June 17, 2022

Let the work tell you what it needs to become


Halloween is my favorite holiday, but not because of the candy.

Sweets make my head, teeth and stomach feel rotten. My true joy is making the costume.

Firstly, because it’s an opportunity to create something in three dimensions that I can actually hold and smell. This is a refreshing break from my usual work, which tends to be words on a page, pixels on a computer or notes in a song.

It’s a process that renews my belief in my own manual competence and spatial intelligence. Getting a handle on a craft in a literal, objective and active sense is satisfying in a completely different way than creating digital or imagined objects.

Second, costume making is a fascinating exercise in constraints. Particularly if you’re committed to not buying anything and only using materials from home. You’re basically stuck with whatever junk you find around the home.

There’s also a limited production window. You only wear the costume once or twice during the holiday. And you throw it away when you’re done. These constraints prevent you from overthinking your idea and getting too precious about the outcome.

Third, making your costume almost certainly guarantees that it will be unique. As someone who is deeply motivated by expressing myself and asserting my individuality, the costume quells my biggest fear, which is not standing out and being special.

Halloween, ironically enough the only day that I don’t wear a nametag, actually helps me maintain my identity by seeing myself as fundamentally different from others.

The final aspect of costume creation is its activation of the entrepreneurial spirit. Many holidays, I don’t even know what my costume is going to be until it’s done. I start with a cardboard box and some scraps of silver fabric and a few dead flowers.

Within about an hour, the combination of the items turns into something funny, interesting or clever.

This uncertainty and tension within the costume making process is exciting and rewarding, not unlike starting a business. When an entrepreneur is launching a product or service, getting out of their heads and doing real work is really the only way to figure out what needs to be done.

You trust the work to teach you you by taking one small creative step in a potential direction, and seeing where to jump from there. If it doesn’t work out the way you hoped, you step somewhere else. Then you iterate until you’re satisfied with the result.

Which often ends up being quite different than what you originally imagined in your head.

Billion dollar companies have been built that same way. It starts with a person who has an ambition to invent something special, so they jump in and figure it out as they go alone. They might have a vision of what they’d like their business to become, but ultimately, just like the costume someone is designing the night before the big holiday, the entrepreneur also has to surrender to the process and let the work tell them what it needs to become.

Well, how about that. This astronaut costume actually looks more like a medieval knight. Cool!

Who needs candy when you taste the sweet discovery of the creative process?

Halloween may be the spookiest night of the year, but to me it’s a holiday filled with brightness, color and joy.

One that can teach us real lessons that won’t rot our teeth.

Are you grinding out too much hard work before you figure out what you should be working on?