October 24, 2010

Rethink or Derail: A Rest for the One-Track Mind

Having just finished reading Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged, and having just recovered from the existential meltdown it ultimately inflicted to my belief core, I feel that it is my duty to share some of my insights from her work. For those that have yet to read the book, Atlas Shrugged features protagonist Dagny Taggart, millionaire industrialist and Operations Officer of Taggart Transcontinental Railroad. Without addressing the novel’s deep philosophical implications of reason, rationality, and lack thereof (her philosophy is known as objectivism, if you’re interested), the major story arc follows Ms. Taggart through her struggle to keep her railroad operational as the country’s, as well as the world’s, economy crumbles beneath her tracks. What I found interesting, and which is relevant to this week’s essay, is that the harder she tried to save her railroad, and the more one-tracked and singularly focused her plan of action became, the faster her dreams fell and her objective failed.

At times it seems as if the ethic of today’s workforce is open only to the whims of sloth and greed. I assure you, however, that there are many of us still proactive toward success and motivated enough to set our goal so unreasonably high that we continually fall short of our own expectations. We will succeed; we will be great; we will always fail. Why? Because we set our goal, plot our course and plan of action, and then are so driven to attain our dreams, that we pack our days full of meetings and labour and travel and mealtimes and if something unexpected gets in our way, we derail. If we find ourselves stuck in traffic and needing to cancel a meeting, we run the risk of losing ground and even panicking, simply because we overbooked ourselves. Like a freight train, we travel with great momentum. We are efficient machines when everything operates smoothly, but as soon as an obstacle appears on the only path we can follow, we crash, unable (or unwilling) to swerve. So this week, we will see just how much we are limiting ourselves with our steadfast, one-track thinking: we will create one-line drawings for our Moments.

Technically, the term is blind continuous-line contour drawing. An essential first step for any art trainee, this method is indispensable for developing hand-eye coordination. The procedure is simple: without looking at your paper, draw what you see before you without lifting your pen off the paper. It will be ugly. It will be abstract. It will be fun.

Do this when you are at a meeting, drifting off, but expected to pay attention. Do this while you are at lunch to give your hands something to do while your mouth is busy consuming. Do this at the bus stop, on the train, or when you just plain don’t feel like working. Do this in the moment. Do this at least once daily.

You don’t have to devote too much time to this in order to realize that after you’re finished, when you pan out for your first viewing, your Moment is a veritable train wreck. It may have the basic form and position of what you were focused on, but it is nowhere near the drawing you first visualized. That is okay; you’ve not only been incredibly creative, you’ve hopefully learned something about the value of periodically slowing down, stepping back from your plan, reevaluating and re-plotting your course.

Most importantly, remember that your Moments do not have to be good, they just have to be.

At some point during your day, if you wish, you may give your one-line drawing some colour, or add details, in an attempt to bring it closer to the scene first envisioned. Be meticulous, and include some of the nuances that you missed. After reassessing the situation, you may find that what your Moment captured is, while not your intention, even more beautiful than your imagined design. Afterward, leave your Moment wherever you created it, because it does not belong to you, but to all the conscious conductors aboard speeding thought trains of their own.

I will not divulge the fate of Dagny Taggart, or her railroad; it wouldn’t be fair to those who haven’t yet read the novel. What is important to remember is that if she did, in fact, lose her railroad and everything she’d ever worked for, she is still not a failure as a human being. Neither are we. We must accept our failures and learn from them. Instead of being unidirectional travelers, we must discover that our tracks may diverge into incalculable directions. If we take time, now and then, to give ourselves a moment and reevaluate the pathways to our goals, our achievements will be more fulfilling, more effortless, more often. Schedule some purposefully empty time throughout the day, either for reflection or for a margin of schedular safety. If several paths are open to us, we can take them simultaneously, if nothing more than to see where they might lead. We must give ourselves options. We must give ourselves a break.

Give yourself this moment.

To be fair, here’s my Moment:

Markers on sticky pad.
(Dog on blanket)


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