The Fourth Mode of Creative Work
The different reasons why we create things, and the possibility of an idyllic place where they all converge
Over my time creating things, I’ve heard three conflicting messages about the reasons why a person should create. Let’s call them the 3 modes. And the longer I continued to create things, the less sure I became about which message was the one to take to heart. They all make sense in their own way. So what to do?
You should create for your own sake.
Create and put in the work because you’re expressing yourself. Don’t concern yourself with market testing, or polling your audience. Do what you feel, and do it to express what you feel. Do what makes you proud, and what you believe in — period.
Do that consistently, and you’ll have no regrets. Whether you cash in or not, whether you achieve notoriety or not — you were true to yourself.
You should create to serve your audience.
Serve people. Provide value. Give to others what they want and need (if the two happen to converge — which they unfortunately often don’t). Do the work because there’s a need out there, and check in consistently to make sure what you’re doing is serving that need. Be there for the people. Create for them.
Do that consistently, and you’ll have a veritable tribe of people there for you — to hold you up and support your work.
You should create for the sake of the art, and for the sake of creating.
Whatever your creative venture, do your work for the sake of that venture as one worth pursuing. Much like the best sports players play for the love and purity of the game, do your thing because it’s worth doing. Let everything you create be a manifestation of what makes that venture great. Be the one that launches the lifelong obsessions of thousands of others — because they saw how much you loved what you were doing.
Do that, and you serve something higher than yourself, or even your audience. And your motivation never falters.
Is There a 4th Mode?
At various points in my life, I’ve operated in each of the modes. They all have a different flavor — different motivational qualities to them. And they each produce their own different kinds of results.
But lately, I’ve come to the conclusion that the real goal of creative work is to get in the 4th mode — which is the one where they all overlap. It’s where you’re doing the work for all 3 sets of reasons at once.
You’re doing what’s in your heart — as a way of expressing you. But you’re also actively serving your audience, and filling a hole in their lives. And then, you’re also serving a higher purpose; you’re doing it for the love of that kind of work.
I think — but it’s hard to be certain — that I’ve been in that 4th mode for a brief moment or two. And from what I remember, it seems like the place we should aim to be. It’s the equivalent of the revered flow state — but it spans across and in between multiple sessions of work.
I suspect that with cultivation, this 4th mode becomes a mindset, a motivation, a way of life. I’m not quite sure how to get there and stay there. I suspect that’s another essay entirely. But you don’t have to know how to get to a particular destination to know that it’s a place worth traveling to.