The world is in crisis, and many people are telling you to do something new. But what if you didn’t have to do that?
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“This is precisely the time when artists go to work. There is no time for despair, no place for self-pity, no need for silence, no room for fear. We speak, we write, we do language. That is how civilizations heal.” —Toni Morrison
What if, instead of pivoting into new and exciting opportunities, we who make things considered this a call to our true work?
What if we doubled down on our strengths, taking these familiar skills deeper than we thought they could go, seeking new ways to do old things?
What if we asked, “What role is being required of me right now?”—and then did that?
It’s worth a try.
Last week, Michael Port shared on the podcast the above quote from Toni Morrison, and I’ve been thinking about it ever since. In times of emergency and chaos, artists don’t need to pivot; they need to go to work. They need to use their current circumstances as a chance to discover what they’re really here to do.
Maybe now is not the time to pivot. Maybe all our practice has been preparing us for this very moment. And if that’s true, then we just might learn a few important lessons.
Focus on the fundamentals
First, when we refuse to pivot in the direction of novelty, we are forced to focus on the fundamentals of our work. In short, we must get better. As the world changes, our skills of storytelling and inspiring others to see the beauty in everything become even more important—but only if we rise to the challenge. Only if we are willing to grow.
So how can you double down on your strengths right now? How can you take this time as a challenge to “turn pro” in your work? That’s what’s needed most: is for you to take this work you do more seriously.
Find your true work
Second, a crisis creates a chance for us to find our “true work” by diving deeper into our craft. Sometimes, what we think is our work is really just the surface of what we do. In business, this is called “marketing myopia” and can lead to the demise of a company.
When an organization thinks it’s in one kind of industry and it’s really in another, it will soon die. For example, many of the booming railroad companies from the early twentieth century went out of business, because they thought they were in the business of building railroads. They weren’t. They were in the transportation business, and when the world changed, they were left behind.
Don’t let this happen to you; pay attention to how the world is changing, asking yourself, “What is it that I really do?” For me, that means reconsidering my self-titled vocation of “writer.” Am I really just a writer, or do I do something deeper than that? If the world stopped reading books, would I be out of a job? I don’t think so, because what I really do is connect people to ideas that help transform their lives and work. And as the world changes and technologies evolve, I will hopefully continue finding new ways to share that gift with the world so long.
Free yourself to serve
The third lesson we learn from this shift away from “pivoting” and towards our true work is that when we approach our work with both focus and flexibility, we recognize new opportunities. We liberate ourselves from the trap of asking, “How will people pay me for this?” and move into asking, “What role is being required of me right now?”
Once we understand our true work, we are free to use our skills in a multitude of ways to help and serve humanity in ways that are personally fulfilling and meaningful.
No, you don’t need to pivot, at least maybe not in some grand ways that force you to go back to school or acquire a whole set of skills. If you’ve diligently been doing your work for years now, if you’ve been developing a practice, now might be the best time to show the world what you got.
Trust the work. Trust yourself. Believe that all this is working for your benefit, allowing you to share your greatest gift.
And, in the words of Mary Oliver, “Whoever you are, no matter how lonely, the world offers itself to your imagination, calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting—over and over announcing your place in the family of things.”
I hope you do respond to that call; I hope you unleash your imagination on a world that needs it now more than ever.