Updated: Feb 18
SURPRISE! you exist.
Life is pretty crazy, isn't it? We come into this world, these little nuggets of humans, with a literal universe of possibilities in front of us. Very quickly, upon entering the world, circumstance and chance begin to affect our trajectory. Some of us are born into extreme privilege, while others come into this world and are met with inconceivable challenges and nearly insurmountable odds. We don't all make it past the starting line. So, first off, congratulations on beating trillion(s) to one odds of ever existing. Gold star! The fact that you exist is literally the most statistically significant thing you'll ever do.
No matter how you enter this world you are expected by others to participate in this "life" that we are all forced into without a choice. So what do you do? A Nihilist would say "It doesn't matter." A Christian would say, "Serve others." However, we're not talking about someone else, are we? We're talking about YOU.
And you... You are a complex mix of countless events, conditionings, traumas and successes. You are, in fact, +100 000 000 000 000 000% unique but as this life throws itself at you a story is being written, isn't it? Some of us realize there is a story in the making and choose to take the reins while others are passive observers of a life that passes them by. So what are we to do with this blank canvas we are given as humans? Why are we here? WHAT DOES IT ALL MEAN???
So you're an artist, huh?
As an artist, you are someone who has chosen to ADD to the world around you by contributing your perspective, expression and skill to the cultural epitaph. But what are you really saying? Is your expression going to be one that, on your death bed, you can look back on and say, "I'm really proud of that work. That was important. I needed to say that. THAT is who I AM."
If you're like me, you've taken a job or two that wasn't necessarily "in line" with your ideal artistic expression. As we rise as artists we are usually forced to take on roles, jobs, commissions, etc. that support us financially but not necessarily creatively, or spiritually. I want to remind you to never chastise yourself for this work as it will inform your journey in more ways than are initially apparent. You learn a lot by doing what isn't natural. You clarify who you are and who you are not. Sometimes you find niches you never knew existed and thrive in that space. However, it is very easy to get stuck in a cycle that provides financial comfort but doesn't fulfill your creative expression.
What it's all about
So how do you get to the finish line in life with a firm belief that your existence mattered? That what you did in YOUR life made life better for at least one other life in the infinity of this immeasurable cosmos? I would argue that living up to your purpose, to your potential, to your divine cause... is one way that may provide a sense of completion when the final curtain is drawn. But what does that look like? In 100, 1,000, 1,000,000 years what ideas, thoughts, realizations and /or understandings do you want others to remember? What part of you will be left to guide these NEW HUMANS that are entering this world with their own blank canvases? How will your hand guide the hand with which they write?
Each of us has a duty, whether we realize it or not, to inform the future of this universe. Some of us take that duty as an honour and a privilege. One where our experiences and perspectives have merit and value. Others choose to let this life pass them by, seeing their live's as a random occurrence in a pointless universe but that still leaves a footprint. Personally, I fall in the camp that sees us humans as one of the most robust and capable examples of our universe's own ability to understand itself that has ever existed. At least that we know of. And that's pretty frickin' cool.
What an incredible honour and responsibility we have as humans? Don't we? After all, as renowned scientist, Neil De Grass Tyson says, "You are the universe experiencing itself subjectively." Which means A) that the universe is conscious because YOU ARE; and B) that you now know that infinity has conspired to realize YOU as a human who can understand the complexity of its own existence. Pretty wild, right? But, what to do with this inconceivable responsibility? How do you turn this unimaginable opportunity into a life of purpose, something that matters? What even is "purpose?"
Let's Go Deeper
Regardless of if you believe that there was a big bang, or it's all eternal and never began; or maybe you think, like some scientists, that the universe was created in a petri dish in some grand cosmic lab; maybe Neo was right and we're all already in the matrix. Whatever you believe it's a proven scientific fact that our world emerged from the collusion of matter that arose from a supernova in the nearby galaxy billions of years ago. So, it is a fact that your are stardust and that you, along with everything else you've ever seen is, in fact, made of the universe, the stars, the planets... which is conscious... because you are.
It just so happens, luck of the draw, that you ended up a sentient, living, breathing human and not a rock in a Quaker field somewhere in middle America. You are a tragically fortunate part of the universe that has the refined ability to understand and contemplate its own finite existence.
Let's do a thought experiment... If you were a universe (which you are but bare with me)... If you were an entire universe that could create its own sentient beings (like the SIMS) who could explore the vastness and complexity of everything you are and report back to you from their own unique perspectives, what would you hope they do? What would you hope they feel? See?
I'd hope that they (these little parts of my universe) would try their best to reach further and further. To understand more and more and to experience all of the beauty, joy, love and wonder that they possibly could. I would, selfishly, want them all to report back that their corner of the cosmos was filled with immeasurable love, laughter, understanding and acceptance... because I was. Remember when I said earlier that "the universe is conscious because you are?" It seems logical to believe that a conscious universe... a conscious anything, would also want to experience love, wonder, joy and understanding. Maybe this is what Christianity really means when they say, "We were created in Gods image."
So now that we've established your complex divine cosmic circumstance it's time to decide what you're going to do with it.
Identifying your artistic purpose
As artists, we can often feel that our work is frivolous, vain and narcissistic... without purpose, but that's because we are unable to see the real and lasting effects our work has on the world around us. After all, Van Gogh was never famous during his lifetime. It was only after he passed that his work found its permanency, power and acclaim. People from all walks of life find your work at different times, in different contexts and are able to understand themselves, the world and their place in it better because YOU recorded YOUR experience, skill and understanding the best way you knew how.
We all come from different backgrounds and find our way to our artistic path in unique ways. Each path is both a consequence of and a calling from the universe to pursue and investigate what fills your heart with joy, love, understanding and wonder. The universe is asking you, the best way it can to explore, investigate and experience as much beauty as possible before you need to report back to the grand design. If you never find a deeper purpose know that, at the very least, your existence is contributing to the grandest story ever told. You matter because you are matter. If you want to be more specific and take charge of your purpose though, how do you do that?
FINding your purpose
I believe there are 4 key ingredients that contribute to a life of purpose. One where, on our death bed, we are able to face the eternity of the universe knowing that the universe itself, or at least, this small, dot floating in space, is better for having given us a chance to exist. Those ingredients are:
Discovering your talents/finding your groove.
Finding your "Why."
Having integrity and following through for YOURSELF & OTHERS.
Attaching your "why" to a noble pursuit.
Discovering your talents/finding your groove
No matter who you are, you usually end up falling into a groove in life. We often refer to them as "careers." Some career paths are smooth, deep and steady; the straight and narrow, as they say. Some are rough, turbulent and spotted; often jumping between multiple careers and never really finding a stride. Others are lucrative, exotic and extraordinary. We all hope to find a path that is fun, fulfilling and fruitful but that is easier said than done, isn't it? Living isn't free and the bills need to be paid. We have all taken a job we didn't necessarily "enjoy" in order to afford to have a roof over our or our family's head. I commend you for doing what needed to be done. However, it is not the end game... is it?
Ideally, you wake up and the prospect of the day ahead excites you so much that you can barely contain yourself, you jump out of bed. You don't want to say goodbye to your partner, your child, your pet or maybe your playstation but you are far more excited for what the day holds. You are eager to get after the day and each task in front of you is met with enthusiasm and a willing heart... How many of us can truly say this is the norm? And what does it take to live with so much vigour and purpose that each day feels like a gift instead of a task to be checked off a list?
When you were a kid you may have put on theatre shows in your kitchen entryway, like me, or maybe you collected bugs and ants and built colonies to study. Maybe you were a math wiz and now you code computers and smash particles together, or perhaps you dug holes deep into the earth and now you're an archeologist who studies bones. No matter what we choose to focus on as kids we usually end up carving deeper and deeper grooves in some channel as we age and that becomes our livelihoods.
It is important to ensure that the groove you are carving is one you hope to ride into the future because soon it becomes impossible to escape, the groove becomes too deep. So how do you ensure that what you choose to pursue in life is groovy as can be and leads to a happy deathbed?
I believe that deep down in each of us there is something that makes us lose track of time, forget our problems, understand ourselves better and focus so intently on the moment by moment happenings that we access a state that is beyond the average human experience. A "flow state." One where our truest nature surges and we become more than our base nature but connect to a profound human experience that all can understand because it is universal, relatable and honest. I believe that this happens because we access a harmonious state of being with the universe that places us in line with a divine purpose and opens the door to incredible potential. After all, when we are in a flow state it is not just you that is causing it but you in collaboration with the universe itself.
No matter who you are there is something unique that makes your heart happy, that makes you feels right. I'm telling you right now that regardless of how difficult or impossible it may seem to make your dream a reality it is absolutely imperative to pursue if you want to be satisfied when the final curtain falls and your eyes close for the last time.
For me it's performing music, making films and acting for an audience... storytelling really. When I do those things, time doesn't exist. I feel immortal, I feel complete. I feel that way because I believe these things to be the truest expression of my ability to contribute to this universe as a conscious being that I could possibly muster. It just feels "right." For some people it's designing rockets, for others, it is studying volcanoes. Maybe you're a marine biologist and your research leads to cures for cancer and anti-aging face creams... Maybe you're a structural steal engineer and you build the skyscrapers of tomorrow. Or maybe you haven't discovered it yet. No matter your "niche" there will be something that makes you feel unique to the world. Something that calls to you, a whisper in your heart that pops up every now and then.
This faint whisper is the most important call you will ever hear and one that I recommend you do not ignore. This is where the juiciest parts of your life will emerge from; relationships, career, spirituality... the good stuff. While it's great to finally find our calling, it's what we do with the call that really matters. For this you'll need a strong "Why."
FINDING YOUR "WHY"
We spend a lot of time worrying about the "What's" and the "How's" in life and spend far too little time considering "Why." "What are we gunna do?!!!" "How are we going to fix this?" How about... "Why should we fix it?" Why do you get up in the morning? Why do you do what you do through the day? Why is that how you do it?"
As kids we ask this question a lot. It's kind of annoying, right? We've all been that kid in a "why phase" who's response to everything for at least a few weeks is... WHY? I feel like a big reason we stop asking ourselves why is because it's squashed out of us by annoyed siblings, parents and society in general who themselves had it squashed out of them. This tragic conditioning cascades into adulthood where we become the roaring opposition to "why" and often end up answering, "Because... that's just how it is!" But is it...?
I would argue "why" is perhaps the most fundamentally important question we should be asking ourselves. This sentiment is one that is best explained by renowned researcher and author, Simon Sinek. I first came across the importance of asking myself "why" in Sinek's book Start with Why. In the book, he dives into research that investigates the mindsets of great artists, athletes, businesses and organizations who first focus on WHY they exist, then HOW they're going to do it, then WHAT they actually do. Instead of the other way around.
For instance, Sinek explains how Apple's founders Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak built Apple by starting with WHY. They first identified a huge imbalance in power in America. They saw that big corporations were dictating what the average person was consuming, how they consumed it and even how they behaved. The Steve's saw a need to challenge the status quo and to empower the average person to be able to compete with the accounting, design quality, scale, etc. of the big corporations. That was their "Why." HOW would they do it? By designing beautiful user friendly computing products that empower new generations of creators, entrepreneurs and artists to create professional content and build fortune 500 businesses. So, WHAT do they ACTUALLY do? They produce and sell really good computers for creators and entrepreneurs. For a more detailed and concise explanation I would highly recommend you read Start with Why. There are many valuable lessons in there to add to your tool belt as a human. Do yourself a favour and go get the book.
No matter what arena of life your fall in it's important that you have a reason you are doing what you're doing; un raison d'être. Hopefully it's a good one, an honourable one and one, like I mentioned before, that you can face with pride on your deathbed.
For myself, I am lucky to wake up each day with a clear purpose. I know my "why" at least right now, and sure, it's constantly evolving. It took me a while but over time I've continued to refine it and I've currently rendered it down to this... My "why" is "to heal the world around me through the power of the stories I live and tell." Now, that takes many shapes and forms and it happened organically to a degree but it is something I can come back to no matter what stage of life I find myself. My curious mind that could never rest on one topic for too long, distracted by the majesty of this incredible universe, began to carve grooves in the proverbial fabric of time and space with the things I focused on. Stories, plays, characters, music and films dominated my mind and soon became the day to day activities that populated my life.
Playing a guitar in my room at 13 led to joining a band at 16, which led to me going to Vancouver to learn sound engineering at 21, which introduced me to the film industry, which inspired me to pursue acting professionally at 24, which brought me back home to Alberta to get my B.F.A. in Dramatic Arts at 25, which introduced me to agents, directors and mentors, which got me my ACTRA apprenticeship at 29, which got me roles and jobs on TV and in films at 30, which refined my filmmaking abilities, which allowed me to produce award winning films and music videos at 33, which allowed me to win grants, join the CMPA (Canadian Media Producers Association), start my company, HatChap Productions, and pursue my "Why" EVERYDAY. Today I find myself working everyday in the entertainment industry creating films, music videos, episodic series and documentaries that fall in line with my personal & company mission.
I am so grateful for the fortune, hard work, guidance and sacrifice that has led me to where I am today. To be able to wake up everyday and work towards something, I truly believe in my heart and soul is the right thing to do, is an amazing privilege. I don't take it lightly. It took me many years of hard work, mistakes, detours and recalculations to get here; I'm not where I'm aiming but I'm certainly where I need to be in order to take the next big steps towards a beautiful future. I wouldn't have that without a distinct, unique, perpetual and omnipotent "Why".
I highly recommend you do everything you can to discover your "Why." It will propel you and energize you when even the strongest drugs will not. It will be a beacon of inspiration and positivity to the world around you and it is absolutely necessary if you want to get to the the finish line in life with all your dreams, hopes and aspirations on your side, instead of wishing they had chosen someone else to realize them. In order to do that you'll need to have integrity. You'll need to be doing the right thing when no one is watching.
Having Integrity and Following through
We've all watched movies where the hero sacrifices everything to save the world or a mother forgoes a life of prestige to support a helpless child and raise a family. There are countless documentaries, books, archeological studies and oral histories that point to extreme acts of heroism that defied the odds and led to continued prosperity. We all have respect for the doctors and researchers who spend 100s of 1000s of hours of of their lives to prevent disease, cure illness and discover breakthroughs that propel us forward as a species. We commend and admire athletes and olympians who stand out above the rest because of years of training and discipline honing their skills.
Is it just because they're "great" and that's... it? Or is it because we see something more in them? Something we all relate to. We know that they did something different and that they really earned it, but how do we know? We know because "the dream" has propelled thousands of olympians to achieve greatness but only a few ever make it. So what's the difference maker? In order to be the best they must on average be better than everyone else which means they need to train, practice and master every facet of their craft or sport better than EVERYONE else. In essence this is question of who has the most integrity. Who is MOST willing to do the right thing every time?
This is why we can see ourselves in gold medal olympians, in A-list actors, in Nobel Peace Prize winning writers and scientists and in our idols and heroes. It's because we know that if we really wanted it just like they did... or more... that we could do just what they did... ... or more...
So what's stopping you? We all have excuses. Some are legitimate and some just aren't. Regardless of how many legitimate excuses you have it will be those who take on the fewest who make the greatest mark. Easier said than done, right? Excuses are easy, results are hard.
It comes down to a really long game of momentum building over years and years. Take our Olympian analogy, for example. This momentum building starts at a very young age as soon as the baby gains motor function. From there, the more they use a particular limb or body part, let's say their legs, the more momentum they are building towards a life that relies predominantly on that body part. As time passes and they learn to walk, then run, they notice they are faster than the rest of their peers which propels them to run more and get faster, chasing the neural-chemical rush that winning a race can bring. Soon they are competing at higher and higher levels until, one day, they qualify for the Olympics and a few years later they're on top of the podium.
You don't often find a computer engineer who, one day, just decides to run the 100m in the Olympic Qualifiers and can immediately compete at an olympic level. Vice versa, with a runner trying to code a super computer. These great achievers of our time built momentum in their craft to a greater capacity than anyone else could. They carved their "groove" deeper. It started when they were young and once they realized how much momentum they had built towards something great they chose to double down and follow their path to the BEST of their ability.
Discovering your talents and finding your groove is the momentum you build before you make the choice to #doubledown, before you find your "Why." Once you find your "Why" you know what you have to do and this is where the conscious building of momentum begins. Here, you must have the most integrity you can muster. Each win will build on the next and as time passes YOUR story will unfold. How beautiful that story is falls in direct relation to how much integrity you truly have and to how much resistance you are willing to overcome.
Everyone who reads this is at a unique point in their journey and, for some, momentum isn't the problem but for those who feel stuck or stagnant I have a few words of wisdom to help shake you out of stasis and get you on your way.
Procrastination is a real thing and it is actually a result of our chemical makeup at any given time. A major contributor to procrastination and apathy is an imbalance in the #dopamine and #serotonin networks in our bodies. This is another facet of Simon Sinek's research that sheds incredible light on the power of our minds. Again, I highly recommend his book or to check out Simon on YouTube but here is what I recommend to start building that neurological momentum after reading on this topic.
It starts small with something simple like making your bed in the morning. This activates a positive feedback loop in your dopamine response network. It engages your reticular activating system (the same thing that makes you see other people with your new car on the road all the time now). This focuses your brain on other dopamine elevating activities and leads to a HEALTHY increase in dopamine levels which creates a sense of comfort and completion. It reduces pain and relaxes muscles, motivating and supporting you to do more through the day. This physiological response is a welcome one to the human body which again releases more dopamine into the positive feedback loop and the cycle continues.
Essentially, you made your bed in the morning which led to whole days worth of productivity and growth. Ideally, this loop will last forever but life isn't that simple and as we are taken away from healthy dopamine elevating activities our levels drop and we lose that sense of completion and comfort. It's kind of like a balloon we are always trying to fill but just keeps leaking.
The goal is build a set of habits that fill that balloon without you having to work so hard to fill it. Surrounding yourself with people, activities and environments that promote a healthy dopamine network and are in line with your talents, goals and, most importantly, your "Why" will have the best results.
This section is titled "Having Integrity and Following Through" and until now I've been discussing everything that surrounds the concept of integrity but not the actual concept itself. The reason for this is because in order to have integrity you have to believe in something profound, important and larger than yourself. You have to be motivated to choose the harder decision over the easier one every time. Your "Why" is the ideal candidate for something profound to believe in but even if you don't have one yet living with integrity will always lead you towards a brighter future and often to your "why" itself. So be sure to build your integrity bones whenever you can.
What does that look like though...? Well, eating right, exercising, honouring your word, showing up, pushing your comfort zone and managing your vices is a good place to start. However, practical application is the trick so here are a few tips to use in your daily lives to have more integrity.
1) For the next month when you realize you have a task to do like laundry or the dishes, DO IT IMMEDIATELY!!! Don't think about it, don't plan to do it later, don't make an excuse. You need to start building your momentum and start to build your belief in YOURSELF. After all, deep down you know that if you're not willing to do your laundry or clean that plate when it needs doing that you're probably not going have what it takes to achieve your dreams. Your subconscious knows this and each time you neglect what NEEDS to be done you're teaching yourself to avoid doing what needs doing. You're building an intimate track record that only you really sees and as the adage goes... seeing is believing. So, first task... for one month do what needs doing as soon as it crosses your mind. The second month will be a lot easier and soon, so will your life.
2) Next, starting immediately, get in the habit of celebrating your wins and accomplishments; even the smallest ones. When you get that laundry done, go to the gym, work an extra hour... be sure to reward yourself with some form of healthy incentive like a delicious tea, your favourite meal, a seat in a massage chair or anything that will incentivize and reinforce your positive behaviour in a healthy way. This sounds really basic, like training a dog, and guess what? It is! Dogs also run a dopamine network and they are trained primarily with that system in mind. We just have the ability to use that knowledge to benefit ourselves too. So, why not? When you support, celebrate or stack positive dopamine and serotonin boosting activities your body begins to expect those to happen more which primes your reticular activating system to focus on more activities and behaviours that will further support dopamine release; and the loop continues.
You can essentially hack your own mind to be more productive, engaged and focused by providing healthy incentives for the behaviours you believe will improve your life. But be careful because this slippery slope works both ways and dopamine is an easy neural-chemical to find that has many unhealthy sources in our world like: sugar, drugs and alcohol, etc. to name a few. These will only give you a temporary boost and often lead to imbalances down the road, trust me, I know from experience. The key is to find healthy rewards for healthy behaviours. This will build a healthy life.
3) Another tip for building your integrity bone is to become a "doer" and not a "talker." Become a person of your word. We all know people who have huge, glorious ideas, ambitions and a grandiose self-image with little to no follow-through. A lot of noise but no results. These people often bring a lot of energy to the room but at the end of the day would you trust them with your newborn? With your business? With our career? I think we all know the answer. To be someone of their word is to be someone others trust but that trust doesn't come from somewhere in others. It arises from you and radiates outwards when you demonstrate repeatedly to YOURSELF and others that you are trustworthy. Only then will others see it too.
In order to be a "doer" you will need to be humble and be brutally honest with yourself. This is going to suck, at least it usually does. There's probably a few fibs, excuses and white lies you tell yourself to make the grind of life a little more bearable. These aren't always easy to face. I'm here to tell you to stop, right now! What's the point, other than to soothe your discomfort? And if that's the case, do you want to continue to live a life of discomfort that's in need of soothing? Or do you want to live a life that surprises you, that engages you, that fills your heart to the top, and that matters when the curtain closes. In order for that to happen you will need to "DO" things. Important things. Things that matter to you and others. You will need to be a DOER not a talker.
4) Finally, in order to truly have integrity you can NOT succumb to the judgment of others.
Let me ask you something...? At the end of your life, when you look back at it all, do you hope that the life you lived was up to you? Or up to someone else...? You hope it was up to you, right? That you were the driver. So why do you listen to what others think? Why do you live your life in accordance with what others want? The real, deep down answer to this is usually fear. Fear of what they'll do, fear of what they'll think, fear of what will happen. But we're trying to cultivate a life of meaning and purpose here so fear can't be an obstacle for us. Instead, it must be a beacon that signals a worthy pursuit.
If you are able to attach your "why" to something truly noble and you live in accordance with that noble goal, who has the right to tell you otherwise? No one, that's who? When you attach your "why" to a truly noble cause you create a profound purpose for existing, one that no one can take away from you because it is essentially in harmony with the universe. Once you have that, you become the driver of your life. Fear no longer has the hold on you it used to because you know that your actions are warranted and that they matter.
So how do you cut through the fear or what others think of you?
By attaching your "Why" to a noble pursuit.
Attaching your "why" to a noble pursuit
Earlier, I discussed the importance of having a strong "why." To review, my "WHY" is to "heal the world through the power of the stories I live and tell." But, to quote my 4-year-old self... "why?" Why do I want to heal the world? The simple answer is that I don't believe in unnecessary suffering. Some suffering is good, at the end of a set of bicep curls, for instance, but true suffering; famine, war, abuse, corruption... these are unacceptable in my heart.
I have so many artistic abilities to create and communicate and I've chosen to use them to live and tell stories that heal the world around me, but the deeper motivation for all of this is to relieve the world of unnecessary pain and suffering. I believe these to be the roots of all the darkness in our world and I truly feel that if we could address these major pitfalls of our civilization we could all live lives so extraordinary that the cosmos and everything in it becomes an exciting playground and not a threatening abyss. I believe that to be a NOBLE CAUSE and one that I can forever return to because for me it is an essential truth; something bigger than myself.
If you haven't noticed by now, I'll tell you again for free, that what propels me in life is connected to the most fundamental and profound truths I've ever realized. My behaviours run deep and have been cultivated over decades to pursue a profoundly noble cause, at least in my own understanding. This is what gives me the energy, focus, discipline and patience to create art on a regular basis and to live a life that I truly believe in.
I sincerely hope that you find a path that leads to a happy curtain call when you finally bow out. So many people never find that path because it is not an easy one to see. It takes a lot of hard work, self investigation and humility but if you can get through the weeds it is the most worthy feeling you can earn as a human.
DO the work, don't just talk about it (read about it). Go out and do it. Take the plunge. Have integrity, attach your "why" to something truly noble and soon you will be amazed how beautiful your life becomes.