[More thoughts from The Book Of The Ignored etc.]


Powerlifters (i.e. people who practice a certain kind of competitive weightlifting) have a term, “maxing out your gains”.

This means maxing out, i.e. reaching the maximum amount your body is able to lift physically.
When you first start out powerlifting, your gains will increase quickly- often the amount you’re able to lift increases by thirty, forty, even up to a hundred pounds a month.

But after a few months, the gains begin to plateau i.e. they begin to “max out”.

Instead of gaining ten pounds a week in your lifts, you’re lucky to be doing ten pounds a month, ten pounds every three months.

And an experienced powerlifter (say, somebody who’s been training hard regularly for over five years) is lucky to increase his lifts by four or five pounds a year, no matter how hard he trains. Because he has already reached the strength level that nature is ever going to allow his body to have.

“There’s a reason why trees don’t grow up to the sky,” as my friend, Doc Searls likes to say.

And what is true for powerlifting is also true for creativity.

You’re going to max out your gains, i.e. reach “peak creativity” pretty early on, often well before your thirtieth birthday. Picasso and Louis Armstrong reached their peak creativity in the 1930s, yet still stuck around, working away till the 1970s. My biggest breakthrough years were in the 1990s, in my late twenties and early throties; that’s when my cartooning skills got about as good as they were ever going to get. Everything since then has been just continuing to refine the process, not inventing the process from scratch every time.

Yes, it’s a very brief window.

Yet don’t despair when (not if) this happens to you. Though you might not be making any more quantum leaps in your work (whatever that means), the more you continue your practice, the more often you’ll be able to stay at your peak level.

This is what so impressive about top performers like say, the rock band U2. It’s not that “Sunday Bloody Sunday” is world’s greatest song (I certainly don’t think it is, they never were a favorite band of mine), it’s that they can get perform it at their highest level, in front of huge crowds, again and again, night after night, for years on end. And make it look easy.

Ditto with top basketball players or painters. Once you’ve reached your peak, the game changes from how much, to how often. That’s what “Mastery” actually means.

It may not be as sexy as the early breakthroughs, but it’s what allows you to exist and thrive over the long term.