Over the last few years, I’ve been lucky to spend a lot of time doing things I love. There were a number of factors that helped me with that – some within and some outside my control.
However, looking back, there is one factor that stands out of all the others than any other. It’s the amount of time I spent creating as opposed to consuming. It’s a factor that is largely within my control – and it’s a factor that you can control to a large extent as well.
Just to give you a quick example before diving deeper into the topic, “creation” is what allowed me to fly on a pair of NASA research aircraft.
After all, if I only “consumed” the flights I took as an aviation enthusiast instead of “creating” and sharing them in the form of blog articles, others would never get to see my work. If others never got to see my work, I would have never written for a magazine. If I never wrote for a magazine, I would have never gotten the chance to cover the research flights.
The Three Modes of Life: Maintenance, Consumption & Creation
Zooming out, there are only three “modes” that you can spend time in: maintenance, consumption, or creation. Sometimes they might overlap, but no matter what you do, every single moment of your life will fit into one of the three buckets.
Maintenance is fairly straightforward and – just like on an aircraft or a nuclear power plant – non-optional for a well-functioning life. Maintenance includes the things that you have to do to ensure your survival and basic comfort.
You have to sleep, take shower, brush your teeth. If you are not a trust fund baby, you have to find a way to make enough money – usually through a job – to be able to buy food and have a roof over your head. Alternatively, if you have the skills and the time, you can grow your own vegetables and build your own house.
Many people in the world still have to spend most – if not all – of their life in maintenance mode.
After waking up, they need to walk kilometers to get water. They need to work from a young age to make enough to feed themselves and their families. They have to go to their second job after they get out of their first one to have enough to cover the basic necessities.
If you are reading this, you are likely not in that situation.
You are lucky.
You still likely have to spend some time earning your “baseline income.” You still have to sleep, brush your teeth, and so on. However, even after you do all that, you are likely left with some “free time” for consumption and creation.
Although let’s be honest, chances are you are devoting more time to the former than the latter of the two.
Consumption Is Easy But…
The reasons most people spend more of their “free time” on consumption are simple.
First, consumption is, by definition, easier and quicker than creation.
It’s easier and quicker to read an article than to write one. It’s easier and quicker to watch a movie than to produce one. It’s easier and quicker to listen to a podcast episode than to record one.
Second, consumption doesn’t, unlike creation, expose you.
It lets you be the judge rather than be judged. If you read a book, you get to say whether that book was good or bad. If you watch a movie, you get to leave a one-star review if it was a total flop. On the other hand, if you create a movie, suddenly, you are the one running the risk of getting that one-star review – and that can be scary.
Third, consumption brings immediate results.
If you go to Disneyland today, you get to enjoy the rides today. If you decide to build a new theme park (putting all the logistical and financial challenges aside), you have to go through a long process and wait months or even years until the park’s first visitor will ride one of your attractions.
If you go to the cinema today, you get to enjoy the movie – and popcorn – today. If you decide to produce a movie, you will have to put in a lot of hard work before the final product sees the light of the day.
The ease of consumption comes at a cost, though – and not just the literal cost of paying for a Disneyland ticket. It comes at the cost of having a low impact on others – and on you for that matter.
That is not to say that consumption is bad or useless. We all need to spend some time “doing nothing” and binge-watching Netflix. We all enjoy following our favorite Instagrammers and YouTubers. We all want to play video or board games from time to time.
When done with moderation, there’s a lot of value in consuming for the sake of consuming. It helps us relax, it helps us forget our problems, and it helps us stay on top of what is happening in the world and with our friends and acquaintances.
But, as you have probably figured out by this point, too much “consumption for the sake of consumption” leads one to miss out on a lot of potential opportunities. Opportunities that only creation provides.
Impact Is Born Out of Creation
While consumption is easy and – in moderate amounts – beneficial, creation has the power to impact. Creation has the power to impact you and your life, it has the power to impact those around you, and – if you manage to scale it – it has the power to impact strangers.
Imagine someone, let’s call him John, that likes classic cars.
Being passionate about classic cars, John goes to a lot of car shows. He reads a lot of articles, watches a lot of videos, and listens to a lot of podcasts on the topic. In other words, he consumes a lot of relevant content.
Now imagine if John started a YouTube channel or a blog where he talks about the car shows that he went to.
Suddenly, John is creating. He is not only “consuming” the car shows for his own pleasure, but he is putting out something that he can share with his friends interested in cars.
Should he decide to do so, he can keep building the channel or blog and potentially create an audience of like-minded people that he can connect with and chat about his passion with. An audience that he can, should he decide to do so, sell products and services related to his passion to.
Creation, however, does not have to be at the scale above. It can be something much simpler yet having a profound impact on something or someone.
With a smartphone in your pocket, chances are that you take tens if not hundreds of photos each month. Chances also are that you rarely if ever return to any of those photos.
Now imagine taking thirty minutes each month – or even each quarter – to select ten or fifteen or twenty of your favorite photos from the hundreds. To select them with the goal of creating an album that one day your grandkids will enjoy flipping through.
Doing so will create a curated collection of a few photos that will tell more than tens of gigabytes of “raw” photos on your hard drive that no one will ever look at again ever will.
Striking the Right Balance
To end this article, I want to stress one thing: all three of the modes are important.
There’s no doubt that we have to “maintain” our lives – to sleep, to wash, to work to “make a living.”
There’s also no doubt that we have to “consume.” We all need to “unplug” from time to time. To watch a movie. To chat with a friend without any specific purpose.
In fact, consumption is the fuel of creation. Products of creation rarely pop out of nowhere. Instead, they pop out when you connect the dots between various pieces of information and experiences that you consumed.
Unfortunately, though, many people stop at consumption without devoting a meaningful amount of time to creation for various reasons. Some are afraid to put their creation out there because of the negative feedback they might get. Some feel like they do not know enough about a subject to create yet. Some are simply lazy.
Creation, though, is what allows someone to take their passion and turn it into something that has the potential to impact other people. Something that has the potential to turn from one’s hobby to one’s living.
Creation is what can turn your passion into your second – or even your primary – source of income. It is what will open doors to new experiences for you.
Creation is also the process through which you can make something you are proud of. Whether that’s an investment portfolio that will pay for your children’s college, a blog that will help hundreds of thousands of people, or a painting that will decorate your kitchen for the rest of your life – and hopefully even after that.