I know a guy who deeply understands metadata concerning the material world. He's super-smart about a lot of things, but when he drives through a neighborhood he can make extraordinarily sophisticated assessments about real estate values, from which way the overall market is headed to specific assessments about individual properties. He's knowledgeable about cars, too--not the precision tooled parts that make them go, but their relative worth compared to other vehicles on the road. Regarding when a person should buy, when a person should sell, and how the overall market is doing, he’s insightful like an artist and I always pay attention. He sees the colors of finance, hears the sounds of transaction, smells subtle fragrances in the economic biome. His depth of expertise transcends skill: for him financial matters become a fine art.
Sometimes when I'm in a coffee shop and catch the hiss of an espresso maker or the clink of a spoon, they tantalize me with the potential to transform into more complex rhythms. There's a tiny cymbal in the high pitched ring of silverware, the terraced dynamics of voices rising in chorus as one person greets another coming through the door. It's not too often that you hear sound of cash registers anymore, with people paying for their cappuccinos by waving their phones and watches these days, but there’s music in the air if you can tune your attention to hear the sounds and rhythms.
I know a woman who sees shapes in the world defined by the people who walk around in it. She understands traffic rules, of course, and knows which shoe goes on which foot, but the bright lights shining for her radiate from the relationships between people more than anything else. She knows what shapes and motivates individual people and she knows how those individuals work with each other in groups. She knows why some run into personal roadblocks, and she perceives nuanced insights about why they run into roadblocks when they interact with others. The vibrations she feels have to do with the fine grained textures that make people who they are.
Almost none of us exclusively hear one thing when we step out into the world. Just as I hear certain rhythms in the coffee shop, I hear – – and see, and feel – – a wide range of things in many circumstances. Science interests me. Art excites me. I love dealing with creative people, and I love playing with creative ideas. I like music; I like words; I like to eat. Lots of things command my attention. But some metaphoric vibrations resonate more deeply for me than other things. A creative life is the ability to notice resonant frequencies in whatever "your thing" may be.
But don’t miss the forest for the sunlight streaming through its canopy. If you think I’m suggesting that this essay is simply to celebrate and respect everyone’s own unique style you’d be missing the point. While that may be true—I do respect and genuinely appreciate the uniqueness of what different people can bring to the world—the real moment of inflection is to recognize how much your own special craft can become a moment of artistic expression. Don’t just be an accountant: be an elegant, insightful, artful one. Don’t simply restock the shelves at the grocery store: find subtle, nuanced ways to think about what you’re doing and then do it well. Mundane jobs are not without the potential for elegant expressions. It’s true that a virtuoso musician might be more obvious, even more influential, than a person planting peonies at a greenhouse. Not everything has the same resonance in the world. But that does not diminish the private insights and opportunities to be great, even at ordinary things. When we hear sounds that others cannot perceive, it’s an indication that we’re on the cusp of understanding something. That’s the reason artists are artists in the first place. Perception is the first part of understanding something, and transformation of those perceptions is the work of authentic creativity.