To live for some future goal is shallow. It’s the sides of the mountain that sustain life, not the top.

-Robert Pirsig, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance


I’m loving this book much more than I thought I would, and it’s making me face a lot of questions I’ve left unanswered for a while. The main character was a teacher that thought himself into madness, and sometimes I fear I may relate to him too well. But I digress…

The issue I’m contemplating now is Quality. What is it? I’m supposed to be teaching it, but I don’t think it can be defined well enough (only halfway through the book… so maybe it clears up later and Pirsig has some good insight). But the principal issue is that the educational system itself severely limits students in it’s current form. Many students want to know what an “A” is so that they can do only that much. Others want to know what a “C” or a “D” is for the same reason… It’s to find the minimum you can learn and still “get” the grade you wanted. Most students don’t want an education, they want a diploma. This unfortunately doesn’t change in university or life for most people.

So many of us are trying so hard to just be “normal.”  But normal isn’t working. Normal is in debt, hating your job, shallow relationships, frustrated that you don’t have meaning… That’s what happens when you do only what you need to do to get someone else to say about you, “Well, they passed.”  Even “Wow, They got an A!!” is a shallow goal. To LEARN. To KNOW. To LIVE… ever think about how much more that means? When was the last time you actually decided to TRULY LIVE your own life?  When was the last time you decided to actually engage what you were doing to get the most out of it? Even when it wasn’t exactly what you wanted to do? When was the last time you tried to actually excel at something? Don’t settle for an “A” in a class. That’s shooting too low below your own potential.

This reminds me of a joke:

What would they say to a Medical student that scored the lowest passing grade in every class of his university career at graduation??

“Congratulations, Doctor.”

I feel like nobody asks existential questions any more… WHY do you exist? What makes your life worth living? What gives you, as an individual, any value? Do you take more than you give to society? If so, why should society accept that? What do you have to offer? What do you actually live for? Do you matter?

I don’t ask these questions to be a bummer… and I hope that when you read these questions, you read them with a feeling of pride rather than shame or an uncomfortable silence. I’ve always thought about these kind of questions. I think about them still, and I feel comfortable with them most of the time.  We all have times when we experience that existential crisis… That’s a good thing- it makes you re-evaluate your life. The question to answer first is not “what is the meaning of life?”

The first question to answer is “What is the meaning of MY life?”

If that’s too heavy for you- get some practice lifting. Start with something smaller. “What is the meaning of MY art?” “What is the meaning of this particular Photoshop project I’m working on now?” Take Austin S’s image featured in today’s post. It’s beautiful composition, great texture and has a great feel to it. In terms of art, it is quality… But what makes it so much more is that it has PURPOSE. It has MEANING. It contributes. It makes you think. It is “worthy” of creation.

I’m not saying that every image must have a political/religious/existential or any kind of other message…  As a matter of fact, I think that you can move past art into propaganda easily by focusing on the message too much. I’m saying that it must have purpose. It must have meaning… It must have soul.

And so should you.

This week’s assignment- for ALL STUDENTS, comm tech 1 and advanced students: Create something that represents your life and what you contribute to the world. Why you are important. What “qualities” you have that you put forth effort in making “quality.”

Ideas: Movie poster about your life. CD cover with the soundtrack of your life. PSA poster about something you believe in. Develop your own idea. Make something that says, when you’re done with it “This significantly represents a lot of the essence of ME.”

And live so that then you say that, you can be proud of what you’re holding in your hands.

update: Ok… so people seem to be having a hard time with this (Which is sad, because that means you’ve never been asked to think about what you want out of life!!). So here are some questions that might help you think it through. Imagine you have lived your life exactly how you want it to go. Forget everything in the past, that’s not changeable, so forget about any mistakes or disappointments so far. You get to start over today with a clean slate.  From today, EVERYTHING goes the way you want it to. It’s the end of your life, and you’re sharing words of wisdom with your great grandchild… How would you finish these sentences?

  • The thing that was most important to me was…
  • People say I stood for…
  • I made a difference in my world by…
  • People knew I loved them because…

That will paint an overall picture of who you are. Now imagine a movie about your life- what would the poster look like? What would it be called? Or, imagine a tribute CD… what would the songs on the CD be? What would the cover look like?

4/5 update: Watch this:


The Creative Process from Ron Dawson on Vimeo.