If we’re to craft a successful life for ourselves and a healthy sustainable future for civilization and the Earth, we will not do so by waiting for crises to materialize and dealing with them as they happen, or worse, after the fact.
To create the life and world we most want, we need to shift our primary focus from solving problems to creating what matters most. Life is complex. Everything is hooked to everything else. We can’t create a simple, successful future by flailing away at problems one at a time. We can’t worry our way into simple success; we can only create it.
Although achieving simple, rich and sustainable success depends on individuals, couples, and families creating simple, authentic and fully-engaged lives, it also depends on the emergence of a broader culture that appreciates, encourages and provides support for such lives.
Individual success in creating simple yet successful lives will support the growth of a simple success movement. A strong movement will make it easier for more individuals to shift toward simple, successful and sustainable lives.
Unless we take up the greater challenge of creating simple success as a society—in our neighbourhoods, communities, churches, businesses, even whole towns and cities—the current simplicity movement will likely suffer the same fate as previous waves of interest in simple living. It will migrate to the margins, or just fade away. To prevent that, and to give ourselves the support we need to create the lives we want, we must learn to create.
Fixing things is not enough. Too often our attempts to fix things only end up making them worse. We clear out clutter, but it comes back. We drink to relieve stress but end up with an addiction. We build new freeways to “solve” congestion but they encourage more drivers to drive, and congestion grows.
“No matter what your problems are, for the most part, solving them won’t solve them,” says my mentor Robert Fritz. “You will always have a new problem if you do not know how to create what you want.”
Because it’s focused on getting rid of what we do not like and do not want, problem-solving isn’t a sufficiently powerful nor stable foundation upon which to create the lives, work and world we most want. Mastery of the skills and form of creating provides a stable and powerful foundation on which to create what matters.
Throughout history, advances in human civilization have been made, not by problem-solvers but creators. Creating can replace consumption, and desperate problem-focused reaction as the primary mode of personal and social being. As increasing numbers realize creating is key to generating positive, purposeful and lasting change, a deep shift in our individual and collective lives becomes possible.
In this shift, conformity gives way to creativity. Seeking relief gives way to producing desired results. Self-help gives way to self-creation. Consumption gives way to generativity. Sustainable citizenship becomes less about protesting and more about restoring natural systems, co-creating healthy communities and inventing ecologically sustainable economies.
Simple living becomes less about sacrifice and more about creating authentic, fully engaged lives in the most efficient and elegant ways possible. By transcending problems and circumstances, we can do more of what we love in a simple, graceful and sustainable way.
Sometimes doing so involves letting go of what we don’t want. Sometimes it involves solving problems as steps towards what we truly want. But, most of the time, faced with the power of creating, problems tend to dissolve and fade away.
Reality, for most of us, is no longer a culturally imposed constant. Much of reality is self-created. We’re no longer forced into culturally determined roles and processes. More than ever, those things have become a matter of choice.
This is good news for those who learn to create, but bad news for those who cling to problem solving as their main strategy for producing results. “Those who do not create the future they want,” cautions systems thinker Draper L. Kaufman, “must endure the future they get.”
Our future does not just unfold, we create it each day. We bring it into being by what we envision, choose, and do. By mastering the skills and practices of creating, and by applying them in our lives, work, and relationships, each of us can significantly increase our chances of bringing into being the lives we so deeply long for.
As Eleanor Roosevelt might have suggested, if we can’t find the simple, sustainable, success we long for, we’ll just have to create it. The road to simple, authentic success leads through new territory. To travel that road successfully we’ll need to:
• Understand the dynamics of the creative process.
• Master the skills and practices common to all creators.
• Develop a disciplined, lifelong practice of daily creating.
• Create resilience, the capacity to bounce back from setbacks and keep going in the face of uncertainty.
Together, these four broad, widely transferable skills can empower and enable us to create—and sustain—the kind and quality of lives we most want—independent of the circumstances, problems, or adversity we face.