What do you think is the best lever for creating?
Don’t wish it were easier. Wish you were better.” ~ Jim Rohn
In the late spring of 1974, Steven Spielberg had a problem. More accurately, he had several problems. He was about to begin filming the movie, Jaws, without a script, without a cast, and without a shark.
Spielberg pushed forward anyway with determination, spirit, and courage.
Spielberg and the writers worked on the script the night before each day of filming, deciding with cast and crew what would go into the movie. As a result, many rich improvisations (such as Sheriff Brody’s “You’re gonna need a bigger boat”) found their way into the film.
The mechanical shark, Bruce, constantly malfunctioned. They dealt with numerous challenges that filming at sea presented (waning light, seasick crew, boats sailing into view during shooting, etc.). The project ran way over budget, and Spielberg and many of the actors feared their careers were over.
And yet, they all pressed forward. It was a harrowing 159 days of filming. Each day was a test of endurance, creativity, and innovative thinking.
The constraints they dealt with (e.g., not having their main character functioning for the vast majority of the filming) forced some of the most creative and thrilling aspects of the film. Our not being able to see the shark turned out to be exponentially more terrifying.
For instance, the horizontal waterline shots (where we saw legs underneath the water and bodies above the water) added to our sense of impending doom, heightening our perspective of the vulnerability of the swimmers. The iconic music noting the approaching shark filled our minds with frightening images we created, far exceeding the power of having the image shown to us.
Therefore, if the experience of the filmmakers and actors had been less challenging, the end result would not have been the same blockbuster movie that thrilled and captivated millions of viewers (and scared some to the extent they never went into the ocean again).
Spielberg’s experience is a reminder of a powerful lesson for all of us: the times we are most tested often reveal themselves to be the best levers for our creativity. Without question, they are no fun to live through, as we are being dissolved and reshaped anew.
Dr. Martha Beck developed a map, “The Four Squares of Change,” for understanding and leveraging the power of the change process. According to Martha, each square has its own characteristics and mantras. Square 1 is the square of dissolving and disorientation, typically the square following a cataclysmic event (either positive or negative) that shakes you to your core. Square 2 is the square of dreaming and scheming—the juicy space of possibility. Square 3 is the square of implementation—where the rubber meets the road (doing the thing you dreamed up in Square 2 is always harder than you thought it would be). Square 4 is the realm of the Promised Land—ease and delight. At last, you’ve arrived.
Spielberg spent his 159 days of filming solidly in Square 3, being tested, stretched, and pulled from every angle.
It is important to understand that each and every one of us experience the trials and tribulations of Square 3 when we are creating something. This is simply what that part of the change process is all about. The difficulty, the challenge, the painful reshaping of whom we are is the point. Sometimes (many times) even more so than the end result of what we are making.
I have begun experimenting with an entirely new mindset when I am up to my knees in a creative project. Rather than sit in the dark with my hands ready to cover my eyes when the scary stuff shows up in Square 3, I walk right toward it.
Yes, it is going to hurt. The work will be hard. But I know the best part of me will show up as a result. The most layered and creative version of me will crawl from her shell with claws at the ready.
When in Square 3, you’ve got to hack your way through, simultaneously forging the machete that is needed for the job. The tool you need will reveal itself to you. Let yourself not know throughout the entire process, because that’s how the magic shows up. Note: This is not my favorite thing!!! No matter how many times I have walked into Square 3, I still want to try to control how things will go.
The only way out is through surrendering and doing the work. This is your own personal jungle, and no one else can clear the way.
It’s going be hard. Harder than you ever imagined. And as Martha would say, “and that’s okay.” The challenge is the fire that takes the glass of you and shapes you into a new form with dazzling colors.
Pray for perseverance and the ability to exhale deeply and dive in, not some kind of mythical gifts/talents. Those will arrive in the doing… during your time in the fire.