The fifth of Todd Henry’s Everyday Acts of Bravery: Be Confidently Adaptable.
In the Army, we used to say Maintain a rigid state of flexibility.
It was a cynical phrase for us, an acknowledgement that things are going to change, the changes probably won’t be for the better, and the CO is going to want us to complete the mission anyway. So be ready to adapt and make the best of it.
And it usually got a chuckle, especially when we were muddy and tired.
I don’t think that’s exactly the kind of thing Todd has in mind with this one, but the sentiment is similar. Because the nature of creating is change, and sometimes change happens while we’re in the middle of our work. The specs change for the project. The deadline moves out–or in. The customer adjusts the budget. The kids get home, and the house isn’t quiet anymore, and it’s time for supper.
And we still have to do the work.
We live in a world where there are more options for us to express our creativity than ever before, where it’s possible for many of us to make our living making things that didn’t exist yesterday. It’s a gold mine for anybody who doesn’t want to work in a cubicle or on an assembly line.
But it means we have to create, day in and day out, to the best of our ability. More options for creatives means more options for our customers, which means if we don’t produce, they’ll go somewhere else, just like you do when you can’t find the right brand of sunscreen at Target.
It’s what Todd calls the create-on-demand world, and it’s making plenty of us a great living.
Those of us who know how to deliver. On time. In spite of changes, in spite of distractions.
Those of us who put the work ahead of our own egos. Who complete the mission even though things have changed and it sucks.
Our vision of an artist used to be a guy in a beanie, with a paintbrush stuck between his teeth when he wasn’t scrubbing furiously at his canvas. At some point, he would invariably throw his brush and palette on the floor and storm off, maybe throwing the canvas on the floor before he stomps off with a scowl on his face.
That guy doesn’t know how to adapt to change. He doesn’t know how to complete the mission.
These days, that guy lives in his grandmother’s basement, working on his masterpiece between video games, too much of an artist to get a job, too much of a purist to do the hard work of producing stuff people want (he’d call that selling out).
Confident adaptability means knowing how to complete the mission, even when things change. Knowing how to maintain a rigid state of flexibility.
It means being–hold your ears, now, beanie-guy–dependable. Consistent. Trustworthy.
In other words: a professional.