The Blank Page

I find that one of the biggest impediments to creative thought is the presence of a big blank space. An empty whiteboard, piece of paper, computer screen. Apart from the intimidation presented by the thought of putting the first mark, the first blemish, to this perfect expanse of potential is the challenge of coming up with anything meaningful when there’s nothing to connect to.

We create by connecting. By altering. We take an existing thing and interpret it, or improve on it, or deconstruct it. We take the world as it is, and navigate it. Hopefully, we improve it along the way, but at the most basic we look for the corners that are most palatable to us.

So if you just look at a blank page, with its borders constraining you to a world entirely vacant, that’s not exactly a great way to get unstuck from a mire in which you find yourself.

If you’re looking for a new job, and you’re not sure what you want to do, then taking a blank page and trying to just design a job from scratch is a really, really terrible way to start.

Fortunately, the counter-solution is much easier than you think. First, recognize that you can get anywhere from anywhere else. As long as you have a method for navigation, all the different corners of the world are more closely connected than you think. (Think of the game “Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon.”)

So go grab a job ad instead. Literally any one. The most recent one you’ve seen, or the first one on the page when you log into a job board. It doesn’t matter. Print it out.

Now we have somewhere to start! Grab a red pen, a highlighter, and a normal pen. First, take the highlighter and highlight any passages that, all on their own, you like. You don’t have to like the whole thing, just individual lines, phrases, even words. Aspects. Then, take the red pen and circle anything you really hate – things that give you an instant aversion. Now take the regular pen and draw a little question mark next to anything you’re not sure about – whether it’s because you don’t know a term, or aren’t familiar with a skill, or just would love to ask something to clarify before you make a decision either way.

Now you can make three lists very easily – a list of “things I would like in my next job,” a list of “things I want to avoid,” and a list of “new things to learn about.” Start with that last list, and start searching! As you learn more, sort more things into the first two lists. They’ll grow, maybe even change. That’s good! Then the list of “good things” becomes a search point: try searching for “jobs that have…” and adding terms. Then, whatever you find, do the exercise again! You’ll refine, and move closer. Only instead of Kevin Bacon, you’re moving closer to a job you want.

You can use this kind of exercise for anything. Jobs, cars, houses, anything you want. The important thing to remember is that starting anywhere is fine because everywhere is connected to everywhere else. But “nowhere” doesn’t connect to anything. So don’t start there!

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