Though you’ll rarely see him, camera-shy Tasmanian writer and artist Bradley Trevor Greive is one of the world’s most formidable creative talents. The celebrated wildlife expert (who spent four years doing brown bear field research in an Alaskan archipelago), former paratrooper and New York Times best-selling author just released In Praise of Idleness – A Timeless Essay with British philosopher Bertrand Russell. He also has a weekly cartoon series on Go Comics, is working on a children’s series with Walt Disney, a poetic celebration of insects and a production with the Tasmanian Symphony Orchestra, and then there are the TV projects he refuses to talk about.
If anyone knows how big years are built from the ground up, it’s BTG – so we asked him to give us his no-holds-barred advice on how each of us can make this year our biggest ever.
1. Have a skydiver mentality
In my experience, gearing up for a big year is somewhat like going skydiving for the first time – you’ll do a lot better if you prepare yourself mentally for what is about to happen. When I take friends skydiving I tell them that what they are going to do will be exhilarating but also quite scary – I stress that being afraid is not only completely normal but it’s actually the gateway to the fun part. Those who try to bluff their way to altitude with macho bravado and pretend they’re not afraid often don’t enjoy themselves because when the aircraft door opens at 12,000 feet it can be a little terrifying. If you have foolishly convinced yourself that jumping out of a plane is no big deal and then, at the moment of truth, your innate sense of survival makes it clear that it really is a big deal, this unpleasant realisation can prove overwhelming; the paralysing sense of fear is all you will remember. Conversely, those people who expect to be scared end up having a wonderful time – the aircraft door opens, they look down and they feel afraid, but instead of being frozen with fear they remember that the fun part is coming, and so they relax, step out into the clouds and enjoy an amazing experience.
My point is that your biggest year will never be a perfect year – the best-case scenario is that things will get a little wild and crazy along the way.
My point is that your biggest year will never be a perfect year – the best-case scenario is that things will get a little wild and crazy along the way. You’re definitely going to suffer moments of drama, doubt and disappointment but these setbacks can’t and won’t ruin your year unless you fool yourself into believing that 2016 should be 365 days of serene bliss. On the contrary, all manner of bumps and rattles are to be expected when you pull out all the stops and really go for it.
So my first piece advice is that in addition to the basics – thinking big, taking risks and working hard – you should expect uncertainty, bad luck, stress and even a little embarrassment – far from being a sign that you are failing, these negatives are often the key indicators that your big year is right on track.
2. Get that check-up
Why not start a diet and exercise more frequently… or don’t. No-one will care either way. But whatever you do, get your temple in order. Busy people like us – the dreamers and doers – often defer medical appointments because they believe they don’t have time to be sick. While I admire such fortitude, this is profoundly idiotic and we all know it. Neglecting medical upkeep until your body breaks down is like driving a racing car flat-out until it catches on fire and crashes into a wall before you take a moment to check the oil.
Whatever you do, get your temple in order.
The business of professional creativity is an endurance sport – you need to be able to generate and evaluate new ideas on a daily basis – and therefore optimum physical and mental health are essential in order to continually operate at the highest level. Now is an ideal opportunity to make an appointment to see your doctor and your dentist for a full check-up. Not only might you avoid some bad news in the future by nipping potential problems in the bud, but you may also learn about measures you can take to look and feel your best all year.
3. Think beyond the year
As much as we are talking about having a big year, it’s very important not to be bound too tightly to the notion of a single year being the window in which all notable works are accomplished. A calendar year is a reasonably accurate indicator of the time taken for Earth to travel around the sun and it’s also useful for planning birthday parties – but that’s just about it. Thinking big often means thinking long term. Don’t be afraid to start an important project that may take more than a year to complete – and don’t delay. Anything worth investing a significant part of your life in is worth starting today.
4. Recap and review
To set and achieve meaningful goals, you must be accountable to yourself. Set aside a few hours as soon as possible to go through what you accomplished and what you attempted over the last twelve months. You may surprise yourself, for better or worse. I rate my projects on their commercial and artistic merit, as well as how much I enjoyed working on them. Regardless of how you measure your achievements, having a benchmark is very useful when it comes to identifying areas of strength and weakness, as well as dead-ends and new opportunities.
5. Get out those jotted notes
Wasting good ideas is a crime against creativity. My busy brain forgets a great deal in the course of any given day, so I sketch quick concepts in a notebook as soon as I think of something new, or I tap a few key words into my smartphone when I’m on the run. But at some point these rough ideas start to pile up. The start of a new year is as good a time as any to review all your notes and see if anything jumps out you.
Bottom line: write down all your ideas as soon as they pop into your head and then make time to review these unpolished gems at semi-regular intervals and see what can be made of them. You may well have already come up with the idea that, with a little more work, will change your life.
6. Do good
I don’t think it’s possible to be truly successful without helping others less fortunate than you. From what I’ve seen, I believe that cruel and selfish people generally get filtered out of business and society before they ever get what they really want in life. Call it karma, call it getting what you deserve, that’s just the way it goes. Luckily it is so incredibly easy to help others, but of course it’s even easier not to, which is why most of us don’t. In case you were wondering if just being a good person is enough to make a difference in this world – it’s not.
Getting started is not difficult. Don’t try too hard to be noble and virtuous, this is a heart mission not a head mission, and you’re allowed to enjoy yourself. Just pick something that interests you, something that you care about – then go online, find a local group or an international agency that is doing good work in this area and offer your help. You don’t have to sign your life away – look around for the best fit and never join a charity committee before you know who’s who and what’s what. If basic altruism isn’t enough to get you feeling charitable then do it for the exercise and networking opportunities.
7. Find joy in the astonishing mundane
I like to think that every task, however mundane, has the potential to be special and rewarding at some level. We all have projects and responsibilities that don’t seem especially exciting – the key is to look for the upside, to find the extraordinary that seems ordinary when viewed in an unimaginative light.
Hate mail means people are reading your work, paying taxes means you’re making money and new wrinkles prove you smile a lot… Okay, these examples might sound a little glib, and maybe they are, but looking for the bright side is important when you are on your way to the top. Anyone can be upbeat when things are going well, but being the person who can stay positive when things are truly difficult will be set apart from the mediocre masses.
8. Build your wolf pack
I once thought that becoming an elite creative professional meant doing everything on my own. I thought that being a ‘lone wolf’ creator was uber cool… Then I started observing actual wolves in the wild and found out that lone wolves were generally crippled, gaunt, mangy, desperate losers with bad attitudes whom no-one wanted to have sex with.
My suggestion is this: this year, try to double your number of collaborators.
Whether you admit it or not, you’re always part of a creative team, simply because every notable creative project depends upon countless contributions; large and small. Obviously it makes sense to create the best possible team you can. Plus, from a commercial point of view, you can never really tell which new venture is going to be a modest hit, a big hit, or even a miss. The smart thing to do is to embrace a fresh point of view and welcome a jolt of creative energy by joining forces with someone awesome in order create something bigger than the two of you.
My suggestion is this: this year, try to double your number of collaborators. Not all on the same project, but rather start different projects with different creative partners – talented, credible people you admire, with skills that complement your own.