The Art of Throwing Paint on the Wall
An essay on getting started and why it's one of the most important skills in the world.
Mar 4, 2022
I’ve been excited to write about this topic for weeks. But when I finally sat down to do it, the process felt hard.
I’m writing from a fairly exhausted state of mind on a morning where I had to trade working out for writing, which I don’t like to do.
In fact, yesterday I was half inclined to skip publishing this week but there is something very painful about letting yourself down so here I am.
One of the hardest things to do in life is start.
And of course we must “start” everyday…
- Start a workout.
- Start a project.
- Start an email.
- Start a process.
- Start a change.
I’m constantly telling myself and others to just “throw some paint on the wall”.
It’s a technique I have come to rely on, but I don’t think the original meaning was quite as romantic as I imagined.
Apparently–Google really let me down on this one–the saying originates from some proverb about “if you throw enough mud at the wall, some of it will stick”.
It refers to “experimenting in a haphazard or random manner with the hope that some amount of success may be encountered”.
I’d like to believe that what I do is not haphazard or random, that the ideas flowing from my brain are organized and purposeful, but the longer I visualize myself holding a fistful of mud and staring at a wall taking shape before me, the more I like it.
The act of creating–the body you want, the career you seek, the relationships you desire–is messy.
A muddy mess or a streaked painting is a very good analogy.
To master the art of throwing paint on the wall is, in my opinion, one of the greatest skills in modern life and work.
Let’s say you have an idea for improving a process.
You might talk about it with a few folks. They might be excited. You might want them to take it on. But nothing happens.
Or god forbid, you end up in endless meetings just talking about it and then it dies.
Now, you might not have the “authority” to make the changes happen. But that should not stop you from moving forward.
This is where you flex your skill in throwing paint on the wall.
You face a blank wall and instead of running away you chuck some paint (or mud) on it.
It might feel painful. It might feel futile. You might cry your way through it… but know that you are doing what so many people never do.
Whenever I don’t know what to do or how to start, I write.
It is not prose.
I write questions and answer them.
- What am I trying to do? Why am I trying to do that?
- What is the problem at hand? What is the ideal end state?
- What do I know today? What don’t I know today that I should figure out?
Here’s a concrete example.
In marketing, when we are dreaming up events, we rarely have a speaker secured.
Instead we write up an invitation to the event as if we had all the information.
- What cool things will you learn? Answers to pressing questions we know our audience is asking.
- Who will you hear from? Our wishlist of top tier speakers.
- When will it happen? Some stake in the ground date that feels reasonable at the moment.
Then we go make it happen.
More often than not the final paint on the wall ends up being close to where it was originally thrown.
I can’t tell you how many times I see people stall out because they can’t bring themselves to take 10 minutes to envision a future state.
It’s easy to talk without getting into details.
It’s easy to bash ideas, never offering solutions.
It’s easy to procrastinate for hours, days, weeks, months, and years.
But taking the first step? That’s hard.
If we want to get philosophical–and I do–life is nothing but a series of first steps. Hence why I feel so strongly about this topic.
What’s humorous is that I would probably suck at actually painting a wall, but that is outside the scope of today’s post.
Whatever I am trying to do–and I would venture the same is true for you–getting started is the hardest part.
But if you can embrace the haphazard and random (and sometimes exhausted) start, you’ll be surprised at the success that unfolds.
I’m always here for questions, comments, and your favorite YouTubes (thanks Michelle!). If you reply, I get the email.
If getting started with fitness is hard for you, here are some posts to help you throw paint at the gym wall: