My collaborators and I have had a great time over the past few months with Make & Meaning. Unfortunately (or fortunately, as the case may be), great projects are richly abundant these days. And it turns out that we’re all just too busy with other work to give Make & Meaning the time it needs. So we’ve decided to take the site down.
My heartfelt thanks to everyone who read and commented over there. Your conversations were my favorite part of the whole project.
We’ll all be re-posting our Make & Meaning writing to our own blogs over time. You can visit those blogs here:
…And below is one of my posts. I’ll be re-posting one per week here.
You may have seen this TED talk, in which Jamie Oliver presents his dreams of using his skill as a chef to combat the root causes of obesity in England and the U.S. If you haven’t, go ahead and watch. I’ll wait. (Fair warning: a there’s a bit of non-work-safe language.)
Here’s what excites me about this talk: Jaime Oliver has a creative skill (cooking). Many of us remember him from his earlier-career TV show and cookbooks, where he grinned impishly at us from behind the name The Naked Chef. But the guy in this TED talk? He’s someone else entirely.
Jaime Oliver could have been content to find someone to pay him to cook (or write cookbooks, or appear on TV). In other words, he could have simply sought a paycheck for the act of creating.
But instead, he’s choosing to look at his particular talent and think about how it could benefit the world. Instead of seeking only the paycheck, he’s seeking to make a difference.
I talk to creative people all the time who dream of making their living through their skills. I don’t have one argument against this dream, but I’ll tell you this: even the most compelling hobby, when it becomes your paycheck, can start to look an awful lot like work. And what you create can start to look an awful lot like whoever paid you.
But what if you had a sense of mission about your creative work? Can you look at your talents and see how they might contribute to a better world?
There’s no reason you have to have a mission as far-reaching as Jaime Oliver’s, of course. Maybe you’re a knitter, and your mission is to comfort people in need with your work. You might make a few warm hats a month for charity. Or maybe you’re a painter, and you believe in the value of arts education, so you volunteer to teach art at a local elementary school.
The point I’m trying to make here is that, if you can rise up to a 30,000-foot view of what you make and why you make it, there’s a whole lot of exciting creative possibility there. The more you can connect your creative work to a sense of mission, the more projects you’ll find to do, and the more people you’ll find to collaborate with, and the more innovating you’ll get done.
And best of all, when you create with an eye to making the world a little better, your work stops existing in a vacuum. Suddenly, there are actual human beings who could directly benefit, and in thinking about their needs, you begin to arrive at creative ideas you might never have found without their influence. I think that when creative work is done as an act of service (or, if you will, love), that work takes on so much more complexity, relevance, and significance.
Seeking a paycheck for creating? Well, that does get you a paycheck. I’m a fan of paychecks, but I’m much more enlivened by the feeling that I’m participating in something bigger than myself – and something that just might matter deeply to others. In fact, I believe that if we approach our work with this sense of mission, then the work itself will attract more opportunities for payment.
It’s a tricky balance, of course. We can’t quit paying rent in order to save the world. But I think that, when we’re contemplating creative career paths, we’d do well to consider how our talents can benefit people beyond our landlords.
What do you think? What’s your mission?