Get Your Motor Running

billiards break

I clung to the dwindling days of summer with particular tenacity this year, resisting most work-related activities despite the growing backlog through August, … including this blog. A languorous sideways drift is an easy bearing in the south of France through the hot summer months; the day’s prime ambition driven by produce discoveries at the morning markets, a banquet of local fruits and vegetables at their peak and the subsequent meal plans they inspire. Breakfast is the day’s only spread of predictable temperance, afternoon siestas de rigueur, and evening aperitifs with family and friends a given, often as not blurring into improvised dinners from the morning market haul.

My teaching at INSEAD started again this week, forcing a full stop to the August torpor. There are classes to prepare, students to manage, partners to organize, and the weekly commute between Aix and Paris to enjoy. All of this activity obliges a certain sense of drive and urgency that have largely been on holiday since June.

There is a multiplier affect from this vim of vigor that motivates a rekindling of fire under other activities from the backburner as well; a well placed cue ball into the rack. This is an odd but welcome phenomenon: the less spare time we suddenly find available, the more ambitious we are to fill it.

In my 2012 essay The Creative Flame (and How to Stoke It I considered the creative spillover from artistic endeavors onto other activities benefitting from imaginative thinking. In both cases, one action can stimulate several unrelated and inspired actions. Writer’s block on a new blog draft can be dislodged by an hour at the piano. Resistance to the resumption of several ambitious to-dos this fall can be dissolved by a hard deadline in any single one. So for those readers returning to the routine with a bad case of sunshine melancholy, fret not. Voila, the multiplier effect that saves us from our summer months on slow idle, just being lazy.

On a completely different tangent

Some of us are born with a clear sense of ambition and direction, of obvious talents and seemingly predetermined destinies. The rest of us – the most of us – ramble down blind alleys and pinball from one promising endeavor to the next, drawn to the light of the latest epiphany.

What struck late bloomer mediumme most about the suicide of Robin Williams was his reported despair over the downward spiral of career options. The singular Giant in his field (with a capital G), the Michael Jordan of comedy and Academy Award winner, the transformative genius of so many creative characters; was he besieged by a success most deserved and predestined, and mortally despondent over an inability to continue its achievement at that level or find new avenues of expression?

Could it be that those of us with less obvious talents – at least revealing themselves at an early age – benefit from the late bloom? We work through careers of convenience, driven more by opportunity and less by passion, but gain exposure to a wide range of possibilities; likely wider than those of laser-focused prodigies like Williams. The limits of core career achievement may be gated by our distractions and fumbling, but at the midlife frontier, when the bias of priorities tilts toward pursuits of real meaning, our encore careers benefit from this broader exposure.

I offer this up less as a conviction than a question. What do you think?

Bill Magill

Originally published 05 September, 2014

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