Carve Out Your Ideal Circumstances

Michelangelo Angel with Candlestick

Many productivity practitioners I’ve spoken to focus on creating ideal circumstances for their lives. That is certainly a solid outcome target to train your productivity efforts on, but sometimes I wonder if people are going about the whole thing backwards.

Freeing Your Ideal

One of the greatest creators in history, sculptor Michelangelo, once described his sculpting process: “I saw the angel in the marble and carved until I set him free.” He doesn’t say that he found the perfect piece of marble for an angel, or that he adjusted it until it could be an angel: he took what he had and carved and trimmed until all that was left was his masterpiece.

You can apply the same principle to your current circumstances. All you have to work with in creating your ideal is the circumstances you have right now. You could wait until you had a different set of circumstances—until you had a different block of marble, so to speak—but who knows when your circumstances will change, and who knows if you’ll even like them when they do.

Instead of trying to find the perfect marble to carve your ideal life from, try finding your ideal in the marble you already have. Find what’s important and beautiful in your life right now. Then carve away everything else until you set your ideal free.

Seeing Your Angel

In an article on, Mike Vardy recommends adopting a mission statement to make your decisions easier. If you choose a concrete statement or principle you adhere to, you’ve essentially found the angel in your marble. You know what you want.

Sometimes finding your mission statement can be difficult. (I would imagine that seeing an angel in a shapeless block of marble would also be difficult.) To help you along the way, here are a few questions to consider when you’re defining your mission statement.

  • In the past, what activities and obligations have made you happy?
  • What are the top three things you value?
  • What do you do best?
  • What do you aspire to?

Consider the answers to these questions when you’re writing a mission statement. If your top values don’t have anything to do with what makes you happy, you may want to reconsider your value structure. If your happiness-inducers don’t match your aspirations, consider why that is. After you’ve thought through these questions, find a mission statement that can answer all four at once.

Creating Freed Circumstances

Having a mission statement makes it easier to say no to new obligations or to realize you need to back out of obligations you already have. Look at each item you spend your time on and see if it aligns with your mission statement. If it doesn’t, carve it out of your circumstances.

If you continue to carve unnecessary and frivolous obligations out of your circumstances, you’ll start to see that you’re sculpting your ideal. You don’t need to wait for different marble; you can start setting yourself free right now.

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