Have you ever dived into the deep end of a pool, tried to touch the bottom, and then come up, feeling immensely satisfied that you were just 10 feet below the surface of the water? Once above water again, you were likely taking bigger breaths to catch up to the air you had to hold in down below. The sun then seemed a little brighter, the chlorine smelled a little stronger, and you felt a little more relaxed.
As you forced your body down to the pool’s floor, you could feel the water hugging you more the deeper you went. Maybe your ears felt the pressure, too. It’s almost cozy at the bottom, except for the trivial fact of no air. Some people practice this over and over again, going deeper and holding their breath longer. Others – like me – just did it for fun as a kid.
Yet when other areas of our life ask us to “go deeper,” we resist. Instead of reading an unread book off our own bookshelf, we go and buy another one. Instead of taking 15 minutes to prep a meal for ourselves that we can really enjoy for 30 minutes, we grab a sandwich or maybe even a protein bar so we can rush to the next task. Instead of networking through our current contacts, we’re spending loads of time cold-calling people we have no connection with.
The ultimate example for me was the first draft of my novel: at 92,000 words, I had so many balls in the air I couldn’t settle on a suitable ending that wrapped everything up. (The big hint? I was on ending #7 and still wasn’t happy.) It wasn’t until someone told me to start over that I could finally dig deeper into the main character, and the experience has been that much more satisfying.
The funny thing is, by going deeper, we become the eye of the hurricane that whirls around our lives instead of the wind that circles the eye. It feels like that often-used Hollywood shot of the protagonist standing still and staring off into the distance while the cameras circle around her.
If you have kids, you’ll also see this avoidance of depth every day: the moment screen time is turned off, the kids are bored. And oh what a horrible day it’ll be because they’re bored! The most horrible day ever! So horrible that – oh, look, there’s some Lego.
Back in September, I think, I went to my first comedy improv workshop in six years. I was rusty as hell, but the class was exactly on this topic: using what’s already there. The workshop leader had all six of us stand in a circle, and one person at a time added a sentence to the story. Of course, the story went wild fast, even though the instructor had drawn our attention early on to the bread crumbs we could already use. In another exercise, we redid the same scene over and over to try to work with its core. With improv, that can kill the energy of the scene, but it drove home the need to stop trying to find another new idea.
It’s not that new ideas are bad! We need them. But once we have an idea, and it’s a good one, we should work with it. Make the idea the eye of the hurricane, not part of the wind.