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    The Best Stuff Is An Accidental Byproduct

    Daily Stoic Emails

    In Meditations, Marcus Aurelius marvels at “nature’s inadvertence.” A baker, he writes, makes the dough, kneads it and then puts it in the oven. Then physics, then Nature takes over. “The way loaves of bread split open,” Marcus writes, “the ridges are just byproducts of the baking, and yet pleasing, somehow: they rouse our appetite without our knowing why.”

    It’s a beautiful observation about such a banal part of daily life, something only a poet could see.

    So it’s worth taking a moment to step back and realize that that sentence, that Marcus’s Meditations is itself a kind of meta example of the same phenomenon, a bit of nature’s inadvertence.

    Marcus’ philosophy dictated that he sit down, think, keep the ideas in mind, read and reread about them, talk with others about them, and write about them. That what he did, day after day, year after year. Not for us. Not for publication. Not to impress anyone or make money. And yet, what emerged from that—the accidental byproduct—is one of the greatest works ever written. The very thing we are talking about today.

    Many great artists have come to similar conclusions. The comedian Mike Myers once said this was his advice for young creators: “Don’t want to be famous…fame is the industrial disease of creativity. It’s a sludgy byproduct of making things.” Bruce Dickinson from Iron Maiden would say in an interview, “I’m not interested in being famous. Fame is the excrement of creativity, it’s the shit that comes out the back end, it’s a by-product of it.” And Viktor Frankl would talk about how “strange and remarkable” it was that Man’s Search For Meaning became such a success because he wrote it not to “build up any reputation on the part of the author.” After the book sold millions of copies, Frankl shared what that taught him: “Don’t aim at success—the more you aim at it and make it a target, the more you are going to miss it. For success, like happiness, cannot be pursued; it must ensue, and it only does so as the unintended side-effect of one’s dedication.”

    Instead of chasing fame and success, focus on the process, on practicing your art, on getting better and better. Do your work. Follow your process. Put the dough in the oven. You can’t be certain what comes out of the other side of it—that’s what inadvertence is about. Yet at the same time, you can be certain that there will be something pure and true and real.