Get Your Motor Running

Suggested Song: Sunny Afternoon, The Kinks
Suggested Drink: an energising Irish coffee; Irish whiskey, Irish cream liqueur, coffee, whipped cream, nutmeg

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.

Photo by Evan Pagano
Photo by Evan Pagano

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

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  1. Hey Bill, Good to see you off the couch from that long summers nap, you’re “Born to Run.” September is my busy time of year so I can relate well to this postcard. Poor Robin– “There is no dark side of the moon really. Matter of fact it’s all dark.”


  2. Grieving a lot here for Robin and his family. Just so hard to accept that his momentum got away from him in the direction of despondency. He always took us in the direction of mirth. He had some very spirited horses of psyche to handle. Thank you Bill for sharing your reflections and recipes for creativity!

  3. Combining through local farmers markets has turned into a big enjoyment for me. Improvising meals around things that I have found instills a feeling of satisfaction. I found the link to your essay regarding “creative flame” an excellent read. I spent Sunday on a little hike through a few trails in Point Reyes and it really does allow the mind to wander, reducing stress at the very least if not increasing creativity.

    Your comment about how most guide their careers by a sense of convenience rather than passion makes me wonder about life satisfaction. Robin Williams was transformative in his roles for sure, but was he that way because he was really passionate about it? Are those that are really passionate about their career satisfied with this found passion, or will they be unhappy if they don’t reach the next level of success or achievement?

    I think it might depend on an individual basis. Some might be perfectly happy without finding a new medium of expression. Just some thoughts..

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