Escaping Success

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“Escaping success is how I stay in a state of wonder”
Joshua Davis

Joshua DavisI just got back from the 99U Conference, which was filled with amazing speakers, but my absolute favorites were the ones who stood out as the scrappiest of the lot. The ones who stood on stage and you wondered briefly if they’d ever presented before as they stood up there so raw and authentic.

At the end of the second day, after hearing from a number of well-known authors and founders, this big, biker looking dude walks out on stage in jeans and a t-shirt, tattoos down his arms, on his neck – starts screaming “HEY!” … “HEY!#@$!” and then laughing with this total little kid’s smile and screaming some more.

And then proceeds to tell us that he’s going to talk to us today about… Escaping Success.

This dude is Joshua Davis, a digital designer who’s had unbelievable success, including having his art featured in the Smithsonian.

But he doesn’t want to talk about that.

He talks instead of years following success where his work stagnated, where he wasn’t doing anything new.

“I had goals… I reached them…. I got fucking lazy.”

The industry ends up holding us back because people hire us for the type of work we make. They want us to just keep regurgitating what we’ve done before, rather than innovating into new areas. And we end up holding ourselves back. After reaching our goals, we find ourselves stuck in that same space. Bored. No longer pushing the boundaries of what’s possible. He went through a period where he’d just stay up all night, sleep till late afternoon, churn out only 1 or 2 new personal projects over an entire year – what the fuck am I doing?

“Creativity doesn’t care if you’re successful. But success will fuck your creative game up if you’re not careful.’”

He talks about the horror of the easy and the sluggishness of the comfortable.

And he talks of how, when we’re able to escape success, we can remain in a constant state of wonder and constantly be the student. He tells us how when he found himself stagnating, he tried to find fear because in fear, his greatest thinking occurs. To create, he told us, we have to get uncomfortable. We must take pride in our fear of the unknown.

“I was trying to get back to the enthusiasm of ‘I don’t know what I’m doing!’ and the wonder that comes with that. And I love that.”

(and, of course, he has – just look at http://www.joshuadavis.com/ for a peak into his stream of work, including – pretty cool – being the digital artist for deadmau5!)

So inspiring. I have a new hero. Thank you, Joshua.