This entry is going to be about exploring creativity but it occurred to me just how we often use the statement “what if” to look back at our lives. We often hear of folks asking themselves: “What if I had done this…or that…or that other thing instead”. While we certainly want to learn from our past, I doubt that it serves any useful purpose to take part in such pondering as it is actually irrelevant. What has been done is done! What is important is what we are going to do now.
Personally, I adopted a philosophy a long time ago to never ask that sort of question of myself. The fact is, if I had done anything different in my life I may not be where I am right now and I’m probably as happy, if not happier, with where I am now than at any other time in my life.
So what I want to talk about is how the “what if” question can be used as a way to stimulate our creative thinking. You see, when this question comes to mind in this context it means we are contemplating some action that has an outcome that is not KNOWN to us. That can certainly make it a bit more scary and we may shy away from that uncertainty. But it can also be very exciting if we push through that initial hesitation. The most exciting part of it is that because we don’t know what is going to happen we have no idea what else we might discover if we just allow ourselves to explore that “What If”. In fact, I often find myself discovering a new, even more interesting “what if” as I start to pursue that first idea. Although we can certainly end up at a dead-end, we will rarely not have learned something of value. Something that will come forward at some later time as the experience percolates through our subconscious or conscious thoughts. At times, it is just some new application of the process we explored that didn’t work but when applied in a slightly different way or to a different subject it becomes magic!
One of the most common reasons we don’t follow these impulses or “Wild Hairs” is that we don’t feel we have time to go somewhere that might not “work”. We have jobs and family demands and carving out photography time is too valuable to do something we don’t know will be successful. My own thought on that is that we need to realize that we don’t have the time to not pursue these things. If we only stay with what we know will work, we will never move forward in our work or will do so only very slowly and 10 years from now we might look at what we are doing and wonder why we haven’t grown or only done so in limited ways. For some, that is acceptable but for many that leads to long-term frustration, especially for those who want to create more personal and innovative work.
I have been on the road for the last couple of months and will be returning home next month and will present some of my own experiences and results of this process then. In the meantime, consider what I have said here and see how it might fit into your own creative processes. Remember that our best work often comes when we just respond to our curiosity and while we are doing things we aren’t even sure work all that well. It takes time for us to understand new things and that image that doesn’t seem to work today may be one of our best if we allow ourselves to the time to finally understand it.
Pursue those “What If’s” so you aren’t asking yourself years down the road “what if I had done that back then”!