Joyconjurer Ep 3 Pt 4 - The Magic Map


As we near the end of our journey with JDZappa's letter, it is fitting to take a look at where we've been. We've explored inner caves and climbed mountains. If we traced our course on a map, it would wind around, even double back on itself at times. But every step is a step forward.

A wild letter reappears!

3. How do I deal with regret from not pursuing a creative career at an earlier age? I could have gone the fiction-writing path after college but chose a more steady career. Now, I’m envious of published writers in their 20s and 30s who gambled and won, while I live a somewhat-boring suburban life.

John, aka JDZappa

At the center of the map is our destination, "finding joy in the creative process." Surrounding that destination are a myriad of biomes. There is a desert of despair, a lush forest of creative abundance, and even a plateau of boredom. Each biome contains a set of trails; some are direct, some follow a roundabout route. Some trails pass near countless beautiful vistas, others seem only to circle the same mundane brush. But eventually, every trail leads to the same destination.

You cannot control where you start this journey. Some people begin close to the center of the map, take a direct path, and meet little resistance. Others start closer to the edge and run into dead-end paths, difficult terrain, and various obstacles to overcome or bypass.

You might regret not joining your friends who "gambled" on bandit-filled roads; they seem to be at the center of the map while you are still finding your way. It is easy to feel envious, easy to compare our own bramble-filled badlands to others' beautiful forests. But we do not know of the spiders, the swamps, and the darkness at the center of the forest. We do not know of their struggle to remain with joy after finding it. Even the most successful people can still wander back into the wilderness and lose their passion and joy.

Envy is natural when we do not have a complete picture of someone else's experience, when we only see their success. Comparison is natural, and it's okay to feel bored or regretful about your journey. In fact, regret is one of the few certain companions on this journey; everyone feels regret, no matter their course, their speed, or their distance from the center. But remember that it is your path, the experience of your journey, that shapes who you are when you arrive.

Like I've been saying throughout this journey, if you fixate on anywhere other than where you are, you are going to run into some amount of pain. You are here. Be here. Be present here. Take what you can from this place as you move to the next place. Remember this place. Not everyone got to be here. I think you will find your "somewhat boring" suburban life is richer and more exciting than you know. And you will be a better writer for it, even if you don't quite see it yet.

I’d love to hear about what each of you are working on right now. Tell us about your projects, take a moment to share how your journey has shaped it. I look forward to hearing from you.

If you have a question or quandary that you’d like to hear the Joyconjurer’s perspective on, email me at [email protected]. Please note: published letters may be edited for length and/or clarity.


I can relate hard to JDZappa's question here, though I also have friends who gambled on a creative career and lost, who now wish they had the job and other sources of stability that those of us who chose the steadier path have. I'm going through similar issues, and another challenge for me is not just findgin time to do things myself, but also with others. I love doing collaborative creative stuff (eg band!) but it's hard to find time with friends when you're all mired in young kids, jobs etc.

I also like this concept of finding joy that seems more about changing something within ourselves, rather than fixating on an externality and saying "I will be happy if I do/get X".

I'm a software licensing expert, and finding a creative solution that works around strict vendor compliance policies, saves money for the customer, closes the deal and nets us a bit of margin can also be pretty exciting - boring as it might be for any outsider.

I imagine the same goes for a developer that finds a creative workaround when stuck, or a lawyer finding a loophole in the law for his/her client, or an administrative worker finding a way to shortcut some boring task.

This is not meant as a jab Rich, as you never specifically excluded this type of 'productive' creativity. But I once dreamed of a future as a journalist, and am now rather content with the upside of a sales-y job: a steady and nice paycheck, and some room to play video games and spend time with my family. Personally, and with a few more XP points on my counter, I'm not sure I have the mental stamina to stay steady without that financial security.

While my life as I currently lead it has less creativity and is much less about explicitly nurturing every human's need for expression, the professional type of creativity is still worthy and often overlooked. Get it where you can, folks

I'm catching up on the Joyconjurer columns so wanted to once again thank Rich for another amazing answer. (And sorry if I ended up dominating the last few columns - wasn't my intention). The work I put in on my book for Nanowrimo last month certainly forced me to be present and also sparked my creativity. I'm at least trying to put this great advice into practice, even if I'm only taking baby steps for the time being.

@ Felix - I don't know if it helps, but some of my friends with kids and a time intensive side hobby like distance running will just schedule in a time to get together with their friends. They then stick to that time as if it's a doctor's appointment.

@ dejanzie - My wife just left the journalism field a couple years back and overall doesn't regret it. She misses the fast pace, glamour, and feeling that she was making a difference... but she doesn't miss the low pay, stressful hours, seeing stuff that no sane person would want to see, or the upswing in hate against the media.

dejanzie wrote:

I imagine the same goes for a developer that finds a creative workaround when stuck

This is absolutely true.

I write software for an aerospace company. My position is a software engineer, which leads the management folks to view what I do as a rigorous, mechanical, predictable process. Yet, at least in my mind, the act of talking with our customers to help them understand their own requirements, and the act of sitting down and converting those requirements into an architecture and design, involve more than a little creativity, art, and joy.

You are quite welcome! You asked a whole ton of great questions that intersected with lots of what people were writing in about. I’m glad I was able to help.

After this off week I’ll be back next week with a new letter!