Are You Building a Body of Work or a Cornucopia of Chaos?

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There’s a difference. And it’s big…

One is about your legacy, the other is about what’s in front of you.

One is about the impact trail you deliberately blaze and leave behind, the other about the income trail you haphazardly piece together.

One is about progressive, conscious building within a well defined area of interest, the other is about bouncing to wherever the next perceived opportunity lies without regard to growth and consistency.

One is about being mindful, present and proactive, the other is about being disconnected, frenetic and reactive.

One is about peace, power and passion, the other is about searching, yearning and hoping.

It doesn’t matter if you’re a writer, a painter, a blogger, a lawyer or an executive. We all have within us the opportunity and the ability to create a profound body of work, a legacy.

There is, no doubt, a time for chaos and exploration.

In fact, it nearly always proceeds and informs a period of greater, more focused building. And, it’s not unusual for it to occasionally return as you question your current path. But, understanding and, to the extent possible, directing that chaos toward a resolution is critical, even if it means letting go of paths and options in order to create the space, focus and intention to drive forward with one. Because, with rare exception…

For greatness to emerge, options must narrow…and chaos must die.

Powerful legacies rarely if ever come in the form of scattershot, piecemeal efforts…cornucopias of chaos…no matter how fun, windswept or purposeful they seem when we’re adrift within them.

So, my question is…does this make sense to you?

And, more importantly, are your building or floating and why?

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37 responses

37 responses to “Are You Building a Body of Work or a Cornucopia of Chaos?”

  1. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Jonathan Fields and remarkablogger, tracy morgan. tracy morgan said: RT @jonathanfields Are You Building a Body of Work or a Cornucopia of Chaos? | Jonathan Fields […]

  2. Chris says:

    Great post. Been going through the chaos phase lately – which you nailed perfectly – hoping to come out the other side soon.


  3. Andy says:

    Yes, this applies to companies as well as people.

    • Jonathan Fields says:

      Andy – absolutely, it applies to entities/companies as well, one of the big differences being company’s burn rates are usually limited by cash, there is no option to spin in chaos for very long

  4. Oleg Mokhov says:

    Hey Jonathan,

    If you follow your passion, you can’t go wrong.

    You can eliminate chaos by deciding on potential paths with your passion. If it excites you, feels right, and will get you closer to your prize, then you should embrace this new choice. If it doesn’t, then ruthlessly ignore it.

    You’ll spend less time thinking “what ifs” and more time actually creating greatness. Since you’re not thinking about it but instead feeling it, chaos will be easier to ignore since you know for certain that you wouldn’t have been passionate about it.

    For me, it was difficult removing what seemed like the “right” paths from my life (2 examples: computer science career, becoming a music producer), but I just faced the reality: I wasn’t passionate about them. But even just a few months in, I felt so liberated, so relieved not have these passion-draining weights hanging on me. I had more clarity, direction, focus, and happiness as a result.

    I agree with you, Jonathan. Certain chaos can be fun but it won’t result in lasting happiness and creating something great – a legacy project.

    Great stuff,

    • Jonathan Fields says:

      Oleg – the challenge comes when you are a person possessed of multiple genuine passions. In that case, the “chaos” often revolves around bouncing between warring passions. So, even when you lead with passion, unless you’re someone who has a single driving passion, the fine art of culling and focusing is still mission critical

      • kate says:

        I am so pleased to come across this post! I am struggling with just this issue and am getting quite despairing in process. I have got myself into a confused mess re trying to decide on a body of work to develop for exhibition. There are many reasons for this I understand but at bottom of it is not being centred and mindful. I feel lost in a maze getting too focused now Ive finished college and successfully been awarded a grant, on how to find my way in the art world in a sustainable way – fair enough question but… to point where I am loosing focus and energy on my practice and not having confindence to make a decision re a direction for my work and sticking to it. I just keeping ‘playing’ with materials and going around in circles.

  5. I’m floating. I’ve known for a while that I’m floating. I’m glad to have read this. I don’t think that what I’m doing now is contribution to an organized body of work, but this kicked my butt enough to start looking for the beginning of my “body of work” and to get focused on developing it.

  6. Well, Jonathan, this post could not have come at a better moment. I have come to realize that I have a niche commitment phobia. For some time, I’ve been going in circles considering the many areas of work, target populations, and content to focus on my blog. It is very frustrating, to say the least. The million dollar question is how to choose what’s right for you, especially when you are passionate about more than one area or niche, and when you feel you have a lot to offer.

    Angelica Perez, from Everyday Life Happiness

    • Jonathan Fields says:

      You nailed it, this is a massively challenging question, one I’m exploring myself and will have more thoughts on soon.

  7. Hey Jonathan:

    It makes perfect sense. This is how our brains are structured biologically. We start off with exuberant amount of neuron connections in our brain when we are born. They are there to help us learn in the early stages of our lives.

    As we grow older, those neuron connections disappear as more concrete patterns are formed. In a way, it prevents information overload because eventually it becomes counter productive to learn and absorb everything around us.

    I believe that chaos is never really there. We just perceive it as such until we find a way to make sense of certain information that is important to use.

    Since we are similar to machines, we are able to process only so much,so we have to take in only relevant information. And if you want to build something amazing, then you have to have goal or a purpose. Otherwise, you will never be able to get away from the chaos perception because you will never find out what exactly to look for.


    • Jonathan Fields says:

      Interesting analogy, Tomas, gonna ponder that one for a while. Thanks for sharing.

  8. Terrific post. My current query is to look at my body of work and search for the coherent legacy. I beleive there is one and others seem to sense it was well and it has emerged from my choosing over and over again to pursue the path that stirred me. I now have to name it and it probably will mean saying no to somethingt. I look forward to that clarit when it comes. But sometimes you can’t rush these things…

  9. Doug Spak says:

    To borrow from the age-old saying: “When the student is ready, the blog will be posted.” Thanks for this excellent and, for me, timely post. I was laid off in June and, at 51, decided to not go back into the ad agency business. I am pursuing my passion to write and create. Sort of. I find I am doing exactly what you wrote about and it is chaotic, to say the least. After 30 years of working for a paycheck, my instinct is to take projects and leave everything else behind. I find that I am running in circles, but not getting a damn thing accomplished. Your post has prompted me to stop and take a breath. And consider the possibilities. Thanks.

    • Jonathan Fields says:

      Doug, it’s a process that takes time to evolve. I’ve found often the fastest way to move forward is to slow down, create space and spend a bit more time looking at how you’d like to create your big picture

  10. I have been learning this lately to a great extent. I am also realizing the value in building everything so that it is more of a masterpiece rather than Haphazard material. Being organized and putting together a well-thought-out plan in everything you do has many benefits including immediate results and long term intrinsic values.

  11. Chris Cree says:

    Just saw this on Twitter. That’s a great quote, Jonathan.

    “For greatness to emerge, options must narrow…and chaos must die.”

    Because sometimes Less is More.

  12. Mick Morris says:

    I agree Johnathon, working out what you are REALLY trying to achieve is vitally important otherwise you’re just spinning your wheels, getting no traction and going nowhere!

    LIfe’s a journey but it needs a destination or else you are just wandering, lost.

  13. Aislyn {n04} says:

    Wow, I didn’t even think of it like this until now. I’m definitely a floater, if only because I have no idea what my purpose is yet.

    Thanks for this, really gave me a nugget of mind-beef-jerky to chew on <3

  14. Prime says:

    It’s all about focus and the ability to think over the long term. You have to know your specific goals and should focus you work towards achieving it. If you spread yourself thinly, you end up wasting a lot of money, time and energy

  15. lucnypes says:

    Hi Jonathan,

    a timely question.

    Recently I started to explore my possibilities, which is a lot of enjoyable work, but it generates a kind of chaos. So here I am working hard and sometimes ending up lost in the shifting sands.

    I am expecting to sort this out hopefully soon though as I finish this prelaunch phase and start the “learn from your errors” period.

  16. Wendy says:

    I’m definately floating. I’d been waiting for a while for my focus to just come to me but I’ve since realized that it’s never going to happen that way. The only way I’m going to figure it out is to just start writing and keep writing until something stands out to me.

  17. Patrenia says:

    Yes, this does reasonte with me. I used to be a floater, but I am now in the process of building. I have been given an awesome opportunity to create something that has been brewing inside of me for a couple of years now. I will say though that even through the process of building, there can be some floating time. They happen when we stop being as you say, “mindful, present and proactive”. We just have to learn how to recognize and correct it.

  18. Cornucopia of chaos sounds so much more fun and interesting than body of work though. Maybe if you could come up with a funkier name for the latter it might appeal to me more… Creative maelstrom maybe?

    I’m building but it takes time building out of bricks. Don’t want to knock something up out of hay or sticks then watch the wolf blow it down. Gotta make something with a bit of staying power but something that also looks nice, makes people feel happy and has a positive impact on the neighbourhood…

  19. J.D. Meier says:

    Well put.

    I like to think in terms of a catalog or portfolio of results. While I do share my works in progress, I like to distinguish that from my packaged results and legacy. It’s about doing it by design vs. doing it by default.

  20. deerelyea says:

    Jonathan, I have you on my blogroll and articles like this one is why. Very helpful and insightful!
    I find I straddle both positions; building and floating, fairly evenly. When I realize I am operating from either the frenetic and reactive place or the searching and yearning place I stop and spend time in meditation; the still quiet place. Upon emerging from a period of meditation, I find I can return to the delibrate, conscious trail blazing.

  21. Dan Holloway says:

    Importaqnt reminder, Jonathan. #Litchat over on twitter has been talking to self-publishers this week, and what’s struck me – as a self-publisher – is how few of us has even thought of it as a career, or with a long-term strategy in mind. Instead they have a book and look for ways of selling lots of copies thereof. Forget building an audience over years, doing progressively better with each of a series of books aimed at the same audience. If there is progression it is, as you say, flitting from onetrend to the next. Flexibility, of course, is essential, but flexibility is what ENABLES you to reach yourgoal. It isn’t the goal itself.

  22. Helen says:

    Where does it come from, this need to create that body of work? As a chronic floater, flitting from one thing to the next, I feel like an underachiever and very frustrated. I’m actually consulting with a career/life coach at the moment to help get on the right track.

    I’ve been thinking about this post all week.

    Plenty of people have very satisfying lives, they just do their job daily – do their shift as a worker, deliver the mail, whatever – and go home to their partner and their tv, or staying at home, keeping house and caring for their family, and that’s their life, you know. Good and happy lives.

    Why isn’t that enough for me?

  23. […] 4. Jonathan Fields asked his readers whether they are focused on creating a body of work or floating along: […]

  24. Garry says:

    Absolutely brilliant post. When working with new start-ups one of the largest challenges they face is admitting that they are NOT the perfect choice for everyone!

    Narrowing suspect and prospect search for effective acquisition is CRITICAL to business development.

    Who is and who isn’t our customer is essential data.

    Thanks again for the great post!

  25. […] Are You Building a Body of Work or a Cornucopia of Chaos? by Jonathan Fields […]

  26. Becky McCray says:

    I keep coming back to this post and this idea. I printed it out, and I re-read it. I’ve tweeted it repeatedly. I’ve realized after a long time of just moving from one opportunity to the next, that I have a choice of the direction.

    Thank you for clarifying a lot of my thought.

  27. This is my first time here, Jonathon. Met you through Sarah Robinson. And I have to say that this was the PERFECT time for me to show up.

    Everything you wrote made perfect sense to me and is exactly the process I am in the midst of. I’m beginning to extract myself from the cornucopia of chaos (which, of course, I’ve tried to hide) and beginning to get clearer and more focused and more authentic in creating a body of work. And this “not in the old but not in the new yet” place is hard – especially since patience is something I’m only beginning to develop. 🙂

    What I loved most about this post was the idea of leaving a legacy. That’s a great place for me to come from… to ask myself when creating a program or a newsletter… “Is this what I want to leave behind? Will this continue to create value for others in the future? Is this what I stand for and want to be known for and remembered by?


  28. Thanks for posting this again on Twitter, very timely article!

    What I struggle with, as I imagine many other artists do, is that within the chaos lies the heart of creativity. I produce the best content when I’m immersed in chaos. Not personal chaos- or drama- but the chaos of the unknown, of a foreign environment or outside circumstances.

    But, when I allow the chaos to seep into the business side of my work- not the creative production- I end up stuck in the vortex of my own chaos- and that’s never pretty. I think many artists wrestle with this separation.

    In order to create, we must stand next to the flames of chaos, but when we stay too long- we get a little crispy.

    Here’s an excellent speech from TED about creativity, stories and chaos- I’ve watched it often- love it!

    Thanks for the fabulous work!

  29. Pamela Slim says:

    Yes, yes, yes, yes and yes. Oh, and YES.

    It makes so much sense to have clear body of work. And it is so easy to get caught in the chaos.

    The timing of this is perfect.



  30. Amy says:

    Yes. This is what I struggle with. I do an awful lot of things – and to me, to my mind, in my life, they all serve a purpose, but from the outside, I imagine it’s pretty chaotic. And not necessarily connected.

    I had come to peace with the fact that I’ve got such diverse interests (and am willing to hustle it to get the funding from one area that I need to build the other).

    But just last week, I realized that there actually is an umbrella that neatly covers everything I do. (Or maybe, bedrock that underlies everything.) The logic may not be immediately visible, but is IS there. And until I had that AHA! moment, it was invisible, even to me.

    Sometimes you do have to do, to understand. 🙂 My bias for action’s gotten me into trouble before. But this time I tried really hard to “force” a structure and framework up front — a mission statement, that umbrella — and it never, ever worked. It just left me frustrated to tears.

    But, whaddaya know, it happened by “accident”!