The ‘road not taken’ can seem daunting for most; especially if our sights are set on some other destination, but nurturing new thought processes can help us step out of our comfort zone and make the detour count.
It rested in my bedroom like some misplaced treasure – a beautiful new cello that had just been delivered home – a surprise gift from my younger brother and his family. I had been playing the violin for years; with limited success, I must admit, but this gift of the much larger cousin from the string family was, for somebody just crossing 40, a pretty daunting proposition.
I was not sure how far I would go with this, but it set me thinking.
It is one thing to stretch ourselves to excel in the domain in which we are generally active. It is quite another to dive head first into a new domain altogether – one that we do not have mastery over – and then to excel!
The great Italian painter, Modigliani, saw himself first as a sculptor. But when World War I resulted in a shortage of material for sculpture, and when his own health began to fail, he turned to painting, and this is what we remember him most for.
It seems to me that the artists who succeed in mid-career shifts or in completely new art forms are those who have embraced specific thought processes:
1. Accidents are opportunities for growth
German dye maker, Diesbach, the discoverer of the first synthetic blue pigment and perhaps one of the most popular ever, Prussian blue, was trying to make a red pigment when he accidentally ended up with Prussian blue! Sometimes the universe conspires to throw our well ordered life into chaos and challenges us to see opportunities in new pursuits.
2. Risk–reward equations can change completely if we wipe the slate clean and are open to new sources of reward
Such risk-taking often has unforeseen rewards. American actor, Denzel Washington, in his role for ‘Training Day’, stepped far from the moral compass he is usually associated with and won himself a best actor Academy Award. In an even more radical series of reinventions over an entire career, American bodybuilder, Arnold Schwarzenegger (who won the Mr. Olympia competition a staggering seven times), went on to become Hollywood’s biggest action superstar (despite his thick Austrian accent) and eventually served two terms as Governor of California. Along the way, he also found success as a writer, businessman and philanthropist.
3. Moving outside the comfort zone is much like pushing the boundaries, and that to an artist is amongst the main sources of fulfilment
As T.S. Eliot put it: “Only those who will risk going too far can possibly find out how far it is possible to go.”
4. We can ‘own’ new territory if we see that it uses our existing core strengths (only this time in different ways)
Reasonable riskis when we seek to build on our existing resources and talents, even if the eventual manifestation is entirely different.
The cartoonist who wants to attempt oil paintings, the photographer who is wishing she had the nerve to try her hand at filmmaking, the theatre manager who pines to take the stage herself, the journalist who is pondering the possibilities of making that first novel a reality… almost all art enthusiasts and professionals have been tempted by the attraction of adjacencies or completely new domains.
The downside to chasing adjacencies or new domains is that it can distract attention and diffuse effort but, given the fact that most of us admit to performing well below potential, the challenge of a new pursuit may be just what we need to realise some of that untapped potential.
Based in Sydney, Ivan Fernandez is Industry Director at a global consulting firm. He is also a painter, violinist and (would-be cellist!), writing on life lessons from art. www.changelessfriend.blogspot.com
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