The less you do creatively, the more you do.
I’m taking it easy today. And because I’m taking it easy let’s talk about one of my favorite movies, which has at its core a very easy-living message that you and I find super-hard to live by.
I love Forgetting Sarah Marshall. I love its vampire puppet opera and the idea of going after only what you want in life, whether in love or creative pursuits. That’s the real message of the movie: Letting go of the decent but maddening things (Sarah Marshall, a job scoring the music of crappy TV dramas) for that which you love but don’t think you’re able to have (Mila Kunis, staging the vampire puppet opera).
It takes courage to go after the thing you love. The way to begin to live courageously is, I think, revealed in the goofiest of scenes: Paul Rudd’s character teaching Jason Segel’s how to surf.
“The less you do, the more you do,” Rudd says.
The scene makes no sense. Rudd tells Segel to not jump up on his board and then to not stay flat on his belly, either. Segel doesn’t know what to do, and neither does Rudd, until Rudd just says, Ah, we’ll figure it out on the water.
And yet: The less you do, the more you do is also the movie’s message. Jason Segel’s character cannot pursue both his old flame and his new crush. When he tries he’s miserable. He must focus on the woman he truly loves to find happiness. It’s the same with his vampire puppet opera. He’s been dabbling with it for years but because of his own insecurities and the demands on his time — Sarah Marshall, that TV scoring job — he’s making no real progress. It takes him leaving Sarah Marshall and believing in himself (and presumably giving less time to his day job) to finish the opera and stage it in a small theater.
I think the movie’s point is this: Everything around you is decent. Your goal — in your career, in your life — is to choose the essential thing, and just pursue that.
The problem is I’m confronted with decent all the time and so are you. It’s the creative projects we like, sure, but don’t love. The stuff that will satisfy a client, or a boss, or provide us some sort of financial security. In his book Essentialism, Greg McKeown writes how these projects end up crowding our…