I often lament the lack of career role models in my life that I really look up to. It's broadly due to a historical pig-headed lonership and lack of communal immersion, and also sparse and bias-driven field research which I am currently regretting and rectifying.

But I came across someone today who is hard not to fall in love with. An obvious choice some might say, but I have little knowledge of Brian Eno's work aside from a few clich├ęs and only really came to this conclusion just now after watching this quite personal documentary (Another Green World).

Brian Eno
Brian Eno

An ongoing concern of mine has been that I lack clear direction, darting from one subject or idea to another. I'm prone to explore and derail, explore and derail, in an endless cycle of optimism and eventual self-criticism and abandonment. The big exception to this rule has been programming, which as my bread and butter (my wage), has had an authoritative reason to retain a central role in my life.

As for my other interests, I begin by experimenting, and as soon as I see a few results roll in I become wildly optimistic. In very short time I find a large vision dominating my thoughts and slavishly set to the task of creating it. Along the way I lose my innocence regarding the project, and the ability to experiment or deviate, and eventually the will to see the project through.

It's only now that I write this that I start to realise that how I deal with this fear of a lack of direction could be part of the problem. When I'm thinking about how to spend my precious time, choosing one of the emerging visions as a "big plan" is a great way to help quell that fear. Of course, this process is subconscious - consciously I convince myself it's the strength of the plan that is the driving force. The actual effect of solidifying a plan early on is a personal disservice, converting the genuine interests that keep my mind engaged into tedious tasks. And if I don't finish the project, then the plan that was supposed to ensure my time was well-spent has had the opposite effect.

So what to do? How to rebuild confidence without following the same pattern? You can imagine I'm sure, that it's not much fun to wake up each day with no idea where to start, and no confidence that starting anything will get you anywhere. One option, I decided a while back, is that I should work collaboratively. In a month in Bangalore I'm due to start two such projects at Jaaga. Forfeiting sole control of the process should help for now, but it's also dodging the question. What of working alone again?

The whole point is to enjoy it. So what about experimenting in discrete units, a day at a time, one technique at a time? Each day's work should be considered "throwaway," as it's real goal is development of practice, and blue-skies can't be blue-skies if it has a goal. These experiments can be shown as 'sketches' but a larger project can only be conceived much later (in some way I'm less familiar with, maybe in response to a commission, or pitch, or something with a budget attached).

Working this way seems obvious to some and I've been told it before, but I never took it quite to heart. After all the people who really have the power to change a person's freely chosen routine are strong role models, particularly older ones - and as I've mentioned, I had been lacking those.

The problem with this approach is that it seems counter-intuitive if you fear of lack of direction. Step in Eno:

"... so instead of shooting arrows at somebody elses target, which i've never been very good at, I make my own target, around wherever my arrow happens to have landed... It's like you shoot an arrow and then you paint the bullseye around it."

It was that quote which inspired this post. We'll see how it works out for me, but in the meantime, I highly recommend the documentary.