The Andy Dufresne Guide to Building a Liberating Body of Work
Lessons learned from Shawshank
All creativity begins with the moment of conception.
That little piece of kindling that gets the fire going. That initial source of inspiration that takes on a life of its own. That single note from which the entire symphony grows. That single spark of life that signals an idea’s movement value, almost screaming to us, something wants to be built here.
Based on my books in The Prolific Series, I’m going to be deconstructing my favorite moments of conception from popular movies. Each post will contain a video clip from a different film, along with a series of lessons we can learn from the characters.
Today’s clip comes from the escape scene in Shawshank Redemption:
Fortune favors the bold, but it frequents the consistent. Andy toted his jail cell wall out into the exercise yard a handful at a time. Which wasn’t much initially, but you have remember, he was a banker. An incrementalist. A man who understood the power of compound interest, the capacity to generate more and more value over time through slow, unsexy, but consistent increments. In a way, he was building his own body of work. Based on his daily practice of patience, delayed gratification and continuity, his art was cutting enough rock to crawl his way to redemption. Proving, that whatever tunnel to freedom you’re digging, the smartest way to do it is one spoonful at a time. Think of it as inconspicuous production. You distribute your effort into small, consistent, doable chunks. And after many, many, many hours of incremental work, you find yourself on the other side of the wall. It’s certainly not the sexiest or easiest path to success. Especially in a society that promotes and rewards indulgence and convenience. But one thing’s for sure. There is no skill more underrated than the capacity for delayed gratification. That’s what sets people free. That’s what makes it possible for them to aspire to goals that others would disregard. Besides, patience is a litmus test for vision. If it’s truly your dream, you’re willing to wait for it. When was the last time you contributed to your reserve of patience?
Paint yourself into an accountable corner. Red explains says that geology is the study of pressure and time. In prison, that’s all it takes really. Pressure and time. That, and a big goddamn poster. The question, then, is how can you create similar elements of pressure in your own work? Simple. Paint yourself into an accountable corner. Find a way to increase your commitment by creating unacceptable consequences of failing. At my yoga studio, we offer students a monthly direct debit program. Meaning, regardless of how many times a week they practice, the same amount is withdrawn from their account each month. That’s pressure. The payment plan paints students into an accountable corner. Because when they’re sitting at home, debating whether or not they should schlep their lazy bones over to the studio, they remember that they’re paying for the yoga no matter what. May as well get their money’s worth and get their bodies into shape at the same time. The point is, sometimes you have to trick your own brain. Damocles used a dangling sword of obligation to demonstrate the precariousness of a king’s fortunes, and there’s no reason our work should be any different. Whatever it takes to create ambient pressure. Why is failing not an option for you?
There are no locks on the prison doors. I once read an article about a real life prison break in which two inmates used photos of bikini clad women to conceal their escape tunnels. Similar to the film, they used scrap metal tools to remove cinderblocks from the wall and crushed them so the rocks could be hidden in the cells. And as they worked, they strategically laid out pillows and sheets to make it look like the men were asleep in their beds. Of course, once the men escaped, the prison officially barred inmates from pinning up pictures from magazines on their cell walls. This story inspires me. It restores my faith in the ingenuity of the modern man. And it proves that everyone, even convicted felons, can tap into their wells of creativity and resourcefulness to achieve great things. Pharrell, the ultimate polymath, made a great observation about this subject. In a compelling interview about his creative process, he said that there’s a key for every door, and if you can’t find it, you can make one. That’s the beauty of prison. It’s the ultimate constraint. Inmates have no choice but to find their own doors and make their own keys. Maybe we all need to be locked up for a little while. What creative resources are right in front of you?
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