How to Cultivate an Obsession: Shelter the Spark

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Do you guys remember Penelope Cruz’s role in Vicky Cristina Barcelona? She was the wild-eyed psychotic painter throwing buckets of pigment onto canvas and threatening to stick a knife into her ex-husband or his lover at every turn.

Yeah, that’s not what I’m talking about.

I’m talking about the painter, the artist, the entrepreneur that is so taken by the work she does she can barely breathe or concentrate when she’s away from it. The artist Martin Waters said that, “without obsession, life is nothing.” I agree. Obsession is the jet pack that propels you forward through self-doubt, hardship, naysayers, obstacles and setbacks time after time.

If you ever plan to do something that matters in the world, you have to cultivate it into an obsession. There are simply too many distractions these days for you not to have that single-minded focus on the one thing that makes your life meaningful.

“Your job is to get your audience to care about your obsessions.” -Martin Scorsese


Where to Start

If you want to cultivate your obsession, you need to start by breaking down the obstacles in front of you. Last week we talked about the obstacles. Today, it’s time to get over them and get on with it.

1. Lack of skills or knowledge

Think about the area you want to make magic in, write down a list of 3-5 necessary skills in that field or industry. Now take a few minutes to research two more related skills you weren’t aware of.Rate yourself on a scale of 1-10, based on how well you master each skill.

2. Using the wrong ‘language’

How do you tend to communicate? What are your learning preferences? Take this quiz just for fun: and tell me how close it is to who you are. I scored highest in intrapersonal and linguistic. What a surprise. Not. The surprise is how I got into engineering in the first place. No wonder math classes felt like a daily practice in pain management.3. Beliefs about the world being a certain way

Make a list of the first 3-5 activities that might have been of interest to you at one point. Next, write down your first thoughts about the people who engage in those activities.Naming a character might be easier to capture the essence of your beliefs. Then write down what kinds of tasks these activities would involve.

4. Beliefs about yourself

Make a list of 5-7 messages you heard a lot from people you loved as a kid. Don’t overthink this and just write them down as fast as possible.

Now look at your list and rate each item on your list with a 1 if you know nothing about it for a fact, a 5 if your opinion comes from lots of personal experience, and somewhere in between if you have some experience there. For example, Pharmacy is a better job for a girl than medicine, you might have heard your uncle spout repeatedly. You interpreted this as girls have to take second tier jobs and today you accept a second tier job because it is your belief.

Nurture the Spark

Cultivating an obsession is about finding common ground among the things that matter most to you, then setting up camp there. You aren’t born with a bonfire of passion blazing in your insides, you have to light the spark and fan the flame until it burns bright.

So start with the spark. Do you know what it/they is/are? Make a list of all the things you love, no matter how random they might seem. My list looks a little like this:There is no ONE activity that is going to allow me to do all these things but a Personal Development Coach that blogs and creates coaching products definitely ticks off quite a few. Then the travel comes in as a bonus when I get invited to facilitate retreats like Creative Rehab Bali.

Engaging in what you love every day feeds the spark and helps the fire grow. Start today. Build your skill set. Be kind to yourself. Test your assumptions and beliefs. Eventually, you will get to a point where the effort is minimal and the fire is a full-blown obsession.

Don’t let society tell you you’re crazy.

“The only difference between an artist and a lunatic is, perhaps, that the artist has the restraint or courtesy to conceal the intensity of his obsession from all except those similarly afflicted.” -Osbert Sitwell

We are all artists of our lives. Find people who get you and share your affliction!

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