The Life Creative (3)

In Creativity and Inspiration, Rants and Sermons, The Life Creative by David30 Comments

Someone just asked me what I do in my spare time. I told them I didn’t have any. I know what they meant, I really do, and I swear I’m not trying to be difficult. You’ll get the same blank look, or blunt reply, from me if you ask me what I do. I just haven’t a clue how to honestly reply in a way that gives you the answer you want and still allows me to fundamentally reject the premise on which the question is based. The best I can do is try not to look like a jerk, and then re-frame the question a little.

So before I get into my sermon about time, let me explain my reaction to the question about what I do; I think they’re related. In fact, they’re related to another question, one I get when I return from traveling. “So, where you there for work or play?” The answer of course, is, yes. And every time I feel like a douchebag for not just playing along. I’m not trying to be pedantic, just faithful to a more meaningful paradigm.

What do I do? What the inquirer means, of course, is “what do you do for work?” But in my case this is no more clarifying, nor any easier to answer. I’m a photographer, an author, a blogger, a publisher, a designer, a traveler, a teacher, a speaker. All of these are true. But underlying the question is a dualism I’m living very hard to reject: the idea that work and play should, necessarily, be separate. Not only separate, but the question implies that our work – separate from our play – defines us.

Should we all do what we love in order to pay the bills? Should living a life and making a living be the same thing? Maybe not for everyone. But I think the longer we persist in thinking that the two worlds are necessarily mutually exclusive, the longer we’ll live without seeing the possibility of their convergence.  But that’s not really my point. I am not making a case for “do what you love and you’ll never work a day in your life.” I’m making a case for loving your work, and finding meaning in it. It’s been two years since I did my last humanitarian assignment. I’m going back to Africa, nervously, for three weeks in January: the first time back on assignment with a client since my accident. I’m excited. I love what I do, and at the time, when I’m working long hot hours, I rarely think of it as anything but work. But there’s nothing, in that moment, that I’d rather be doing than creating those photographs with those people, in that place. I don’t see life as a work or play proposition. I see them both combined in something more meaningful: creation.

I’ve got no advice, but if you can’t find meaning in your work, then fight like hell to find it, either there or elsewhere. I am not saying “quit your job and live on love.” I’m saying if your soul is suffocating at the job you’re doing, find another one. If you know you’ll never be happy until you at least try to start the business you want to start, then try it. Life is too short to spend the vast portion of our waking hours doing meaningless work, too short to be trading the too-few hours of our life for a mere wage.

And that’s where I choke on the question of spare time. Is any of us so rich that we can afford to look at time as though we’ve got time left over? Spare time? What is that? Extra time I’m just not using? We talk about time so flippantly. “I’m just killing time,” or “time is money.” Words not a soul among us would waste the time – and it would be a waste – to say on our death beds when time – even minutes or seconds – is all we really long for just a little more of. Kill it? Trade it for money?

My work and play is to create. To write. To photograph. To grow friendships and make new experiences together. And to mold myself, in collaboration with time and circumstance, into the person I hope to be. I read with an appetite, my coffee table and bedside tables littered with books, because the words of others are among the raw materials for whom I am becoming. I read, and watch, great stories, as fuel and hope for my own story. If it doesn’t add to my life and the work of creation in which I spend my days, or to the lives of others, then it’s neither work nor play and I’ve no time for it.

There is no spare time. I plan to use every second of it. Lives are not merely lived; they are created. And it’s that created life from which our love, our art, our legacy flows to others.

(To read The Life Creative (1) Follow this link…)
(To read The Life Creative (2) Follow this link…)



  1. Pingback: Patterns In Nature – Kids and Cameras Can Help Build A Sustainable Future | Patterns In Nature Blog

  2. Well said David, well said… and great timing! Think everybody will find smth here for them… Thank you:)

  3. I’ve finally stepped up and shared in your blog. I know you love to read so maybe check out Elbert Hubbard sometime. I think you’ll enjoy his philosophy on life and love and our work. He’s available for free in iBooks but his hand made 100+ year old books from his company the Roycrofters are a far more real and enjoyable experience if you can find one. Thanks for all that you have shared unknowingly in my life in 2012 through your books and your blog and all the best in 2013. I tell everyone about you who cares to listen!

  4. Wise words, deepfully insights in what our short life shuold be!
    Thanks Dave. You are an inspiration for all of us. Not only as photographer but also as human being, leading your existence to leta better world behind!

  5. Pingback: Things You’ll Find Interesting January 1, 2013 | Chuq Von Rospach, Photographer and Author

  6. Took me until I was retired from my first job (32 years) to truely understand your point… but over the last 4.5 years I have learned that work and play = my existence and I have the power to decide how I manage that time… it has been very refreshing and I now enjoy and celebrate the time.

  7. Perfectly said. I do so many different things that it’s hard to define “work” and “play”. All my time is spent in creative pursuits: teaching literature, photography and digital art, reading, and even running—creating new workouts and routes. Nothing about my life is static and I love that.

    I finally started telling people that I am a Renaissance woman–doing as much as I can in as many media I can with all the energy I have.

  8. Thank you once again for the kick in the gut. Just recently I have decided to venture away from a career that has not lead me to a full-time position, and one that I was not thoroughly happy being in. These posts are reassurance that I am headed down that correct path and that I am following my passions. Your words, and work, are truly inspirational and I thank you for sharing them with the world.

  9. Hey David,

    Happy new year. Isn’t it interesting how “luck” seems to follow those who aren’t afraid to work hard or make a mistake or twelve along the way?


  10. I too, choked up with sadness. I want to do and be what you’re doing, and sometimes, (I’m gonna say it) I’m sickeningly jealous. Certainly you’ve had some luck in your pursuits. Let’s be honest here and say, this kind of life doesn’t happen to everyone. It takes money to travel, and even the best photographer will have to have some luck. Or is that all hogwash? Set me straight here. All said, if you ever need someone to carry your camera bag, set up your tri-pod, or fetch you a drink of agua, I’ll be that gal!

    1. Author

      Shirlee – I think you’re right, though I think there’s more luck out there for all of us than we know, and it’s only by risking a lot, falling down, and getting back up that we begin to see it. It does take money to travel, but I’ve struggled tooth and nail to get to a point where I can do it on my terms. It took me 40 years. I don’t for a moment claim we are perfect architects of our lives, but I do think we can all risk more and chase down the kind of life we want, on our own terms. “The more we work, the luckier we are,” is the usual adage. I think we need to add to that risk and the willingness to make choices, pursue relationships, and then see where it all goes. But if you’re asking me if I feel like the luckiest man in the world most days, I do. I’ll put you on the growing list of tripod caddies 🙂 Happy New Year, Shirlee.

    2. Shirlee, David, everyone.

      First of all, Happy New Year for all of you of course. I feel little guilty, because probably I`m the author of this “spare time question”.

      Well, maybe because my kind of work looks like 8am – 4pm – behind – the – desk type (but I like it) , so in my spare time I try to take every minute for my family and photography which is my hobby, not my work and I believe, that`s my very best choice for me for now.

      I believe also, that throwing everything at once (f.e. job) without even the smallest plan, is very risky (foolish), especially, when you have a family. So my key word is – common sense. Don`t search for the job of your dreams – create opportunities for it. And learn from mistakes.
      David, if You allowed me to paste a link which illustrates my point of view.

  11. I think Adam Savage (of Mythbusters) had the right idea when he said “I reject your reality and substitute my own” — it makes the reframing of the context very obvious, and allows giving an answer from your own context (there even seem to be T-shirts with it printed on for sale). Depending on what it is they’re actually asking (and that “free time” question can sometimes just be “easy question for polite conversation”) there are a variety of better ways to ask it (eg, “what do you do when you’re not photographing”, or “is that your day job? what else do you do”, etc).


  12. So very excellent David.

    The older I get, and I am no spring chicken… ;-), the more I realize that time is really all we have here on this plane of existence, all else is just borrowed for a short period. Not many people around from 150 years ago.

    I totally agree with you my friend, our time here is limited, we all have a “one way ticket” and we don’t know when it will be “punched.”

  13. I had made up my mind last night to leave my current job and do something different, and then I ran across your blog today. You really hit my spirit with your words and I am blessed to have run across them this morning. God Bless! 🙂

    1. Author

      Hersh – Good luck with the next stage of this adventure! I’ve lived without a “real job” almost my whole life. There was a brief experiment with Kentucky Fried Chicken that I’d rather not talk about… I wish you a great adventure, the strength to work harder than you’ve ever worked, the courage to see the light when it seems dark. And I wish you the courage to take insane risks, and the wisdom to know the difference between being bold and being stupid. Lord knows I don’t always get that one right. 🙂

  14. Dammit, David, you’re being inspirational again, despite your best efforts not to be! So, um….. thanks! 😉

  15. Love this. Beautifully spoken, as your rants always are. Thank you for the inspiration and motivation. My word for this year is persevere. Many of your posts in the Rants & Sermons category will be read and reread for the journey. All the the best to you in Africa. I have no doubt you will make the most of whatever comes your way.

  16. An extremely inspiring read David, I couldn’t agree more with you. If the effort is never made to pursue what will truly make you happy then change will never happen.

    This is an article that everyone needs to read to kick off the new year. I wish you all the best this year and look forward to more of your writing!

  17. I also struggle when people ask me the “What do you do?” question, for my answers don’t fit into the box the questioner holds. What makes it even more difficult, for others mostly, is that much of what I do is unpaid and so people don’t perceive that work as being legitimate. But as it is my life and not theirs I continue doing what I am doing.

    Thanks for all your inspiration David!

  18. Wise words as always my friend. I recently began to find it difficult to define myself by my profession or my hobbies as the boundaries are blurring now..

  19. Dear David,
    I was given your book, “Within the Frame” a couple of years ago. I was just beginning my journey into photography and was so grateful to read your words because it all spoke to me so much. I do not have a lot of time either because if I am not working my day job, I am working on my craft in any way possible. My path right now is to make this full time and I am almost there.
    I wanted to say thank you for helping me on my journey and it seems so apropos that just when I need that little nudge or creative push I read something from you or Michael Frye, or someone from Craft & Vision. So thank you for everything you do and for being so honest about your work.
    Happy New Year and best wishes for you and yours.

  20. This was a good read and timely too, since I recently retired from a career in the civil service. A good time to start and make some decisions.

  21. This is the first thing I’ve read in 2013. I literally started looking at your blog yesterday, and I can’t think of a better piece to have read to start off my year.

    I’m one of those people searching for meaning in the work I do while trying to do a good, responsible job raising my four children. Thanks for sharing and reinforcing the inspiration I need to seize the moments ahead of me.

    Have a safe and soul fulfilling journey to Africa.

  22. I think anyone who would ask you “what you do” and about spare time has not taken a moment to see who you are or think about what they are asking. Your writing and photography explain you pretty well, at least in my mind and the question would never occur to me. My sense is that every minute you are living your art, soul and life. I would rather know when you sleep, because clearly your way of life also gives you relaxation.

    I bought my iPad in order to have your first eBooks with me and have ended up with most of them, although I have yet to translate the inspiration or knowledge into pictures I am sure that will come.

    I would like to leave you with this toast, because if anyone needs/deserves good health you do, so that you can continue to show the us at home what our world looks like.

    To your health, then may it be the blessing that unlocks the way to all other blessings in you life. May it be a window opening always to a world of morning and springtime and hope.

    Thank you for your sharing.

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