navigated around or even surpassed.
When you know what you want, you will create the process to achieve your vision. Just like Schwarzenegger took the steps to achieve his vision, often doing things beyond what he could have imagined at the beginning, you too will take steps that you currently don’t even know you are capable of. And just like Schwarzenegger envisioned himself on the world stage of bodybuilding, you will envision yourself just as clearly. What you envision won’t look like what others have envisioned. It will be unique to you.
The mistake most of us make is asking: “How do I get what I want?”
We want to see the “how” — the exact steps we need to take — to achieve our vision.
I did this when I wanted to leave high school teaching. I asked, “How do I get out of teaching?” This question left me with very little choices, such as tutoring, being an instructional designer or becoming a university professor — all of which did little to energise me.
I was stuck in the process of how to get rid of a situation that I didn’t want, rather than why I do what I do and what do I want to achieve in the long run.
When I changed my question to: “What results do I want to create?” I found myself saying that I wanted to create profound educational content that that helps people change their lives. This vision of an end result opened up my world to opportunities to how I could go about achieving that vision. I was no longer limited to ideas or processes that are not fulfilling and that everyone else is doing. I could invent processes that are uncommon and different from others in my field. I was now open to using all sorts of mediums to get my message out.
By knowing what end result I wanted to create, the “how” of obtaining what I wanted developed organically. I could create what I wanted to see in the world. I was no longer limited to what I already knew how to do or could even think of doing.
You must look deep within yourself to discover what really matters to you.
When you know what truly matters, you will use this as the source of why you create. You will learn what you need to learn in order to create what is most meaningful to you.
The best part is, we can learn anything we need to. We just must know why we are learning something and with enough reason and aspiration, we will do whatever it takes to learn it. With time and practice, you will gather momentum, creating things that others will say, “Remarkable, how did you do that?”
The following poster illustrates what top creators know about the creative process: