If you ever watched Barry Sanders play football, you were likely mesmerized by his stunning, graceful athleticism. The man was arguably the greatest running back of all time, due to his shifty moves, lateral agility, and ability to stop and start on a dime. (Watch and you’ll see!)
It’d be easy to watch a player like Sanders and dissect the technique he used on the field in order to build a system or guidebook on how to play running back. You might derive equations about speed, center of gravity, muscle tone, weight, etc, to come up with the formula to move like Barry. But here’s the thing: Barry Sanders didn’t create his moves sitting at a desk thinking about the perfect way to escape tacklers in specific situations. The moves were not the goal, but the byproduct of a man trying to achieve his goal.
One of the unique aspects of Sanders game was how often he would run sideways or even backwards before running towards the goal line again. He racked up a lot of negative yardage in the process of breaking records for yards gained. Analysts like to weigh the risk of yards lost against the high payoff of escaping tackles and gaining big, and then proclaim things like, “Barry’s strategy was smart because the gains were more valuable than the losses costly.” But I always wondered if Sanders himself thought about his art in such a technical way. Turns out he didn’t.
I once saw an interview with Barry Sanders where the reporter asked him why he adopted his particular running style and made so many cuts and jukes, instead of taking a more “downhill runner” approach common in the NFL. I was ready for Barry to talk about his preference for a high risk high reward approach, or about how study of film led him to believe he should focus on lateral movement against less agile defenders, or maybe that his size and physical ability were best leveraged by dodging rather than dashing up the middle. Nope. His answer was remarkably unsexy. He said ever since he was a kid, he hated getting hurt, and getting tackled really hurt. He was just trying to avoid being tackled as much as possible in the process of moving the ball down the field.
There you have it. One of the most beautiful athletic artists of all time produced his amazing art as a byproduct of one of the most basic human desires: avoiding physical pain. His goal was to move the ball down the field while avoiding things that he didn’t like in the process. The inglorious activity of an individual working towards a simple goal and avoiding pain produced a glorious spectacle for the rest of us.
It’s easy to glamorize and stylize creativity and focus on what’s observable during the act of creation. But the best way to actually be a creator is simply to take action toward your goals while trying your best to avoid things that hurt you. Let the analysts talk about all the depth and precision in your method while you focus on simply getting the job done.