43 Folders

Back to Work

Merlin’s weekly podcast with Dan Benjamin. We talk about creativity, independence, and making things you love.

Join us via RSS, iTunes, or at 5by5.tv.

”What’s 43 Folders?”
43Folders.com is Merlin Mann’s website about finding the time and attention to do your best creative work.

WWLD? No. 4: Living Your Life

Our great friend, Leslie Harpold, passed away one year ago this week. In addition to being a swell pal and an old-school web mandarin, Leslie was an endless source of advice and opinion on practically everything.
To commemorate Leslie’s life and to help share her wisdom with folks who never got to know her, I asked our mutual friend, Lance Arthur to answer the question: What Would Leslie Do? Here’s part 4 of 4. — mdm

The biggest part of my life lessons from Leslie concerned those kind of things one doesn't often consider, but which exist all around you every day. I tend to get up and shower and check email and eat a bagel and get a latte and so on and so forth, day in and day out, every day like clockwork. Repetition and expectation. Leslie was very good at listening to the gamut of my life's little disarrays and annoyances and nail the bigger picture to the wall, and usually her advice was completely obvious once you heard her say it out loud. It just took her perspective to bring it into focus for me.

I often wished she would write a book of her life lessons, and now I wish she had dictated them to me so I could write it, so I'll provide you with four of her broadest pieces of advice for instantly improving the quality of your life, and let you figure out the rest on your own.

1. Enjoy your vices.

If Leslie had a vice, it was smoking. If Leslie had two vices, they were smoking and drinking Diet Coke. Which she often did at the same time. Now and again for a number of years, she tried to give up one or the other, knowing that neither were particularly good for her even though she enjoyed them both immensely.

She managed to curtail her smoking habit and for a while traded in her cans of Diet Coke for big glasses of water instead. She began to feel the health benefits of both decisions -- but discovered also that she felt worse, emotionally, even if she felt better physically. She was giving up things she really enjoyed for all the right reasons, but she felt like her life hadn't really improved as a result.

It's your life. Live it how you want to. Accept the responsibilities of your decisions, but also the rewards and pleasures -- without guilt.

2. Treat yourself to flowers.

Guys aren't supposed to like flowers unless they're gay. Girls like flowers, generally. But Leslie believed that everyone likes flowers. Flowers are colorful, they usually smell nice, and if you don't like them you don't have to live with them for very long.

Some people see fresh flowers as a waste of money. They'll just die, after all, and then you have to replace them. And for Leslie, that was part of the point. They're not permanent, you don't have to marry them and live with them forever. In fact, you can buy some now and then without having to keep a steady stock of them like you do your cigarettes and Diet Coke.

Flowers are cheerful, they're easy to take care of (all you do is water them) and when they're done being pretty, they're entirely biodegradable. Add some nice smelling color to your rooms, it's easy, it's quick and and it's painless. No painting, nothing heavy to lift, and the benefits are immediate.

3. Art is important.

You know how you thought that Ansel Adams print you had framed at Off The Wall was a good idea at the time? You were wrong. It wasn't. Unless you're still in college or you're decorating a child's room, take down the Ansel Adams prints and go find yourself some real, decent, one-of-a-kind art to hang.

Most people, in Leslie's view, have a hard time trusting themselves when it comes to art. If you don't like something that seems popular, or you don't understand something that your friends find amazing, you may believe you have no taste or you're not "into art."

That's blasphemy! Everyone likes art! The trick is that you have to expose yourself to a lot of it. You can find art all over the place, no matter where you live. There are small galleries and local artist shows in every city, and you can check eBay for some very inexpensive pieces by artists all over the place in a variety of styles. Leslie bought me a very cute abstract piece that she commissioned from an online artist that features a group of naked monkeys at a birthday party for my cat. And, yes, it's as cool as it sounds.

Get some real, honest art for your real, honest walls, and support your local artists.

4. Take a break. Often.

Perhaps this doesn't need to be said, but the point here is a bit larger than simply getting up from your desk once every three hours for a coffee break or looking away from your computer monitor to avoid eye strain.

Leslie believed that everyone was creative. In some way, with some medium, everyone had a skill to make something out of nothing, or recreate a space in their own style, or select the right shoes. Creativity is as much a part of everyone as sight, taste and touch. It's like another sense one has, and like the others some have an acute sense of creativity and some others, well, they may need some glasses.

Taking a break is usually meant to benefit your body. Give your eyes a break, take off the headphones, walk around and shake the cobwebs off your limbs. But a break also helps recharge your head, and particularly your creative streak. Creativity, in its most basic sense, isn't about art or design, it means coming up with solutions. You're given a particular set of circumstances and you need to find a way to achieve the goal (make a graph, design a web page, get the kids from school without missing your yoga class).

Taking a break, for Leslie, meant pulling yourself out of whatever creative hole you've dug or path you've been trodding and reboot. Whether that's for 5 minutes or 5 days depends on your own schedule, but it was important for her to remove herself from where she was in order to see from a different point of view, or even to just forget the problem for the moment and let the frustration go. It's easy to simply sit and stare and try to force your way out of a problem. Often, it's best to get up and move around away from it for a while, then come back to it with a fresh perspective.

Inspiration can be found anywhere. Sometimes the trick is not to go looking for it, and let it come to you.

Lance's What Would Leslie Do? Series

About glassdog

glassdog's picture


Lance has been living on the web since 1996, habitating places like glassdog.com (still there), soulflare.com (gone and forgotten) and laconcon.com (hanging about, well past sell-by date). He works as a freelance web demi-god helping other people figure it all out, and lives with his cat, Paris, in San Francisco (rather than the other way around).




An Oblique Strategy:
Honor thy error as a hidden intention


Subscribe with Google Reader

Subscribe on Netvibes

Add to Technorati Favorites

Subscribe on Pageflakes

Add RSS feed

The Podcast Feed


Merlin used to crank. He’s not cranking any more.

This is an essay about family, priorities, and Shakey’s Pizza, and it’s probably the best thing he’s written. »

Scared Shitless

Merlin’s scared. You’re scared. Everybody is scared.

This is the video of Merlin’s keynote at Webstock 2011. The one where he cried. You should watch it. »